The Color Purple is a 288-page novel written by Alice Walker. Many of us might be generally aware of the movie, starring Whoopi Goldberg, who brings such a life and structure to the character that we couldn’t even imagine there being a book! Released in 1982, it is evident with a quick flip through the book that it isn’t written traditionally, with a literate narrator and conventional chapters. The Color Purple is written in letters, most written by the main character Celie, who right off the bat is someone who should be sympathized with.
Celie and Misogyny
This review contains SPOILER ALERTS, so, if you have not read the book and want to be surprised, you may want to skip down to the section titled, “My Thoughts”.
We find out early in the first letter that Celie has a dying mother, still being goaded into intercourse by Celie’s stepfather, Alfonso. Witnessing this is scarring enough, and probably PTSD inducing, but what makes it worse is that when Alfonso stops pressuring her mother into sex, he begins to rape Celie, bringing about multiple children, one of which he takes into the woods and murders, and another of which he sells. All the while, Alfonso mentally tortures Celie, he calls her stupid as much as he can, and makes her feel like trash compared to her sister Nettie. On page 8, Alfonso describes Nettie as “big”, “ugly”, and “spoiled” despite the fact that he was attempting to sell her to a man for money.
Everything that was allowed to happen to Celie so far in the book. without a doubt enforces heavy sexism. Although sexism still exists, there is no way that in today’s America, a man would be allowed to openly sell his “daughter” like how Celie was sold. And though Celie doesn’t like being taken advantage of by Alfonso, she doesn’t view it as something that shouldn’t be happening, or something that is taboo, because a norm of the time was to allow men to do whatever they wanted to women. Especially black women, and that is where everyone alive during this period failed not only Celie, but every black woman around her.
Dealing with the pompous, white, state of society as a black woman is a necessity, and I think Celie is doing it the best that she can. Crying is one of the most effective ways of dealing with hardship, and we see Celie do so on page 15 in her bed. But, other than a short cry here and there, I notice that Celie tends to appear emotionless which I feel is defense mechanism, to keep those like Alfonso from further abusing her emotionally and physically.
Overall, I think Celie is a product of those around her, such as Alfonso, and I think Alfonso is a product of the society he lives in, where, though he is not a the top of the food chain because of his blackness, he at least knows that he can always control and demand from the black women around him. Though the state of society probably won’t change in Celie’s fictional life time, stories like hers, I think, will always force people to think and in turn, enforce change.
In this day in age, multiple people have multiple definition of family. The two most popular concepts of family are different but still have the same root idea. The first definition of family is probably the first one that all of us learn; people we are related to are our family, such as our brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. They’re are the ones meant to devote time to us, care for us, and love us. It’s only later in life where we realize that blood doesn’t always create the most functional and healthy relationships, and that is possible to choose your own family. A very prominent example of choosing your own family is the LGBTQ+ community, especially in the 80’s. Young black gay kids kicked out of their homes by their first families due to flamboyant and, overall gayness would flee to various parts of the world, most popularly New York. There, young, gay youth of color would find others exactly like them, and create houses, with a functional mother-figure and children who were usually gay males.
Having these examples of family in mind, reading The Color Purple is definitely mind boggling, because Celie, a young girl living most likely in the 1910’s far before the 80’s, or present time, didn’t get to choose her family, or have a functioning blood family in the first place. The only person Celie calls pa is her rapist step father, and in her mother’s sickness and eventual death, the care put into her siblings is one sided, as she is essentially their mother. Again, Celie is left without choices and ill-benefited, which seems to be a never ending cycle. But the cycle gets weirder for those of us without preconceived ideas of family as the story continues. When Celie’s stepfather sells her into marriage to a man called “Mr. _____”, ideas that we have of this time period have of marriage is tested.
Mr._____’s and most likely everyone else’s idea of a wife in the 1910’s was someone who takes care of a man’s kids, has sex with a man on demand, and handles everything around a man’s house, not because it’s fun, or because they love said man, but because they have to. Celie has unfortunately been sucked in the toxicity. Not only are men not obligated to reciprocate any of the things women are, they are fully allowed to date other women! The only thing separating a wife and maid/nanny in this time period are the letters W, I, F, and E. The other woman in Celie’s scenario is Shug Avery. The only thing I could compare this family dynamic to other than a very abusive relationship is a family called The Browns from the television show Sister Wives on TLC on television. This television show features a family in which a man called Kody Brown and his four wives have a combined eighteen children. The difference, however, is that each wife is willing, and treated like a wife, not a maid or nanny. Though the sister wives lifestyle is definitely not for everybody, nobody can say that it is unfair or abusive.
Celie and Nettie
Shug Avery, Mr._____’s girlfriend who I mentioned earlier is evidently loved by many. Not only does Mr._____ fall at her feet like the toxic child of a man that is always on the surface of his personality, but Celie is very deeply infatuated with Shug. In fact, Celie loved Shug before she even met her, maybe even more than she loves her sister, Nettie. This love is evident on page 146 when she says that cuddling with Shug feels even better than cuddling with Nettie. It’s hard to believe that Celie even remembers being around Nettie, because of the intense distance between them. Celie’s infatuation with Shug isn’t one-sided, Shug loves Celie too, and with that love, Shug helps her find an assortment of letters that Nettie had been sending her over the years. Under the assumption that Nettie was dead, Celie is infuriated that Mr._____ kept the letters from her for so long, nonetheless, she promptly reads them.
Come to find out, Nettie is South Africa on a mission trip. Celie was never given even as close to a fair opportunity as Nettie. Though Nettie was on the brink of being sold to Mr._____, which didn’t happen upon Celie’s insistence, Nettie was always perceived as smarter and prettier, which is still the case. Celie’s letters still read as illiterate, whereas Nettie was given an opportunity to go to school, so she can, read, write, and spell well. The obvious difference between there is lives is location. Celie lives in America whereas Nettie lives in America, which makes Nettie more culturally aware than Celie, due to the fact that Nettie was traveling continents while Celie was traveling to the kitchen and back to living room with Mr._____’s dinner. However, what is the same is there remaining care for eachother. Though perceiving Nettie as dead, Celie recounts her in countless letters, and Nettie obviously cares for Celie because of the persistence of her letters, even knowing that Nettie wasn’t getting them.
The Color Purple is a tale of hardship, sadness, and more hardship with evident motifs, allusions, and ideas of God, faith, and belief. Though none of the norms practiced in this book would fly this year, or any year to come after this one, I still think Celie’s story is important, intense and dramatic, and I think that is one of the things I like about the book.
The Color Purple is definitely not a book I’d read on my own accord (my editor assigned it for me to read), but I think it’s important, largely relevant, and well-written. Celie’s revelations and pain and revelations that came out of her pain can change ideas of racism, sexism, and love easily, and that, in my opinion, should be celebrated.
Khari Dawson is a high-school sophomore and a film student at the Community College of Baltimore County. She writes book, music and movie reviews and enjoys concerts in her free time. Check out her work at ilove2writestories.com