The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name.
Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of women of colour in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence.
I don’t even know how to start reviewing this, but I will say that it’s heartbreaking, eye opening, harrowing and uplifting. I’ve never actually cried reading a book before, but I came closer at the end of this than I ever have before.
Books on lists of classics, or those lists of 100 books you must read, are books that I normally stay away from. I expect them to be dry, preachy, pretentious, or all three and generally just dull. But this, this book deserves its place on all of those lists.
Alice Walker is a skilled story teller, and The Colour Purple is accessible and interesting. It works first and foremost as a story about a poor black woman living in deep south America in the 1930’s. Celie narrates her life through journal entries and letters, a literary device that I’ve rarely seen done well but here it works brilliantly to bring her world to life for us.
In this world, the book uncovers issues of race, misogyny, religion and feminism. It manages not to beat us over the head, or preach to us, but just shows us that they are there and how they affect people’s lives. In this subtle way, we can’t ignore them because they are a vital part of Celie’s story.
It’s sad to think that these issues are just as relevant today as they were in the 30’s. These prejudices haven’t gone away, not even here in the UK where we like to think we’re more tolerant than the Americans. They are just as internalised as they ever were, but, until recently anyway, better hidden.
My favourite thing about this book is the women working together to support and help each other.
I recommend this to everyone. It’s an interesting story, and while it’s hard to read at first it has an uplifting ending.