Alice Walker wrote The Color Purple (a Pulitzer Prize winner) to convey her own journey from the “religious to the spiritual.” The novel reads like a spiritual journey, a deeply human narrative, set in the context of the oppressive weight of racism and the abuse of male domination. The story gradually moves from brutal and harsh to redemptive. The setting is not always completely clear, but it appears to be the time between the first World War and the second. The primary characters are black women, and they are brave and honest as they navigate a white man’s world.
I appreciated the honesty of the novel. While The Color Purple in no way flinches in recounting the brutality inflicted on black women, it also refuses simplistic categories like “white people are bad” or “men are evil.” Walker complicates her novel by tracing the spiritual evolution of some of the most abusive characters. They transform by coming to the end of themselves and managing to recognize the misery of the abusive behavior.
Along side the unique struggle of African American women, Walker also writes about Africa and colonialism, taking the reader into a small African tribe, driven off their land by white business opportunists. This, of course, is a practice that continues to this day.
The novel is above all truthful and honest, but I also appreciated how deeply warm and even funny it could be. “Us didn’t make this world,” says Sophie, one of the leading characters of the novel, a strong and bold young black woman. Despite our advances, we find ourselves still reeling and still suffering from colonialism and imperialism. The Color Purple is a novel that gets to the heart of this narrative that we inhabit, and her characters fight, love, survive, thrive, grow, regress, transform, and above all, they deal with their world.
Note: I listened to the audiobook, which was read by Alice Walker. Her reading of the book is quite amazing, adding a completely new dimension to a reading of her novel. I very highly recommend it.