Beth's Reviews > The Color Purple

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
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Nov 25, 11

bookshelves: november-2011, classic, disappointment, not-for-me, library
Read from November 24 to 25, 2011

2.5 stars

This one was just a huge disappointment for me. In the first half, I felt that "The Color Purple" was, in many ways, the nasty flip side of feminism which is commonly associated with it: misandry. Of course the two aren't mutually inclusive, but for 75% of the novel, men are only in the novel to beat, rape, oppress and abuse women, or at least attempt to do so. When a 'good' male character finally appears - Samuel - he's so two-dimensional that he's barely there. Celie, after being raped, has surprisingly few uncomplicated attitudes toward men: she hates them. Men will never bring you any pleasure. Celie is a lesbian - or at least, she has sexual feelings towards a girl friend of hers, Shug. Because of Alice Walker's very didactic writing style, I felt that she was trying to 'teach' me that men were only there to rape and beat and had no real useful purpose, while it was the community of women that were the ideal. This was ameliorated slightly, later in the text, by Shug's less than ideal behaviour and some brilliant character development for Celie's abusive husband, Mr. ---.

However, what really dragged this novel down for me was the subplot involving Celie's sister, Nettie. Nettie is a very blank character herself! She's supposed to be endearing and sympathetic, but she isn't! And she writes in a lot of exclamatives which gives an overall sense of awe-struck wonder, which grows very grating the 170000000th time it happens! Furthermore, although a good thirty years passes throughout Nettie's writing, there's no real sense of time movement in her story, which there is in Celie's, or development of the characters. Adam and Olivia still felt like children to me. I was impressed by the complexity with which Walker handled the Olinka, in that they were not the Magic Negroes that popularises some fiction, but they weren't a Brutal Savage stereotype either. However, the Olinka storyline is very boring and repetitive, as I couldn't find any reason to care about Nettie or any of her supporting characters. Unlike Celie's, Nettie's narrative voice is very by the numbers, and unlike Celie's, gives no sense of individual characters. They're all just stick figures on a page, and they really got on my nerves eventually. Also, some of the twists in the plot felt that Walker was beating her central motif - of "female oppression" to death. With something so important, it should never feel like that.

I also didn't like Celie, or Celie and Shug. Obviously I don't think she should have put up with being beaten and raped, but she was such a strange juxtaposition between strong and weak, without any consistency to speak of or internal psychological depth, which just leaves the entire character feeling totally messy and all over the place. You see, that could have been done amazingly – to show the extent to which Celie’s self was messy and all over the place – but instead it just felt jumbled because of Walker’s fundamental lack of depth or internal reflection. Neither of these things are inherently bad, and it could be argued that this was the whole point – after all, Celie hardly possessed the vocabulary for this flimsy ‘internal reflection.’ I don’t agree, because I think that Toni Morrison’s novels show the extent to which a character's limited vocabulary can be a great strength to truly mirror their 'inner self.' I didn't think that Walker pulled that off at all. Celie changes a lot during the novel, but because the changes are only ever really told to us and not shown to us, I couldn't feel them at all, particularly the part when she said that she didn't really care if Shug came back. I felt that that was supposed to be a breakthrough, but because of the lack of Walker's multilayered character-building, it just came off as bullshit.

The one saving grace of a character was Sofia, Mr. ---'s daughter-in-law. Partly because she's a strong, dynamic character who kicks the shit out of anybody who tries to mess with her (especially her husband) but partly because, in a character so full of cliches - the God-Fearing Sanctimonious Sister, the Beaten-Down Rape Victim, the Magic Bisexual Soul Singer - she's a thankful subversion, a breath of fresh air. Her character is so compelling, and we're given just enough of her, unlike Shug, who is an empty vessel of cliche, and Magical Negro and stereotypical blues-singer, and never seems to have any internal logic either. Although she occasionally does bad things, she's so much of a symbol it's not even true. She's just there to spew empty platitudes, and I really didn't care.

Pardon the pun, but, although, despite dealing with some Very Important Subjects, ultimately, both the plot and the writing is too black-and-white to create any real lasting impact.
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