It’s become a bit of a habit for me to read really depressing books during my uni break. The first book I read last break was The Road by Cormac McCarthy and no one could ever call that book uplifting (although it doesn’t end with 100% annihilation – close to it though). When I decided to take this break, I had The Color Purple already lined up as I’d previously ordered it from an online bookstore at a time when I, optimistically and foolishly, thought I might be able to read it while still studying. Ha!
So, with my book choosing history in mind, it was with some trepidation that I began to read. I only vaguely remembered the movie although I’d watched it multiple times as a kid. Some things came back to me but mostly the book felt fresh and new. Yes, it’s a grim read at the start; you feel sorry for poor Celie and Nettie and basically any other black person in the book. These characters existed in a tough time and to add being poor to the mix made things infinitely worse.
Celie’s life is pretty fucking shitty, no other way to put it. Yet while, she may not be the most confident woman at the start, she gets stronger and more confident as the story progresses. For all the terribleness that the characters and especially Celie go though, somehow the story ends on an inspirational note. Bonds form between the most unlikely people and Celie’s resilience and willingness to forgive and somehow overcome the shitty, shitty hand life dealt her is remarkable.
The book was written in 1982 and in some things it seems avant garde. I read it thinking I would get to the end and have suffered all forms of mental devastation but that wasn’t the case. In my mind, this book is about the ability of the human spirit to overcome hardship, to never give up home and to break its way out of the shell of victimhood. Celie could easily have remained trapped in a sense of helplessness but she didn’t. She adapted. Everyone changes in this book. Bad people become good. Weak people become strong. The strong falter. Everyone is affected by the situations they’re dealt and the way they choose to respond.
The author, Alice Walker, says the book is about god and how god exists in everything. One of the parts I love most is when Shug tells Celie her thoughts on god. Shug believes that ‘god’ exists in nature, in the flowers and the trees and fields. As much as god loves us, it wants us to notice what it does and love it; that’s where title of the book comes from. Shug says god wants us to notice when it makes the colour purple in a field and, if we don’t, god gets upset and makes something else to catch our attention and make us happy. It’s a beautiful conversation that comes right at one of Celie’s lowest points.
I definitely recommend this book. It’s touching and hilarious and unexpected all at once, which is exactly what you want in a book sometimes.