Celie writes letters to God and her sister Nettie. Circumstances have separated the sisters, leading to them experiencing vastly different lives. Celie struggles to find her place in a family and marriage where she suffers horrific treatment – abuse alternating with disrespect and neglect. Spanning the course of a lifetime, we see Celie’s evolution spurred by hard times, betrayal, great love, and friendship.
The Color Purple was nothing short of a revelation for me. It’s a painful story, but the novel and its characters transcended that in so many ways. It’s a truthful story, a beautiful story. It starts in the most brutal way imaginable with the sexual abuse of a young girl by her father. When her mother dies, just a few years following the start of the abuse, she is saddled with the responsibilities of taking care of her family. I was touched by so many parts of this book. It’s paradoxically uplifting instead of depressing and in spite of the grim subject matter and events depicted throughout. I was deeply touched by Celie’s undying love for her sister and the way that she builds a life that has pockets of joy, even though she has to make that joy out the barest scraps of what is offered to her.
The female characters portrayed by Walker are complex and strong in the face of having to endure in a man’s world. Sofia struggles to have a relationship with her husband Harpo that is on their own terms. To do this, she must battle stereotypes of gender relationships that her husband’s father has passed on to a son desperately wanting his approval. Later, Sofia butts heads with the even stronger institutions of a patriarchal and racist society that would have her bend to their will. Shug is a woman ahead of her time, and the innovative ways that she experiences life and love proves to be a profound influence and catalyst for Celie.
I had no idea that I would start reading this book one morning and finish it on the same day, but that is exactly what happened. I am usually suspicious of epistolary novels because I get distracted by the idea that a letter would have such a detailed recall of events. Especially when there is a lot of dialogue involved. However, I was so involved with these characters that it was never a thought in my head. I found the letters to be warm and personal. Walker does an amazing job exploring tough issues that women can face, how they forbear, and how one woman reached high enough to transcend what had been a miserable existence. This book is stunning, and simply a must-read.