Reviewed by Ruth Zothanpuii
The Color Purple has also been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence.
Alice Walker adopted the epistolary style, so we have the account of the story conveyed entirely by an exchange of letters.Walker has Celie write to God, Nettie to Celie and Celie to Nettie. What occurs in these letters is the story of the physical and mental abuse of Black women who are subjugated by their men in both America and Africa during the 1930s.
Celie, the protagonist and narrator of The Color Purple, is a poor, uneducated, fourteen year old black girl living in rural Georgia. At the beginning of the story we have Celie who starts writing letters to God as her sense of shame is great and thinks that she can only write to God and has no other way to express her feelings. These letters are written in a voice that uses raw realism – the only language an uneducated girl of fourteen years old would know to convey the facts of her life. The only sentences outside the letters are the first two:“You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.”
Celie’s stepfather, Alphonso, beats and rapes her; he impregnates Celie twice and later steals and presumably kills both the children.She is married off to Mr. _____ , a widower on the condition that she take care of his four unruly children, tend his house and be available to him for sex. Her husband following the custom of his race, thrashes her often in order to subdue her and keep her under control. By illustrating such incidents, Walker draws the attention of modern women. For instance, in some society men inflict physical wounds on women, but in other societies men inflict psychological wounds on women.
Nettie, the younger sister of Celie, whose fate holds an opposite direction joins a missionary family who encourage her to read and learn; something Celie (the heroine) pines for. Nettie later goes to Africa with the missionary family. Both the sisters are estranged from one another for most of their adult lives, yet their devotion as sisters continues, and, without even knowing whether the other is alive, their mutual and unconditional love sustains them.
The interesting part in reading this novel is that while the novel traces the lives of both sisters over a period of decades, it provides us with an innumerable opportunities for thoughtful classroom discussion. For instance, the popular concept of God versus Celie- Nettie – Shug picture of God later in the novel.
The story brings to life American history, world history, women’s history, civil rights history. It also focuses on incest, women’s exploration of their bodies and souls, wife-beating and other violence, illustrating mainly the dehumanization of women. Walker’s focus on feminist issues within the black community as well as upon intra-racial violence and oppression places her in a category of writers willing to confront the difficult problems of communities in transition, to complain about the male and female, and parents/child relationships, and to persuade their members to renew their faith in each other for the sake of community survival.
Finally, it is the kind of a story that stays with you even long after you’ve finished reading it. A must read and a must have in one’s own private library.