In the current social and political climate, I hesitate, as a middle-class white woman, to even attempt to discuss a book like “The Color Purple.”
Written by Alice Walker, it is about several poor, uneducated, disadvantaged, abused women of African descent living in the American South in the early 20th century.
Though I want to tread lightly through such unknown territory, I won’t entirely shy away from sharing my thoughts. After all, the beauty of fiction is its ability to show readers new perspectives, give them different shoes to wear for a few literary miles.
The lives of Celie, Nettie, Shug, and Sofia are certainly full of unfamiliar experiences for me. The author’s choice to use letters as narrative–written from Celie to God, then later between sisters Celie and Nettie–is a very successful one, allowing the reader to be fully immersed in Celie’s thoughts, understand how she processes events, in a way that other forms of narration would not be able to accomplish.
For a book so full of pain and disappointment, it was surprisingly easy and quick to read. The subject matter was often difficult, but it was handled gracefully. The letters moved things along at a good pace, not wasting words on things that were unimportant to the story itself.
A couple of things bothered me. I did not and still do not understand why Celie’s husband Albert is only referred to as “Mr. _____.” With so many other fictitious names, first and last, there seemed to be no reason to not give Mr. _____ a made-up surname.
There must be something I’m missing. I’ve never been good at ferreting out symbolism. I tend to take things at face value when I read.
The only other issue I had was one that I can only pick at half-heartedly, because it was almost inevitable given the style of narration. Since Celie is only partially literate, there are many errors of spelling and grammar in her letters. Surprisingly, Ms. Walker has managed to make them very comprehensible despite these limitations.
Occasionally, however, it is unclear (due to a lack of quotation marks) when Celie has finished relaying something someone else said, and has gone back to her own words. Nettie’s letters are much easier to follow, because of her advanced learning.
These things do not detract from the story, or from my engrossment in it. A few times, I stopped and reread something for clarity, but this was otherwise a very difficult book to put down. There is a great deal of beauty in it amidst the ugliness, and some satisfying conclusions to a few situations.
I did not wholeheartedly embrace or believe transformations gone through by certain characters, but I never doubted Celie. She was so real and true for me.
All in all, I think Alice Walker deserves all the high accolades given to her for this novel. It is finely crafted and full of exquisite humanity.