I had mixed feelings picking up this book. My ideal fiction novel has a fairytale ending with rose petals and maybe a crown and a kiss. Basically, I have terrible taste.
As you may have guessed, The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, is not a happy book. Dealing with issues such as rape, child molestation, and abuse, it’s not the type of book that makes you smile at the end and romanticize how beautiful life is.
It will, however, make you think. Not only does The Color Purple tackle issues like race and gender, it also reinforces the importance of female friendship. All too often, books and the media love to pit women against each other. Female friendships are more like temporary alliances in a war of gossip and lying, forged out of necessity rather than trust.
The friendship between Celie and Shug Avery may be twisted and complicated, similar to the rest of the book, but it is an ever-lasting one nonetheless. Both are lovers of the same man: meaning they should, in normal situations, despise each other. And yet, friendship and even romance blossoms between the two females, which leads them down a new path filled with better things.
The Color Purple is written in a diary format, as letters to God or to Nettie, Celie’s younger sister. It is no surprise then, that God is one of the most important topics in the book. Walker primarily deals with Celie and Nettie’s liberation from the European idealization of God, and their journey to this revelation.
For centuries, God has been considered white and male. Nettie, a black missionary in Africa, comments “God is different to us now, after all these years in Africa. More spirit than ever before, and more internal. Most people think he has to look like something or someone- a roofleaf or Christ- but we don’t. And not being tied to what God looks like, frees us.”
This idea of God, not as a giant man in the sky, but as a spirit that flows in everything, seems quite freeing to the characters. How easy is it to see stained glass windows, Renaissance paintings, and the Bible, and picture God white and masculine? The God in this book is not serene, worry-free, and angelic. He is a God all too familiar with watching pain and suffering, and seeing real human-ness.
Walker’s God is a version of God more modern day Christians should consider, rather than the fair-weather ‘God’ that comes and goes when he is beckoned. He forgives rather than judges. He loves rather than disciplines. Celie’s, Nettie’s, and Shug’s lives may be far from ‘sinless,’ but it is their love and devotion to each other and to God that Walker focuses on, rather than the sin itself.
This is a book that revels in the human spirit and the hope for better things. It is full of grief and sadness, but it is worth the read nonetheless. As a reader, you’ll struggle to find two stronger women than Celie and Shug. Their personalities and sheer grit alone will make this book impossible to put down, enchanted by their fierce love and faith for a world of new possibilities.