*Trigger Warning: This novel (and review) covers topics including abuse, violence, sexual identity, rape.
Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Year Published: 1982
I felt like I had struck gold when I found this one in my local Little Free Library branches. My bestie (Hi Josette!) had pointed the two LFL’s in town out to me shortly after I had moved into my new house, and after I had accumulated a few books that I wanted to donate, I went to drop them off in the tiny birdhouse-esque box. I skimmed the titles that were in there, and immediately noticed The Color Purple. Classic! So I made the swap, and took it home.
When I started reading, Celie’s story was very familiar to me, and I couldn’t remember why until I got about 25 pages in, when Shug Avery is mentioned. Then I remembered. I remembered that name, and an actress wearing this awesome red jazz dress, singing. I had seen the movie as a teen, flipping through the Starz freebies. I hadn’t seen the whole movie, just that quick scene, but it was striking enough to stick in my brain at least a decade later. With that in mind, I kept reading, wondering how Celie and Shug were connected, especially because at this point in the novel, I was just learning about Celie’s awful upbringing and abusive new husband.
Celie writes in letters, recounting her days and the things she tolerates just to survive daily. As a poor, uneducated black woman in the southern Georgia, most of the things she observes will break your heart. However, there are often lines in which she shows her strength, in that though she is being physically submissive, her mind is sharp and wanting to rebel. Many times, the cause for her will to rebel is her awful husband, Mr. Albert (no last name mentioned, and she only ever refers to him as Mr.) Then, there’s Shug, Mr.’s long-time mistress. She arrives in Celie’s household sick, and though she is mean to Celie at first, they end up striking up a friendship. Celie also can’t help but be attracted to Shug, which is something Celie has never felt for anyone before. Being horribly mistreated by her father, then shuffled off to Mr., Celie has never known love. She’s had children taken from her, and her sister Nettie never wrote after Celie left her childhood home- she’s lonely, and Shug’s attention is like a balm healing old wounds. Yet the relationship that springs up between Celie and Shug is complicated, and in a time period where class, race, sex, and abuse weren’t debated or discussed, so Celie just writes her feelings in her letters to God.
Then Shug figures something out- Mr. has been hoarding letters from Nettie to Celie. They plot together to get the letters so that Celie can finally read them. As she goes through the pages, Celie learns that her sister has left the small, godforsaken town that they grew up in, and has seen what else life has to offer. She writes of her journey to New York, of Harlem and the support of the black people who send money and well wishes to her and her missionary employers on their journey to Africa. She’s never seen this kind of tolerance, or been treated so kindly. Then, she becomes part of the community in the Olinka village, as well as family to the missionaries who brought her there. Then, the most surprising truth of all- after traveling all those miles, she learns the truth about her and Celie’s past.
There’s a reason this became a bestseller, not to mention a contemporary classic. The Color Purple is bold, honest, heartbreaking, and empowering, especially for women of color. When Celie finally finds strength to stand up for herself and speak her mind, I cheered. Walker’s frank conversational narration and emotionally charged scenes about the taboo topics create a fast paced, compelling novel. I highly recommend that if you haven’t, you should give it a read- though keep in mind, it’s still considered controversial and contains many triggers of abusive, violent, and sexual nature.
TL/DR: The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a classic contemporary novel about a woman who struggles due to an abusive father, husband, and racial oppression.
Read it? YES.
Recommend it? Yes, though with a trigger warning advisory.
Buy it? Definitely add it to your home collection, especially if you like diverse reads.
Watch the Movie? Yes! Whoopi Goldberg stars as Celie, and though it ends rather abrupt, it’s still a good movie.
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