Written By Jake Garner
“You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.”
The location is rural Georgia, during the first half of the twentieth century, immersed in the tyrannical casualness of the archetypal Southern American State. Alice Walker’s legendary work of fiction, The Color Purple, is celebrated for being one of the antecedents of contemporary literature. It has persisted to be a cultural classic through the turn of the century, and continues to be a fashionable ‘must-read’ with all worms and buffs at present. Despite Walker’s book igniting a variety of controversy and criticism when published in 1983, it received a much welcomed Pulitzer Prize and gained the American Book Award in 1985. Rooting itself firmly within its own recognition; Steven Spielberg adapted Walker’s tale of oppression and struggle for the big screen, again achieving immense gratitude.
Many consider The Color Purple to be entrenched within ideologies of cultural representation negatively, connecting with old and out-dated racial stereotypes. Perhaps this was Alice Walker’s intention, though again, perhaps not. The tome has to be taken on individual expectations. It highlights and then deals with some key issues of racial coercion, and the maltreatment of women. In spite of the substantial themes the book explores, anybody who has taken the journey, cover to cover, will realise that the ending is comparable to that only seen in the fairy tales of the Walt Disney Company. This is not to say that the book will undoubtedly raise an eyebrow or two in its early displays of brutish and vulgar authority.
“My daddy lynch. My mama crazy. All my little half-brothers and sisters no kin to me. My children not my sister and brother. Pa not pa.”
Celie is the central character of the story, as she is both chief antagonist and narrator. Uneducated, ill-treated by her father figure, black, and just the tender age of fourteen, Celie embarks on a journey that keeps here right where she is expected to be. Decades before heroes such as Rosa Parks, Southern America remained an arduous terrain for a young black female to reside in, despite the complete abolition of slavery. Despite her limited freedom, youth is unkind to Celie as she finds herself often molested by her ‘Pa’, bearing two children which are in turn given away. She finally escapes the wickedness of her father, only to fall directly into the malevolent grip of Mr____. Celie’s hand is given away by her ‘Pa’ as she enters into a laborious marriage reluctantly. In doing so she is torn away from her sister and only trusted companion Nettie. The Color Purple follows Celie’s life through into her later years, and the reader is given the privilege of joining in with every major event in the hazardous adventure.
Through a sequence of letters written to God, Celie’s hardships and destitution are exposed. Later on in the novel her beloved sister, Nettie, writes to Celie from across the Atlantic Ocean in Africa. The Color Purple is a multi-continental strife in which we see the sisters confide in each other wholly. It becomes apparent that the succession of letters are ultimately a form of escape for Celie and Nettie, as they collectively reveal their true emotional potential. The continuation of letter writing within the story accentuates both the sovereignty and potential of communication, and what it can mean to a downtrodden individual. It conjures up an unknown bravery to give us a fruitful narrative.
“You know, he say, you use to remind me of a bird. Way back when you first come to live with me. You was so skinny, Lord, he say. And the least little thing happen, you looked about to fly away.”
The Color Purple exhibits the secrecy of the written word. By the story being told in the form of letters it imparts a potency of strength in the main characters. The letters almost become a confession of sorts. This liberation of the novel’s main antagonist is equally matched by Walker’s descriptive use of colour throughout the book, often reflecting the temperament of a particular character in a particular setting. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple certainly tugs on the heartstrings, leaving the reader with a sense of morbid wonderment. Though, as mentioned before, the ending is satisfactory in curing these ailments of the heart . The antidote to the cruel nature of the tale has to be found in the reader as an individual…