Title: The Color Purple
Author: Alice Walker
Year Published: 1982
Notable Quote: “She say, Miss Celie, You better hush. God might hear you.
Let ‘im hear me, I say. If he ever listened to poor colored women the world would be a different place, I can tell you.”
The Color Purple has always been a favorite movie of mine. Easily top three. But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I decided to read the book. I fell in love with the book, but that love emptied some of my appreciation for the film.
The book explores Celie and her path towards a spiritual awakening. She suffers from multiple types of abuse yet discovers the power in her craft, her mind, and her sexuality by the book’s end. While any being could relate to the theoretical path of a spirit breaking free, Celie’s path speaks, especially for black queer women.
Those not considered classically beautiful even by culturally Black standards. (Celie’s body is hardly described yet she’s constantly called ugly. Never pretty – always a hardworking, obeying, dutiful woman.)
Those who could never realize their self-worth.
And those who’ve experienced sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse.
Without completely discrediting the movie, I must point out that it portrays a story different from the book. Some major plot points – like the matter of Shug Avery’s dad or Shug’s song for Celie – are minor in the book. Alice Walker creates a world where Shug and Celie are more than sisters and Mr. ____ isn’t so evil. I imagine the film producers feared lesbian feelings and nuanced black male characters on the big screen. Somehow they figured the truth wouldn’t generate much money.
The book is always better, as any avid reader will tell you. The depth of Walker’s literary world makes me question my attachment to the film. Whether you loved the movie or not, this book is a must read. It serves a greater purpose in terms of cultural importance and representation.
Through extensive relationships with Shug Avery and Sofia, Celie transforms into a better version of herself. She explores the concepts of God, marriage, and gender roles with these two women serving as rule-breaking examples. We remember movie Sofia as “You told Harpo to beat me.” yet missed the strength in her walk, her voice and her mind. The book shows Sofia as a more complete being, whose strength can be broken too.
Alice Walker’s writing style opens the colloquial world of Black southern folk in the 1930s. More specifically those with less than a middle-school education. Each chapter is a journal entry written within Celie’s frame of reference. Layman’s terms replace technical names, requiring readers to pay true attention to sentence structure. Deductive reasoning is a must. Especially if you’re unfamiliar with the 1930’s vernacular of Black folk living in rural Georgia.
I love the story overall – deeper than my love for the movie I can recite watching. I’ve read it twice and will read it many times over – until it’s time to return it to the library. I’d still watch the movie as, just with the literary structure present in my imagination. I’ll be thinking critically about how Steven Spielberg could have allowed the story to truly flourish.
The book is a classic – an oldie but goodie that should be incorporated in American High School classes all over. It would give many students the perspective of black women and our history in this country.
A perspective that some seem to miss.
“[white] Man corrupt everything, say Shug. He on our box of grits, in your head, and all over the radio. He try to make you think he everywhere. Soon as you think he everywhere, you think he God.”
“Oh, she say. God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ’em you enjoys ’em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God by liking what you like.”