How do you say that a book is a wonderful book? For me, it’s when everything from the book keeps ‘haunting’ me long after I finish it. It’s when I feel quite affected (in a good way of course) by the book, that it somehow changes a bit of me—what I think and what I feel. And that’s how I feel about this book: The Color Purple.
At the beginning, I thought this book is just going to be a story of pains and sorrows, racisms, and hard times for African-American women; a kind of story that you would perhaps put down halfway because it is too sad and frustrating to keep on reading. But I was wrong. On the contrary, The Color Purple—although it did tells stories about pains and sorrows—it tells more about love and friendship, faith and hope. And Alice Walker has written them all in a series of letters. Through that letters, we came to know about Celie and Nettie—the two sisters who love each other even though their lives have been separated, and all they must have gone through to keep their hopes on each other, in the middle of a turbulence era in America in 1910-1940s.
I love how Alice Walker emphasizes many remarkable things within the letters which were written by a non-educated African-American woman like Celie. I mean, those letters are not just ordinary letters, they contain deeper and stronger meanings, and a lot of life philosophies too sometimes. For example, the first sentence that opens the story: ‘You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy’. I detect terror or shame in it, as if the person who has written it has done something very wrong or shameful—a big secret—that she couldn’t tell anybody but God. What a great way to start a novel! It already speaks the overall theme of the story, because that’s how Celie must have felt nearly her entire life.
Unlike Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin—where Uncle Tom was portrayed almost like a saint, Celie is not that ideal, not perfect. However I love Celie better than Uncle Tom because she’s just an ordinary human being just like most of us, who can be bitter and weak upon the tortures of life. At first Celie seemed to be faithful to God, she poured her sorrows into her letters to Him. She didn’t run away like Nettie, she didn’t fight like Sofia. She just gone through every pains she got from her Pa and then from her husband, Mr. _______. However at certain point, that was when she knew that Mr. _____ has hidden Nettie’s letter from her, she stopped writing to God, and began to write to Nettie instead. It’s interesting to read how Celie felt about God at that time, from her conversation with Shug:
Celie: “What God do for me?”
Shug: “Celie! He gave you life, good health, and a good woman that love you to death.”
Celie: “Yeah, and he give me a lynched daddy, a crazy mama, a lowdown dog of a step pa and a sister I probably won’t ever see again. Anyhow, the God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all the other mens I know. Trifling, forgetful and lowdown.”
Shug: “Miss Celie, you better hush. God might hear you.”
Celie: “Let ‘im hear me. If he ever listened to poor colored women the world would be a different place, I can tell you.”
Well, there were times when we were in hard times, we might think the same way, that God has forgotten us and left us, so we also left God. It’s not strange, because—like Celie—we are all weak. At her hard times, Celie turned to the one she love the most, her sister Nettie and her best friend Shug. It’s them (especially Nettie) who have saved Celie from throwing God away for good. Because in people you love, and love you in return, you will find God’s presence. And at the end (to my joy!), Celie can finally repair her relationship with God in her last letter. We also experience the ups and downs of our faith, and now we know—thanks to Celie—that the only way to keep us from falling is to open our heart for love.
The same thing happened to Mr. ______. His philosophy is quite deep, and I think, very interesting:
“I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ast. And that in wondering bout the big things and asting bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things that you start out with. The more I wonder, the morel love.”
There are several things that I don’t get quite well, though. For instance, why did the African reject all the missionaries, although they were also African (Samuel, Corrine and Nettie)? And why they dislike Africans that had been sold for slavery to America? Is that because of their being narrow minded?
And why do you think Celie kept calling his husband with Mr. ________? I think Alice Walker wants to emphasize how women’s status upon men’s at that time. Men have full authorities to women, that even after their marriage, Mr. _______ placed himself as a master, and Celie as a slave. Or, it might be that Celie hated his husband so much that she can’t spell his name, as if to say.. hey, he who used to beat me and treat me like a slave is not a friend, so I won’t call him as if he’s my friend. Because at the end when everything got better for Celie, she could finally call Mr. ________ with just ‘Albert’. What do you think?
I have also been wondering about the color purple itself. Has it a certain meaning that Alice Walker wanted to tell us? Or is it just Celie’s favorite color besides red? I remember that Celie asked for color purple or red when Shug brought her to a store to buy cloth for her first dress. The cover of the copy I read (borrowed from a friend) is also intriguing me, as it has purple flowers on the grayscale image of a black woman. I have discussed it here.
Last but not least, through The Color Purple we can see the danger of racism. I learned it from the scene of Sofia and Miss Eleanor Jane, when Eleanor Jane tried to make Sofia say something good about his baby. Eleanor Jane could not understand why Sofia can’t treat her just as a friend. Sofia knew that Eleanor Jane loves her despite of their different races, but there will always be an invisible curtain that separates them. And I think it would take a very long time too before that invisible curtain could vanish completely from our society.
Five stars for The Color Purple and Alice Walker!
Title: The Color Purple
Author: Alice Walker
Publisher: A Harvest International Edition