The Color Purple – Alice Walker


Chosen by Jo

The lives of two African-American sisters growing up in rural Georgia in the early to mid 20th Century are detailed in The Color Purple. Celie is raped by her stepfather and bears two children to him who are sent away. Celie writes letters to God outlining her fate and questioning the injustices in her life.

Nellie, with Celie’s help, manages to flee to Africa with a missionary group, however their father hides her letters to Celie. Once discovered they are found to detail her African experiences, discovering her family’s connections to the past.

There is a cast of other characters in the sisters’ lives whose fates showcase the brutality and degradation they experience at the hands of the men.

During the course of the novel Celie manages to free herself from her husband’s control. Supported by her female friends Celie eventually finds the empowerment to push back and to forge her own life, and as such gains some respect from the men who treated her so poorly.

Thematically the book details the sexism and prejudice that was common at that time, especially for people like Celie being both a woman and a person of colour. However transformation is also a key message. The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction in 1983.

All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house. She let out her breath. I loves Harpo, she say. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me.

❝ I was reluctant to read this book as the blurb made it sound as if it would be incredibly traumatic. It does contain disturbing themes but on the whole is an uplifting story of female support and friendship. It is formatted as letters, and I found myself engrossed in Celie’s side of the tale so much so that whenever I was reading Nettie’s letters I just wanted to get back to Celie. The characters grew and changed for the better as the pages went by and it was satisfying when Celie rose up and took control over her own life and finally spoke the truth. I loved this book. – Jo

❝ I have to admit I was apprehensive to read The Color Purple as it has been portrayed as a violent and sad novel. Yes it is a heart-wrenching portrayal of African American woman in the 1930s . But it is also an inspiring journey of the protagonist Celie from the abuse she endured to self-discovery and independence. I found it a powerful story that has a rich, dynamic cast. Walker suffered criticism for her portrayal of African American men – it was a brave novel to write and one that was important for its honesty. It studies humanity and suffering but has a powerful message of redemption and hope. A must read! – Jodie

❝ This novel was made up of many truly awful moments, but was somehow able to maintain a thread of hope among the grim reality of living as a black woman in America in the early-mid 1900s. I enjoyed so much about The Color Purple, including the matter-of-fact way Celie’s same-sex relationship with Shug was conveyed, her wavering connection to religion, and how several characters were able to find a sense of peace despite their challenging situations. I haven’t seen the movie but after hearing a bit about it from Jo I will happily just stick with this amazing book. – Suzy

❝ I started The Color Purple decades okay but the grim content on the opening page made me put it down and I was apprehensive to pick it up again. However, anyone who feels this way should know the book is actually full of hope and redemption and taking back control of one’s life. Yes the female characters suffer but they also rise up, and it is quite an empowering read without being over the top and moralistic. It is written as Southern folk speak and this, as well as the directness and honesty of the narrative brings the settings and characters to life more than many books I’ve read. I’m so pleased I’ve read it now and I would recommend it widely. – Rachel


Published 1982
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
304 pages

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