It is with a thankful heart, that I came into The Color Purple completely clueless as to what, exactly, it was about. Sure, I’ve heard of the book. I’ve heard of the movie. I’ve heard of the Broadway musical. I knew of all the Academy Award nominations that it didn’t win. I knew Whoopie was in it, and Oprah too, and even Danny Glover. I knew Steven Spielberg directed it. I knew I loved Alice Walker’s writing, mainly because of the short story Everyday Use, which I have said before here; it changed my life. But I just didn’t know what The Color Purple was about! I’ve owned a copy for years, always meaning to read it, but forgetting it was there. So with Heather and Nicole decided to do a read-a-long last month, I jumped at the chance to join in. Heather was kind enough to give some discussion questions, which I will use to review the book. I’ve pretty much already answered the first question about advanced perception of the book, so I’m going to move on to the second question.
Was the book what you expected to be? What DID you expect?
Well, since I came into the book with little expectations at all, I can’t say that I really knew what I expected it to be. I suppose I expected a story about poor, black people living in the South. I expected violence. I expected it to be a hard read. And I expected it to be sad.
A few of those expectations were met, but most were not. It was not hard to read, not at all, and that I contribute to Walker’s fair hand with her characters. While their lives were hard, they never seemed to really feel sorry for themselves. Well, the men did, but all men act that way. The women were strong, so very strong. They were loving. They were not sad. This was the life they were given and there was no whining about the lot they were given. As they grew and changed, they made the choices they had to make. I think Nicole said it best in her review:
The book was a lot more uplifting than I ever imagined it would be. Celie’s conditions were particularly grim, and I hated the way she always thought she was ugly and not worthwhile, but her change was so absorbing. I really appreciated how she was able to grow by continually making the best of her situation and learning where she could.
How do you feel in general about epistolary novels (books told through letters?) Did this format influence your enjoyment of this book in any way? Do you think they story would have had the same impact if it were not told solely through letters? What other epistolary novels have you read? Did they work for you or did the format detract from the book?
Firstly, I love epistolary novels. And I felt it a very effective device for The Color Purple. I loved how Celie’s first letters were to God, a God she still believed in, despite all the terrible things that had happened to her, that is until the worst thing happened and she stopped believing. Then she began writing her letters to her sister Nettie. I found it interesting how she kept writing to Nettie, even after she had been told Nettie was dead, because she didn’t believe it, she believed Nettie was still there, until the God who she felt abandoned her. It also showed how she was growing as a woman, growing in strength, in faith in herself, and her independence. She is pushed, by her friend Shug, “to an awakening of her creative and loving self” as it says in the book description. So when it comes to that last letter, written to God again, the whole novel comes together and was made more powerful by this, to me. She believed in God again, the God who had returned her sister to her, alive and well. I don’t think that letter, or those ideas, would have been nearly as powerful if Walker had used a first person, third person, or any other way to tell the story.
Also, I agree with this part of Heather’s assessment:
If the book had used a different format to tell the story I don’t think I would have felt Celie’s aloneness so strongly.
One epistolary novel that comes to mind immediately is Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, which I also enjoyed, but more for its cleverness and its cautionary tale about the use of language and the perils of censorship. While both books are good and make excellent use of the epistolary device, The Color Purple is probably the better book in the long run.
Are there any parts of the book that haunt you? Which parts? Why?
Um…all of them? But in particular, Nettie’s story in Africa. The way the natives were treated there was unfamiliar to me and heartbreaking. To be forced off your land, the land your tribe has occupied for centuries, and to not even be able to fight back is absolutely heartbreaking. My eyes prickle with tears even now, thinking about it. And I can tell you I boo-hoo-ed quite a bit at that part.
I also cried, at work no less, when Celie wrote to Nettie that she had heard Nettie had died on her way home. My heart absolutely broke for Celie, because she had no only lost her sister, but her babies as well! Of course, then, when Celie realized that was her sister, and her babies, walking up the road to her house, I sobbed all over again, but that time with joy. What a joyous scene that was! Oh geez, I’m going to cry now just thinking about it.
Lastly, I want to say what a joy it was to listen to Alice Walker read her book. She is a marvelous reader and honestly, I don’t think the book (for me!) would have been as enjoyable. Her lovely voice brought Celie, Shug, Sofia, and everyone else to life in an unforgettable way. I’m so glad I decided to listen to the audiobook.
The Color Purple
Written and read by: Alice Walker
Category: Contemporary Fiction
Published by: Perfection Learning
On Sale: 01 May 2003
Other reviews by:
I am a Book Depository, Powells, and Indie Bound Affiliate and will make a very
small profit if you buy a book through one of my links.