1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol; 25: The Colour Purple, by Alice Walker

Note: Though the text is written by an American, I will defer to the Canadian spelling of words such as ‘colour’.

Alice Walker’s classic narrative, The Colour Purple, has won the National Book Award, and also something called The Pulitzer Prize (not sure what that is about), so it hardly needs a recommendation from the like of me, but nonetheless I shall give it.

Walker’s narrative details, via first persona narrative, the life of a Black woman named Celie, and follows her from the depression era up through to about the 1950’s (a guestimation since dates are never actually mentioned and the only point of reference is the mention of the war). It follow the rural, share-cropping life of a Black community that is virtually shut off from the rest of the world, and its protagonist is given away in marriage (along with a cow) to a man she does not know, after having been raped and impregnated twice by her stepfather, who in turn gave her children away and told her they had died. Her life in marriage is one of servitude that differs little from what one might imagine as the life of a plantation slave. When her husband/master is unhappy he beats her, and their carnal relationship is one which is meant to serve her husband only, and one which Celie equates with going to the bathroom. The illustrates how tradition and religion serve as a retarding weight on one’s spirits and acts as an albatross, offering little solace in return.

Coupled with the fact that Celie is a Black woman, she is also homosexual, and in turn must reconcile her feelings, for which she has not the words to describe, with her environment. When her husband returns to their house with his former lover, who has taken ill, Celie eventually finds a friend, and then a lover in the beautiful singer.

A sister, whom her husband had prevented all contact, has discovered Celie’s children and has gone on a mission with them to Africa (their adoptive parents are Christian missionaries), and her letters detail how, while the slave trade may have stopped in name, imperialism maintains the spirit of it well into the 20th century. Through a narrative that is not overtly preachy, the parallels are articulately present by Walker.

After a gut-wrenchingly depressing 200+ pages, Celie finds that the man she thoughts was her biological father is actually only her stepfather and that the plantation which he lived on is passed onto her, and eventually she comes to terms with her husband, who after abandoning she becomes friends with, and her lover, and of course her sister returns with her two long, lost children to complete a Hollywood ending that seems to detract from the narrative some what.

Words I thought I’d look up: None. The narrator’s vocabulary is small than my own, but it is a testament Walker’s writing ability to unfold a narrative of such depth via a narrator who has the vocabulary of fourth grader.

Up next: Black History Month continues with Richard Wright’s autobiography: Black Boy



P.S. Febuary 10th, 2011 marks two months into my mission! That is 1/6 of the way through the year, and I have read 1/4 of the number of books I am aiming to read already!  Self-high five!

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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