This review contains spoilers.
‘Dear God: I am fourteen years old. I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me …’
So begins the story of two sisters in the harsh segregated world of the Deep South in the early part of the twentieth century. Celie has been raped by the man she calls father; her two children are taken away from her; her beloved, younger sister, Nettie has run away. She is given in an ugly marriage to Albert, to look after his children. She has no one to talk to but God. Then she meets Shug Avery, the singer, the magic woman, and discovers not the pain of rivalry but the love and support of women.
I picked up this book expecting to already know the story, as I had seen the movie adaptation multiple times. But, as usually happens in the transition from book to film, there was still a good portion of story left to be discovered in these pages.
The epistolary nature of the novel endows the book with a natural and sweet innocence. Celie is, for the most part, a meek character. It is fitting that the only one to whom she would divulge her most secret thoughts would be God himself. There’s a kind of inherent tenderness about Celie’s descriptions; she doesn’t have the knowledge or courage to use correct terminology for certain things and sifting through her words to discover the meaning is somehow all part of the charm of this book.
After watching the movie, I came to love and respect Celie and think of her as an amazingly strong character. But the movie’s plot has nothing on this. Not only is Celie able to suffer through a hard life and tear herself away from it, she grows stronger and stronger as the story progresses. She discovers that she can love: she’s not broken or stupid; she’s just never been interested in men.
Her relationship with Shug Avery is slow to build and ultimately very satisfying. It would be so simple to have Celie rescued from one relationship by falling into another, but it would have felt like a cheap resolution. Celie has always been industrious and hardworking; she puts those skills to good use as she builds a life for herself—a life that she can live with or without Shug.
Nettie’s journey is in stark contrast to her sister’s and her letters are like a soft caress and a promise of what Celie’s life might have been and could still be. At times I was inclined to think that Nettie had it easy but within a few paragraphs I remembered that it was just a stroke of luck. Nettie’s life stands as a testament to Celie’s strength, endurance and devotion to the people she loves.
One of the things I love (and hate) about this story is that it’s a complicated web of people. While the movie had me believing that people were definitively good or evil, Alice Walker’s novel has me questioning everything. Every turn of events further proves that Celie is one of the most incredibly resilient characters I’ve ever encountered. For such a seemingly quiet and unassuming woman, she has a lasting impact on the lives of everyone around her.
Reading The Color Purple was a wonderful experience for me. The movie tells maybe half of Celie’s story and the book is full of new discoveries. Celie is more than a Cinderella figure; she’s a strong and beautifully-written character that will steal your heart.
I rate it ★★★★