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Review – “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker

There is a way that men speak to women that reminds me too much of Pa. They listen just long enough to issue instructions. They don’t even look at women when women are speaking. They look at the ground and bend their heads toward the ground. The women also do not ‘look in a man’s face’ as they say. To ‘look in a man’s face’ is a brazen thing to do. They look instead at his feet or knees. And what can I say to this?

The first time I came across the book, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, was in the metro. I was going to my workplace and gazing around, the cover of the book caught my eye. What a strange name, and stranger cover. In the first look, I couldn’t manage to decipher the design, so I inched closer to the girl who was reading it. I asked her if I could click a picture of the cover, I found it best rather than staring at her book. With the picture now on my phone, I kept staring and working out what the cover and the title meant. Naturally, I googled and found myself intrigued by the synopsis. For the next few years, I remembered the book anytime I went to a bookstore and looked for it but I only bought it a few months ago as a birthday gift to myself.

But I don’t know how to fight. All I know how to do is stay alive.

Celie was a young girl living with her family comprising of her Ma, Pa, most loved sister Nettie and other siblings. Her Ma kept ill and her Pa got furious with each passing day until his eyes turned to Celie. What could she do against a man, a strong man who held the reigns of the house. If not objecting to his wishes was difficult, keeping shut when her newborns were taken against her will was beyond it. But again, what could she do. When Nettie grew into a woman, her father started eyeing her too while he married Celie off to a man much older than her, a widower and father of 3. If she thought that her problems were solved, or at least she had escaped a life of sexual abuse and torture, she couldn’t have been more wrong. Her new Mr was no better than her father. The only thing she could be happy for was that she had helped Nettie escape their father and her husband who had his eyes on her as well. But with the only human support now lost, Celie became more and more unhappy until she meets the glamourous Shug Avery, her husband’s ex.
Who was she to have captivated Celie’s dreams? What did she do that Celie’s life took a drastic turn and everything changed?

A girl is nothing to herself; only to her husband can she become something.

Where do I even start!? To all those who think gender inequality is not something one needs to talk about, to all those who think domestic abuse is a matter best left beyond closed doors, to all those who think women have no place in the world except their houses, Alice Walker gives you the best answer. The first African American to win the Pulitzer for her novel, Ms. Walker lays bare the grim realities of the women’s condition. Ravaged by illiteracy, fear, abuse, and loss, the women can do nothing except depending on the men of their family. The sheer magnanimity of suffering by the entire womenfolk of the community is appalling. Being born a woman isn’t a crime. Nor is a woman a thing to be used.

You can’t curse nobody. Look at you. You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman. Goddam, he say, you nothing at all.

Ms. Walker makes sure to give us a mindful read. With her use of raw grammar and heavily accented writing, she makes it impossible for the reader to not get inside the heads of the characters. And once inside, it is hard to avoid what is there. One might argue that this is not the kind of writing that should be mainstream, but I argue back that is exactly the kind of writing one should be reading, especially when things today are not much different than was 4 decades ago.

Well how you specs to make her mind? Wives is like children. You have to let ‘em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating.

The women in the book share a companionship that was not expected. Instead of what is usually shown and the majority believe, ‘A woman is another woman’s worst enemy’ doesn’t hold true in this book, instead, it is as far away as it could possibly get. They uplift each other in their distressing times, work to better the other’s life without a darn negative thought, and wish the best for them. While men, on the other hand, were mostly at each other’s throats, wishing only hardships and berating each other.

Olivia must learn to take her education about life where she can find it, I thought.

The women here are depicted so beautifully, each and every one of them. In the least possible and straight words, the feelings are exposed. The pain of abuse, the unhappiness of forced marriage, the pangs of loneliness, the regret of losing a lover, the stress of unbelief, the fury of being forced, the endurance of life’s lemons, and hope for a better tomorrow. These emotions, they are easy to miss if one gets lost in trying to decipher it based on the language used. These emotions, come to you in full blast once you have read past the pages, and when you reach the end and find yourself being crying for the women, their miseries, and then crying because they are so bold and so wise, much beyond their years.

The men do not like it: who wants a wife who knows everything her husband knows? They fume.

This novel has one of the strongest women protagonists I have ever come across. Despite the challenges that have plagued their lives, Celie, Nettie, Shug, Sofia, Olivia, and Tashi have so much to look forward to. It is surprising to see them with so much love in their hearts even after a life full of neglect and misery, even for the ones who tormented them. They are so eager to learn and make something out of whatever remains of their lives in an infectiously happy manner. 
How could they? Because I definitely couldn’t. 

Anyhow, I say, 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.

This book is not just about the suffering, it is much more. It is about enlightenment. It is about finding our own spirit and letting it guide us in the midst of the hardships.
It is sad how even God is depicted as a man, an older white man bearing down upon all of us, judging us for the sins and blessing us for our good karma. Did no one ever think He can be a She? Or He can be ‘colored’? Does it have to be so apparent that it is mankind and not womankind? Yet, man is born out of a woman, let men not forget this.

There is so much we don’t understand. And so much unhappiness comes because of that.

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