Told entirely through letters, The Color Purple is the story of Celie, a black girl who is sexually abused by her father, giving birth to two of his children, and who grows into a woman abused and cowed by her husband. It’s only when her husband’s long-time lover, Shug, a nightclub singer, comes to stay with the family that Celie begins to find her feet, experiencing sexual awakening, love, and a modicum of independence for the first time in her life. Alongside Celie’s story are letters from her sister Nettie, who becomes a missionary in Africa over the course of the story and discovers her own happiness in a very different way.
I knew this book was going to be good; I’ve had it recommended to me multiple times, but somehow never managed to actually get my hands on it until I read about it in The Heroine’s Bookshelf. Set alongside some of my all-time favorite books, The Color Purple finally called out to me and demanded to be read. Now that I have, I’m very glad I listened!
This is not a book for the faint of heart. These poor women have a very tough time, particularly Celie, who is beaten down again and again until she has virtually no spirit left. She’s abused as a very young girl, forced to give birth to children of incest, and not even allowed to keep those children – the only two she ever has. She’s told constantly that she is plain, worthless, and exists to do the bidding of the men around her. Her only bright spot in life is her sister Nettie, and when Nettie goes then Celie’s spirit goes with her. Even though she meets other vibrant women, it takes living with a woman with spark, Shug, to teach Celie how to embrace her own.
I felt so much for Celie throughout this book. She is treated like a slave and never stands up for herself, but as readers we know that she has a pure heart and is a woman just waiting to love and be loved. The other characters also inspire sympathy – I loved in particular Nettie’s letters from Africa – but not to the same extent. This is her book of suffering and her book of self-discovery, both in one go. Celie’s revelation is not only of this world but it’s also religious, which I could appreciate even without sharing her beliefs.
In fact, there was only one thing I didn’t like about the book; the timelines. The lives of Celie and Nettie simply don’t match up. Events that take years in Celie’s life pass by in much less time in Nettie’s life. It was confusing, but ultimately the book still has a lot to say and I didn’t let this put me off.
The Color Purple is a fantastic book that I waited much too long to read. Don’t make the same mistake!
All book links to external sites are affiliate links. I purchased this book.