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September 11, 2018

The Color Purple by Alice Walker #GreatReadPBS

by Susan Roberts

Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, published in 1982, tells the story of Celie, a Black woman in the South. Celie writes letters to God in which she tells about her life–her roles as daughter, wife, sister, and mother. In the course of her story, Celie meets a series of other Black women who shape her life: Nettie, Celie’s sister, who becomes a missionary teacher in Africa; Shug Avery, the Blues singer her husband Mr. ______ is in love with, and who becomes Celie’s salvation; Sofia, the strong-willed daughter-in-law whose strength and courage inspire Celie; and Squeak, who goes through awakenings of her own. Throughout the story, though, Celie is the center of this community of women, the one who knows how to survive.
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How it begins:

The Color Purple
You better not never tell nobody but God. It'd kill your mammy.

Dear God,

I am fourteen years old. I am I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me.

Last spring after little Lucious come I heard them fussing. He was pulling on her arm. She say It too soon, Fonso, I ain't well. Finally he leave her alone. A week go by, he pulling on her arm again. She say Naw, I ain't gonna. Can't you see I'm already half dead, an all of these chilren.

She went to visit her sister doctor over Macon. Left me to see after the others. He never had a kine word to say to me. Just say You gonna do what your mammy wouldn't. First he put his thing up gainst my hip and sort of wiggle it around. Then he grab hold my titties. Then he push his thing inside my pussy. When that hurt, I cry. He start to choke me, saying You better shut up and git used to it.

But I don't never git used to it. And now I feels sick every time I be the one to cook. My mama she fuss at me an look at me. She happy, cause he good to her now. But too sick to last long.

My thoughts:  

I remember reading The Color Purple in college and enjoyed it then.  Surprisingly I enjoyed it even more when I re-read it this month.  Maybe having seen more of life, the book had more meaning to me.  It's the first book that I remember reading that is told in the Epistolary manner - using only letters to tell the story.  It's also the first book that I read using the dialect of the black South.  The book takes place in Georgia in the 1930s during the Depression.  Not only does it show the life and poverty of the black share-croppers but more importantly it shines a light on the way the females were treated at this time - they were at the very bottom of the social strata and worked extremely hard to keep what little they had.  This book is the total opposite of my life, when I read it,  I was a white female living in the North with numerous occupations available to me.  Despite the differences, this book really resonated with me.  Celie's pain and her struggle to improve her life despite the odds against her was very real and is told with such detail that you don't need to have walked in her shoes to feel empathy for her.  Her ability to triumph over all of the negativity and abuse in her life was uplifting to read.

Should The Color Purple be considered one of the 100 Great American Reads???  In my opinion, it belongs in this group of wonderful books with no question. Do you agree?

The title:  

I am always interested in where the title of a book comes from and excited when I can find the exact reference.  In The Color Purple, it's in an exchange between Celie and Shug:

"I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it," Shug says.  "People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”

Celie is forced to admit that she has, in fact, never observed these things. This admission changes her life.

Interesting facts about The Color Purple

  • It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 and Alice Walker became the first woman of color to win this award.
  • It won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1983.
  • -t was made into a movie in 1985 starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey,  Directed by Stephen Spielberg and was nominated for Oscar and Golden Globe awards.
  • It was made into a stage play in 2005 and won a Tony award in 2016 for the Best Musical Revival.
  • It is #17 in the list of Most Challenged Books in the US due to language and sexual content.

Watch the Great American Read tonight at 8/7c on PBS. See other Great American Reads we've covered.

Buy The Color Purple at Amazon

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling. She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads,  or Twitter

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  1. Such a powerful book -- I read it when it came out, but haven't reread since. Maybe I should.

    1. It was even more powerful to me when I re-read it recently.

  2. I remember the author winning this prize!

    Here is my Tuesday post.

    Happy Tuesday!

  3. I loved the book and the movie, but now I want to read it again. Thanks for sharing, and here's mine: “THE LIES WE TOLD”

  4. Haven't read the book but I saw the movie.

  5. I never read the book, but I did see the movie. Your teaser makes me want to read the book too.