I bought The Color Purple by Alice Walker years and years ago without any inclination of what it was about, how significant it was, or its acclaim. It was only recently that I began to see reviews and anticipate that this novel would be really something.
And I definitely was not disappointed! From the outset, the voice of the main character Celie overwhelms the narrative, and it continues to do so throughout. Celie is not especially strong or smart or even all that likeable at first, but she has her own feelings and motivations, and her own tentative sense of self which develops slowly as the story progresses.
Celie has the worst start in life, and some of the things that have happened to her are really heartbreaking. But, gradually, she is built up by her friendships and interactions with the women around her and her growth as a person is truly heartwarming. The way female friendships are portrayed in this book is really remarkable; they are so full of nuance, balancing moments of fiery confrontation with deep-rooted affection and solidarity.
Not only do the characters feel wonderfully real, but the setting is also brought to life by Alice Walker's writing. In one of the rave reviews inside the front cover of my edition, it talks of 'a whole submerged world', which to me feels like the perfect description of what this novel does. It takes an experience that is completely alien to many of its readers and plunges them in headlong. The use of phonetically-written dialect is instrumental to getting the reader into Celie's head and into her world.
To sum up, The Color Purple is a daring and beautiful exploration of love and life, gender, race, sexuality, identity, family and faith. You don't always identify with or agree with the characters and their choices, but you do end up loving them and rooting for them. Celie is such a wonderful but unusual protagonist! She doesn't seem like anything special, but she loves and is loved, and she grows so much as a character throughout the book. By the end I was so desperate for her to get her happy ending, and when I closed the book it felt like saying goodbye to a friend.
What did you think of The Color Purple? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments!