Thursday, April 14, 2016

Book Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Publication date:
Author info: Goodreads - Website
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Pages: 314
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to Mister, a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.

Ever since I enrolled for a postcolonial theory and media culture class at the beginning of this year, I have been more eagerly looking for reading experiences that challenge my preconceptions and allow me to "listen" to a perspective of someone who finds herself from a situation different from mine. Though I was aware of it before, this class made me more conscious of the fact that as a white, educated, middle-class woman, it can take me time to count all of my privileges. Through more extensive understanding of intersectional feminism, I have learned more about the importance of feminism that is all-inclusive. While that course is now over,  I want to continue with this journey, so of course, I took to Google and looked for lists of feminist literature and books recommended for those interested in intersectional feminism. Pretty much all of those lists included The Color Purple, which is one of those books I have been meaning to read FOR AGES, but never have gotten around the read. Also, quite surprisingly, I have never seen the film, so I went into this one with very little previous knowledge about it.

The Color Purple is a Pulitzer Prize winning epistolary novel narrated through letters written by Celie (and later on also her sister Nettie). Celie is a poor, black woman living in American South. The novel begins when Celie is 14 and sexually assaulted by her father. Celie ends up pregnant multiple times, and after it seems her father has lost interest in her, she starts to worry for the future of her intelligent younger sister Nettie. When 12-year-old Nettie is approached with a proposal of marriage by a man who is throughout the novel identified just as 'Mister', Celie handles the situation so that in the end, it is her that leaves with Mister and enters into a miserable marriage. For a while, Nettie is with Celie and Mister, but after she doesn't warm up to Mister's advances, he sends her away and for years to come, Celie is made to believe that her sister is death.

A ray of hope enters Nettie's life unexpectedly when she forms a bond with Shug, an independent black woman who tours around the country singing. Shug, an old lover of Mister, and a woman he still loves. Shug speaks her mind, is sexually assertive and holds a kind of independence and courage Nettie never thought Black woman could have. Through time spend with Shug, Nettie learns more about herself while also learning, that there is a possibility for her to "rise up" and to take control of her life. 

There are also other interesting female characters in this novel, such as Sofia, who is strong and sassy and who repeatedly gets into trouble for speaking out about things that women are not meant to speak about. Grown-up Nettie, a character we get to learn about mostly through letters, is also extremely interesting, and through her, the novel breaks the bounds of the US South and takes the reader to Africa with Nettie and the group of missionaries she travels with. 

Though I do not analyze literature very often, if I were to analyze this book, I would say that sisterhood is in a very important role within this novel. There is a biological sisterhood between Celie and Nettie - Celie stands up for Nettie and sacrifices herself for a future majority of Black women at the time were subjected to as a result of which Nettie eventually gets a change to escape the poor South to experience a new kind of life in Africa. Through the sisterhood formed between Celie and Shug, Celie learns new things about herself - she gets empowered, strong and starts to yearn for the kind of respect and independence Shug has. She also starts to love in a new kind of way, a way she never would have expected. As the novel develops, I grew more and more interested about Celie's journey and her process of finding a life in which she has the control, not her husband.

I always seem to hesitate picking up classics/modern classics because I think it will take me ages to read them through. The Color Purple was actually a pretty quick read for me, mostly because once I really got immersed into the story, I had a very difficult time to put it down. The letter format moves the story forward quite quickly, and it was extremely interesting to read about these different women and the ways they try to stand up for forms of behavior that have rule in the South and the ways they are able to take control of their own lives. 

The Color Purple was a solid five star read for me, and a book I definitely want to go back to at some point - I read it now as an ebook, but I definitely want to get my own copy, so I can reread it and take notes and highlight stuff, etc. Now I also think I should start to think about watching the film adaptation!


  1. I love this movie! I really do need to read the book. :x

    1. And I really need to watch the movie... :)


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