I chose to read The Colour Purple (and I know I am using Australian spelling for colour there) by Alice Walker because it came highly recommended by Oprah Winfrey. Now, I was a big fan of Oprah while I was at university and have read, and enjoyed, other novels she has recommended. I can’t really say the same for this one. It reminded me of a short story I had to study in my last year of high school: ‘real land’ by Joanne Burns. I had to learn quotes from it for my TEE exam and I remember struggling because all my brain wanted to do was correct the grammar, and put some capital letters and full stops in! I will warn any prospective readers of The Colour Purple – it has almost no punctuation and is full of slag.
The story takes the form of letters from Celie first to God and then to her sister. In the second half of the book there are letters received by Celie from her sister, Nettie. Essentially this is a story of Celie’s self-discovery. Celie is a poor, young African-American who has been sexually abused by her father since puberty; and fallen pregnant to him twice . Celie is forced by her father to marry the abusive widower Mr ________ (and, no, I haven’t forgotten his name, that is how he is referred to in the book) and essentially become his and his children’s slavey.
Mr _______ has a mistress, Shug Avery, who he brings to live with them when she contracts an STD and becomes violently ill. Shug treats Celie contemptibly. Despite this, Celie gradually falls in love with her and they become lovers. Celie tells Shug that she believes her sister is dead as she has not heard from her in years. Together, the women search the house and discover that Mr ________ has been hiding all of Nettie’s correspondence. By reading the letters Celie learns that her children are alive and living in Africa with their adoptive parents (who are Missionaries) and Nettie, their companion/servant.
Celie and Mr _______ eventually reconcile. Celie becomes an independent woman, supporting herself by sewing pants. She starts to find contentment in her life and experiences great joy when, after 25-30 years, she is finally reunited with her sister and her grown children.
I didn’t overly enjoy this book. Not that I was put off enough to stop reading; but I wasn’t engaged by it. The quote I like best is the origin for the title. Shug and Celie are discussing their faith. Shug describes what she thinks God does to please people: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it”. How true. It made me think how often I let the good things in my day pass unnoticed and gripe about the small things. In doing so, I forget to acknowledge God for what a truly wonderful world he’s made.