The Color Purple – Alice Walker

July 13, 2009 § Leave a comment

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This book had been sitting on my bookshelf for the past month, and I never actually had the urge to pick it up and read it. I’ve read reviews from other readers, saying that this book is a good one. It’s even in the list of 1001 Books to Read before I die, so I figured that it should be worth it’s weight.

I finally picked the book up today, considering that it’s due back at the library this weekend. The speed at which I finished this book of 289 pages is somewhat surprising to me, because I didn’t expect to finish it until at least tomorrow.

This is a novel, its story told mostly in form of letters from Celie to God. She writes in her own way, grammatical and spelling errors and all, to tell God about her life, about the petty things that matter to her, about her conversations with the people around her. She tells of being abused, of being dead inside, and of finding herself again when she meets with the colourful Shug.

Some parts of the story is told through letters that Celie’s sister, Nettie, writes to her. These letters are only discovered somewhere in the middle of the story, and they tell of a different life. The English used in these letters are somewhat similar to those written by Celie in the beginning, but they gradually change, responding to Nettie’s education. She tells Celie about her life as a missionary in Africa, and about what amusing things she experiences there.

In the preface, Alice writes:

Whatever else The Color Purple has been taken for during the swift ten years since its publication, it remains for me the theological work examining the journey from the religious back to the spiritual that I spent much of my adult life, prior to writing it, seeking to avoid.

Much has been said about this wonderful book, I’m sure, and as Alice points out, the book remains in her eyes what she initially thought it to be. In a sense, the book is written so beautifully, it is indeed very open to a diverse range of interpretation.

Perhaps some have taken this book as some sort of liberation writing, of taking a stand against slavery and discrimination against the black people. Perhaps also it has been taken as a book challenging religion as we know it, and injecting into it a certain aspect of spirituality that so few of us appreciate these days. And perhaps there are even more different takes on what this book means.

But for me, it reads like a diary of someone ordinary. Celie is someone the world doesn’t know. She’s no one important, and her experiences are none to shout about. She’s someone so ordinary that her death would not leave a dent or scratch on the face of humankind. But this someone so ordinary is also someone so special to the people around her. She may be no one important, but she’s Celie to her sister, to Shug, to Sofia, and to so many others in the book, it is enough for her to be Celie and no one else.

The book reveals to me that even the smallest things that you say or do, even if they don’t matter to anyone else, they matter to the people around you. And somehow, the way your existence changes the people that matter is enough. The happiness of the people you care about is enough.

To me, this book is about the little things. It’s about learning to appreciate the small things in life, the subtleties of nature, the slightest change in the people around us. That’s what’s important, and that’s what the book has given to me.

Conclusion:  This book I have thoroughly enjoyed. Though I found Celie’s letters more profound and nearer to the soul, Nettie’s letters did their part in giving me the necessary contrast between her education and Celie’s ignorance. A beautifully written book; one that I might want to read again in the future.

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