The Color Purple by Alice Walker

★★★★★ (5/5)

This epistolary novel is truly a remarkable read. From stylistic choices of dialect and missives, to a rich and varied cast of secondary characters, “The Color Purple” is an era-defining, genre-setting book. From the indomitable Shug Avery (who has inadvertently made me fall in love with her) to the brutish Mr. Albert, from the indestructible Sofia to the spineless rat Harpo, relentlessness of spirit, moral fortitude and an ever-pervading sense of self and belief of Celie and Nettie provide for an unforgettable read of the black female experience of late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Accounts of Olinka people provided by Nettie in her letters to Celie, along with details of stellar cities, forests and continents beyond Celie’s limited world make for a thoroughly interesting read especially in the context of comparing the generalized black experience to the particular African-American experience. Perhaps the gist of their correspondence was that acknowledgement of one’s roots is important, but formation of a new identity and its rightful propagation is crucial to survival.

Inherent entrepreneurship and creativity of women in the face of systemic and gendered, male-oriented control is a pivotal driving force of this book. Other overarching themes include spirituality and isolation, sisterhood and oppression and overt and subtle racism extended from white to colored folks. An element of curiosity, of being constantly in search for answers regarding the self and the surroundings is ubiquitous in the novel. Towards the end, the reader as well as the characters find solace and contentment with lives lived. There is an unspoken equanimity with Nature which comes forth to resolve all distances and differences. And herein lies the true beauty of this spectacular novel.

A selection of my favorite passages from the book

On Faith and Identity

  • It’s worse than that, I think. If I was buried, I wouldn’t have to work. But I just say, Never mine, never mine, long as I can spell G-o-d I got somebody along.
  • All this week I suffer. Grady and me feel so down he turn to reefer, I turn to prayer.
  • God is different to us now, after all these years in Africa. More spirit than ever before, and more internal. Most people think he has to look like something or someone—a roofleaf or Christ—but we don’t. And not being tied to what God looks like, frees us.

  • All womens not alike, Tobias, she say. Believe it or not. Oh, I believe it, he say. Just can’t prove it to the world. First time I think about the world.
  • Oh, Celie, unbelief is a terrible thing. And so is the hurt we cause others unknowingly.

  • She say you think your way as good as anybody else’s. Plus, it yours.

On Love and Happiness

  • Everybody say how good I is to Mr. _____ children. I be good to them. But I don’t feel nothing for them. Patting Harpo back not even like patting a dog. It more like patting another piece of wood. Not a living tree, but a table, a chifferobe. Anyhow, they don’t love me neither, no matter how good I is.
  • One good thing bout the way he never do any work round the place, us never miss him when he gone.
  • There is so much we don’t understand. And so much unhappiness comes because of that.
  • But the worse part was having to listen to his own heart. It did pretty well as long as there was daylight, but soon as night come, it went crazy. Beating so loud it shook the room. Sound like drums.

  • Well, I say, we all have to start somewhere if us want to do better, and our own self is what us have to hand.

On Colored and White Folks

  • But how anything they build can last a day is a wonder to me. They backward, she say. Clumsy, and unlucky.
  • I spent fifteen minutes with my children. And she been going on for months bout how ungrateful I is. White folks is a miracle of affliction, say Sofia.
  • We are not white. We are not Europeans. We are black like the Africans themselves. And that we and the Africans will be working for a common goal: the uplift of black people everywhere.

  • And all the colored folks talking bout loving everybody just ain’t looked hard at what they thought they said.
  • He a schoolteacher too and work on the Indian reservation. They call him the black white man. They have a word that mean that, too, and it really bother him. But even if he try to tell them how he feel, they don’t seem to care. They so far gone nothing strangers say mean nothing. Everybody not a Indian they got no use for. I hate to see his feelings hurt, but that’s life.
  • But they think so much in terms of thousands of years they have a hard time gitting themself through one.

Beautifully Constructed Sentences

  • The way you know who discover America, Nettie say, is think bout cucumbers. That what Columbus sound like. I learned all about Columbus in first grade, but look like he the first thing I forgot.
  • She look so stylish it like the trees all round the house draw themself up tall for a better look.
  • Sofia the kind of woman no matter what she have in her hand it look like a weapon.
  • I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with.

  • There is a way that the men speak to women that reminds me too much of Pa. They listen just long enough to issue instructions. They don’t even look at women when women are speaking.
  • No wonder the men are often childish. And a grown child is a dangerous thing, especially since, among the Olinka, the husband has life and death power over the wife.

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