Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance and holler, just trying to be loved.

The Color Purple

By Alice Walker
295 Pages

The Color Purple


The Color Purple is the story of two sisters–one a missionary to Africa and the other a child wife living in the South–who remain loyal to one another across time, distance, and silence. Beautifully imagined and deeply compassionate, this classic of American literature is rich with passion, pain, inspiration, and an indomitable love of life.

Read as the February Selection of Our Shared Shelf.

I have started and restarted this review a half a dozen times now. What do you say about a book that is so go graphic, so raw, but at the same time so real and unapologetically pragmatic?thecolorpurple

The Color Purple is a harsh but honest look at the life of a black woman in the American South at the beginning of the 20th century. Celie, the primary narrator, tells the story through letters to God, and later to her younger sister Nettie. Celie deals with rape, abuse, and humiliation. She becomes wife to a man who does not love her and stepmother to children who do not respect her. Celie is uneducated, and writes her letters with the same grammar in which she speaks. The style is as first jarring, but it flows over time and is authentic to who Celie is and how she thinks and responds to the world.

Further into the novel Nettie also picks up a narrative thread, wri
ting to Celie about her life as a missionary in Africa. Nettie is, by contrast, educated and well spoken. She writes descriptively of her new life and of the shocking contrasts between the African way of life and that of the African Americans back home. The letters of the two sisters paint a portrait of both joy and sorrow- their words divulge pain and suffering but also immense hope and a longing and striving for something better.

This is the first time I have ever picked up this text, and it comes at an interesting time in my reading cycle. Having just recently finished Tess of the D’Urbervilles it is easy to draw comparisons between the two stories and their poor, downtrodden protagonists- women who handle hardships based upon their sex, status, and relationships. But where Tess tries to run away, and ultimately never escapes her past, Celie and her sister Nettie face their situations (which also have the added racial component that Tess never dealt with) head on. Celie especially deals with horrifically abusive episodes that shatter you to read about, and while she initially accepts them and her place, she eventually grows into her own person with her own decisions and successes. It also, unlike Tess, has the benefit of a mostly-happy ending.

The Color Purple is a profoundly beautiful work- moving, troubling, and deeply emotional. It is a portrait of two lives, two women trying to make the best out of what they’ve been given against the backdrop of race, poverty, and a changing world. It left me with a range of feelings than ran the gamut in all directions, and it is easy to see why this is considered such a classic, and why it ultimately awarded Walker both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award.

Summary from Goodreads