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BOOK REVIEW: The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it” (p.177)

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The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a bildungsroman about Celie, a young black girl in the south of America between the wars. She grew up in difficult circumstances, raped by her father, separated from her children and her sister and cornered into an oppressive marriage, but, without giving too much away, it does end happily!

This book was actually recommended to me by my mother, and I began reading it pretty much as a favour to her. I found myself swallowing it whole – I read the entire thing in one day and I absolutely loved it. It is an incredibly rare find, a book that enables the reader to build an intimate relationship with the protagonist. The book is formed of a series of letters written by Celie, at first addressed to God, and then to her sister, Nettie. The intimacy of these private letters is enhanced by Walker’s presentation of Celie’s dialect, the subtle nuances of Walker’s writing means that we can not only read about the changes that Celie is going through, but also feel them in the beat and rhythm of the words. As a result, Walker creates an undeniably strong and honest voice that can hardly be contained in the pages of the novel.

Another thing that Alice Walker does well, through this manufactured intimacy, is to give Celie’s revelations a resonance that reverberate through the reader’s own life. Almost at the peak of Celie’s personal development she loses all faith in the God that she envisions, a societal construct. After all that she has been through, such a loss of faith feels natural, and elicits nothing but empathy from the reader. It is her friend and love, Shug Avery, who tells Celie that “God is everything … Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found it” (p.176). Walker seeks to recapture the spirituality of religion, the existence of God in not only people, but nature and feeling and everything. 

To me the novel is about freedom. It features a voice and an inward spirituality that cannot be contained, a love that cannot be extinguished, sisters that will not be kept apart, and a woman that will not be oppressed. I feel as if it freed something within myself, and I will endeavour never to walk past the colour purple without noticing it again.

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