The Color Purple is a rare gem. For me, characters are usually more important than the plot. Even if the narrative is rather predictable and bland, I can still enjoy the book if the characters are compelling enough. The Color Purple with its cast of colourful characters was easily a devastatingly beautiful read.
The Color Purple is an epistolary novel focuses on the lives of African-American women in the 1930s and the acute sufferings they faced on account of extreme racism, sexism and poverty. Our prime narrator is a woman named Celie who unable to speak to anyone else about her inner turnmoil writes letters to God in broken but legible English. Raped by her step-father and having had her babies abducted, Celie is married to a man who is only identified as ‘Mister’ to be a convenient sex slave and care for his children. It is only when Shug Avery, a mistress of the man of the house and a jazz singer, falls ill and is taken care of by Celie, that she begins to live and love again. Shug not only teaches Celie to discover and embrace her latent sexuality but also gives her hope.
Meanwhile, following Celie’s advice, her younger sister Nettie seeks the assistance of a seemingly wealthy black woman and runs off. She travels to Africa with a missionary couple to teach the children there and not only learns a great deal about her own culture but also watches first-hand the abuse and destruction perpetrated by the whites on the native black population. It is Shug who helps Celie uncover Nettie’s letters which her husband has hiding for years, and this prompts Celie to address her future letters to her lost sister instead of God.
The novel which has garnered worldwide critical acclaim on account of its empathetic portrayal of the characters and the hardships they face is an important literary document in feminist and Afrcican-American literature, that addresses the issue of women’s equality. By presenting the story mostly in the form of letters that too, addressed to God and to a sister Celie may never see again, Walker highlights the need for communication to give voice to one’s true feelings. The letter format also poignantly highlights the loneliness and the alienation of the Black women who had no one to confide in, to turn to for advice and thus it is only paper that can help the characters make sense of their feelings and offer some respite. Moreover, the book also points out the importance of sisterhood, and shows how female bonding can be more important than heterosexual relationships and therefore, a crucial tool for personal and community advancement. When it comes to the plot, the ending may seem more of a wish-fulfilment than realistic, yet it seems a deliberate move to end the book on a tone of hope and promise. Yet it is this hope and love that is very vital for the advancement of those oppressed and marginalized, and The Color Purple gives voice to those who were previously and even now, denied one.
Sometimes funny, mostly heart breaking and yet laced with a fairytale charm, The Color Purple bravely tackles social issues and should be required reading for all, and especially those who still choose to turn a blind eye to the abuses and violence perpetrated on account of sexism and racism.