Celie writes letters to God, and her sister Nettie after circumstances separate them, leading to them experiencing vastly different lives. Celie suffers to find her place in a family and then a 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 stunner for me, and though it was a painful story, the novel and its characters transcended that in so many ways by being a truthful story – a beautiful story. The novel started out in the most brutal way with the sexual abuse of a young girl by her father. She is then saddled with the responsibilities of the family when her mother dies not many years after the start of the abuse. I was touched by so many parts of this book which is paradoxically uplifting instead of depressing, 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 ends up building a life that eventually has pieces of joy after having made that joy out of the barest scraps of what is offered to her.
Each of the female characters portrayed by Walker are complex and strong in 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, but she is battling stereotypes of male-female relationships that a father would pass to a son desperately wanting his approval. Later Sofia goes on to butt heads with the even stronger institution of a patriarchal and racist society which would have her bend. Shug is a woman ahead of her time and in the innovative ways 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 in the same day, but that is exactly what happened. I am usually a little suspect about epistolary novels because I get caught up in how a letter can have such an amazingly detailed recall of events. I find the notion rather distracting, especially when there is a lot of dialogue involved. I was so involved with these characters that it was never a thought in my head, and I found the letters to be warm and personal. Walker does an amazing job exploring tough issues that women can face and how they forbear, how one woman reached high to transcend what had been a miserable existence. A must read.