The Color Purple tells the story of Celie, a black woman who finds herself in one abusive situation after anotherThis is one of my new favorite books.
The Color Purple tells the story of Celie, a black woman who finds herself in one abusive situation after another. Her stepfather molests her, her husband beats her, and she is worn down by bearing and caring for children. Over the course of the book, however, Celie learns to stand up for herself and, more importantly, learns to love. Celie's personal development is prompted by her relationship with Shug Avery, a singer and her husband's former lover, who comes to live with them for a while during an illness. Their relationship shifts dramatically, from competitors for Celie's husband to friends, then lovers, and finally family. As Shug says, "Us each other's peoples now" (189). Her personal development is helped along even further through her correspondence with her sister Nettie, who is working as a missionary in Africa with Celie's children that she was forced to give away. Through Shug, Celie learns about love, physical pleasure and desire, and the possibilities of creative outlets; through Nettie, Celie learns about the larger world and begins to see that her life is only one of many possibilities. She learns that her life could be different and through that gradual realization, she makes her life different.
Some of this may sound corny, but it really, truly works in this novel. Walker is able to provide a vision of redeeming love that isn't simplistic or even easy for the characters involved. Celie's growth comes with pain, as does the growth of her formerly abusive husband into a real human being who is able to love both Celie and Shug and his children in a way that he could not before.
What is most meaningful or moving for me in this book, though, is the vision of God and faith that Walker provides. At one point in the book, Celie announces that she no longer believes in God. She tells Shug, "the God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all the other mens I know. Trifling, forgitful and lowdown" (199). Shug responds by telling her about her form of God. She says, "God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. . . . God ain't a he or a she, but a It" (202). Furthermore, she describes her experience of God by saying, "one day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. . . . It sort of like you know what, she say, grinning and rubbing high up on my thigh" (203). For Shug, God is love, joy, pleasure, beauty. God wants admiration and wants us to enjoy the things it has created. "I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it" (203). This kind of pantheistic version of God in nature and in our experiences is one that resonates with me and one that provides plenty of opportunities to use religion in positive, life-affirming ways (as opposed to the sometimes frightening ways in which traditional religion--with its white male God and its proscriptions against sex and other forms of pleasure--can be used). This version of God is not distant and judgmental; it is internal and pleasurable, creative. Shug illustrates one way in which this God can be useful: "Whenever you trying to pray, and man plop himself on the other end of it, tell him to git lost, say Shug. Conjure up flowers, wind, water, a big rock. But this hard work, let me tell you. He been there so long, he don't want to budge. He threaten lightening, floods and earthquakes. Us fight. I hardly pray at all. Every time I conjure up a rock, I throw it" (204). In this way, prayer and God become part of a larger struggle for self-determination and the ability for women like Celie to fight back and claim their own lives back from those who would abuse them or take advantage of them.
Some people object to The Color Purple on the grounds of its pantheism or its lesbianism or its frank sexuality or its violence and abuse or its representation of men. Some people see Celie's attitude toward men (she is totally uninterested at best, with the exception of the friendship that finally develops between her and her husband--and that bonding occurs over how much they both love Shug) as a condemnation of men in general. But Walker's real concern here is love--love for oneself, love for others, and love received from others. As Celie's husband says while they sit and talk and sew together, "When it comes to what folks do together with they bodies . . . anybody's guess is as good as mine. But when you talk about love I don't have to guess. I have love and I have been love. And I thank God he let me gain understanding enough to know love can't be halted just cause some peoples moan and groan" (276-7)....more
There are some parts of this book that are fantastic. Precious's voice and emotions are rendered with skill and provide the reader with a strong senseThere are some parts of this book that are fantastic. Precious's voice and emotions are rendered with skill and provide the reader with a strong sense of who she is, the things that have made her who she is, and who she wants to become. In those moments where Precious's internal life shines through, the book is at its best.
As a writing and literature teacher, I also appreciate the emphasis on the liberatory potential of reading and writing. It moves me to see someone changed so positively because of the ability to communicate and connect through language.
In many ways this is an updated version of The Color Purple (which is one of my all-time favorite books) and in many ways it succeeds as such. However, the one big thing that this book does not have that The Color Purple does have, the one big thing that would've made this a book I could give 4 or 5 stars instead of just 3, is development. Precious comes through clearly and her past comes through clearly, but later, as she changes, as Sapphire tries to give the reader a sense of the future and what lies ahead for Precious, it feels as if too much effort is elided, too much change is glossed over. It feels too easy. This is not an easy topic or an easy book and the ending should not be easy, either. As is pointed out in the book, The Color Purple has also faced criticism of its ending as some people say that they think the conclusion of that novel is too easy, too much of a fairy tale; the conclusion of Push is perhaps less open to the criticism of being a fairy tale ending, but it is also not earned in the way that Walker earns her ending. ...more
This is a hard book to rate. It is fascinating and beautiful and there were times that I wanted it to never end. For those parts, it deserves five staThis is a hard book to rate. It is fascinating and beautiful and there were times that I wanted it to never end. For those parts, it deserves five stars. It is also brutal and painful to read and at those times I wanted to stop reading it immediately.
It is about healing and it is about horrific violence. The adults in the story are well-intentioned and loving child abusers; Hulme builds on this apparent contradiction and presents a complex representation of the ways that we hurt the people we love, but I think, in the end, this violence is too easily dealt with. I *want* to believe in the healing that the three main characters find at the end of the book, but I'm not quite able to get past the abuse that has taken place to do so....more
Twitter review: Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is brilliant & terrifying, constructed of beautiful writing & ugly characters, filled w/ lies but paTwitter review: Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is brilliant & terrifying, constructed of beautiful writing & ugly characters, filled w/ lies but painfully true.
This book has passages in it that make me want to read them out loud to someone, to share their brilliance and beauty, but the story and the characters are ugly and fucked-up. This story is a masterful portrait of manipulation and abuse and it thoroughly creeped me out.
Highly recommended, but tread carefully if you have any kind of history with emotional abuse. I expect violence and upsetting material from mysteries, but because this is so well-written, it is able to get to the heart of certain patterns of behavior and may have an even deeper impact than usual. It did for me. ...more