Womens’ History Month: Alice Walker’s The Color Purple

The Color Purple has a special place in my reading heart.

I often write about books that few other people have read.

This time, I am sure this is not the case.

Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is one that I’ve continued to reflect on since I first read it shortly after its publication in the 80s, and is one of the books whose characters I’ve had the deepest connection with over time.

The story is set in early 20th century rural Georgia.

Celie, the protagonist, is raped by her stepfather and abused in many ways by Mr., the husband to whom she is married off and who keeps from Celie the many, many letters Celie’s sister sends to her.  Throughout the course of the book, Celie’s relationship with Shug, an entertainer and Mr.’s lover, becomes the catalyst for her finding her voice, shedding Mr., reconnecting with her sister and becoming a successful businesswoman.

I want to be clear that Celie’s growth is not spurred only by knowing Shug, and she is a critical person in Celie’s evolution.

The Color Purple has many gripping moments.

I think often about the scene when Celie is entertaining murderous thoughts while shaving Mister.   The moment when the feisty Miss Sofia, another character who is married to one of Mr.’s children, comes homes after being imprisoned and her daughter introduces herself because she does not recognize her mother, always makes tears spring to my eyes.

I have thought a lot about the reconciliation Celie reaches with Mr., when she agrees to be his friend, but not his lover, after getting the strength to leave him.

And, for me, the climax of the book comes when she is departing from the house that has been the scene of so much suffering and abuse.  Having told Mr. that everything he has done to her will come back to him, she starts to ride off in the sunset.

He hollers a few final demeaning words her way.

She answers,  “I’m poor, black.  I may even be ugly.  But I’m here.”

That statement of resilience and survival, that assertion of presence, always moves me as a testament to what people can, in Faulkner’s words, not only endure, but prevail.

Celie does prevail.

Some may find the ending a bit treacly, and I wouldn’t argue with that assessment.  Still, the rendition of Jim Crow era Georgia, the plight of women, the power of community, the rumble of music and the unbreakable bonds of sisters all are powerfully, and, in my mind, beautifully rendered.

I’m open to hearing what others thinkg about this work, both in terms of Alice Walker’s other works and relative to other writers.  For me, I’m looking to another reading of the book that I first read in the mid to late 80s and which has stayed with me since.

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2 responses to “Womens’ History Month: Alice Walker’s The Color Purple

  1. Climax of the “movie”? Did you mean book ole chap?

    “The Color Purple” brings back several emotions for me, including: I was given the book (my first Black novel) shortly after publication by the wife of a prospective client (“a little mimento of our dinner discussion…”), who turned out to be a complete fraud and landed in prison. I have since wondered if the book was a part of the con (perhaps I should have seen the flimflam game when she couldn’t spell memento!); fortunately, the book was so gripping and unique (“Dear God” etc.) to me that the deliverer is now a faint memory; and then came Spielberg’s movie version, which I did not like at all (“my audience isn’t ready for a lesbian scene,” was a quote of his I remember), and I have since avoided most movies based on novels, and have found myself a harsh critic of Spielberg’s heart games, especially Schindler’s List. Isn’t the challenging Holocaust truth that “normal” people did horrific acts? – the “evil incarnate” Commander draws us away from the lessons to be learned I am afraid. And yes, I still keep an eye out for Jaws when I have a chance to jump in the shores of Cape Cod. Thanks Stevie!

    Nevertheless, Alice Walker was in touch with the divine when she wrote “The Color Purple.”

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Jack, for the close read and correction. I’ll make the change.

      I hear you about some of the challenges with Spielberg’s dilution and sweetening of horrific moments in history. At the same time, I will say that, as a former Facing History person, Schindler’s List did open the door for many, many people to learn and talk about the Holocaust with some level of knowledge, as unnecessarily changed as it was due to his film’s contents.

      Hope all is well with you and your crew. Thanks again for the insightful comment!

      Jeff

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