The Color Purple : A Rare Tragedy with a Happy Ending

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The Color Purple, written by Alice Walker was published in the year 1982. Taking place in rural Georgia, this epistolary novel unfolds the story of the lives of coloured women in the southern United States in 1930’s. This novel which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction has been the frequent target of censors. It also appeared on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen, primarily because of its explicit content, particularly in terms of violence.

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The story traces the story of Celie, the protagonist of the story, an uneducated, poor, fourteen-year-old black girl living in the American South. The story begins with her writing letters to God, since the man whom she considers to be her father abuses her continually. Alphonso impregnates Celie twice, leading to the birth of a daughter and a son, whom he takes away. Shortly after their mothers death, Celie and her younger sister, Nettie learn that a man known as only Mr._ wanted to marry Nettie. Alphonso objected to this and arranged for Celie’s marriage instead. Mr._ who needed someone to care for his children and keep his house, eventually accepted the offer. In the due course of time things fall into place and Celia adjusts and simultaneously brings his children under control. We see that Nettie is able to run away from Alphonso and seeks refuge at Celie’s house. When Mr._ tries to make sexual advances towards her, Celie forces her to go to the well-dressed black lady in town, but only on the condition that she had to promise to write. Years pass, she never receives any letter and is convinced that Nettie is dead. In the meantime, Harpo, the only son of Mr._ falls in love with an assertive girl named Sofia and eventually marries her, despite of initial resistance from his father. Initially Celie asks Harpo to not dominate her but he doesn’t listen to her throughout. Later being frustrated with his own life, she advices her to hit Sofia. When Sofia confronts Celia , the latter who was already feeling guilty apologizes and confides in Sofia about all the abuse she had to suffer at Mr._’s hands. Sofia empathizes with her and tells her to defend herself.

The twist in the tale appears with the introduction of Shug Avery, a lounge singer, who happened to be Mr._’s longtime mistress. She falls ill and he brings her to his home. Celie who has been forever enchanted by her photos is ecstatic to have her over. Although Shug is initially rude towards Celie, they eventually strike up a warm friendship. And the Celie soon finds herself to be infatuated by Shug. Their relationship becomes more intimate when Shug decides to stay back when she learns that Mr._ used to beat Celia when she was away. They indulge in sexual intercourse and their love reaches new heights. One night when she asks Celie about her sister, they decide to search for them and eventually recover all the letters Nettie had written to her which Mr._ had been hiding from her for all these years. It so appears that Nettie had accompanied the missionary couple, to Africa. In a turn of events Nettie finds out that the couple had unwittingly adopted Celie’s children- Olivia and Adam. She had also learnt that Alphonso was their stepfather.

Having reached the zenith of her patience with Mr._ Celie decides to leave. She settles in Tennessee and supports herself as a tailor. She learns that Mr._ had fallen into hard times and his economic decline makes him humble. He wants to marry her again but she refuses. But Shug falls in love with a Germaine and leaves. It leaves her heart broken but she pledges to love Shug even if she doesn’t love her back. Just when Celie makes herself believe she is content in life without Shug, she returns, having ended things with Germaine. The novel ends with the unison of Celie and Nettie and their respective families after a separation of about thirty years.

The color purple, happens to be a symbolic significance of the pain and the suffering that women in general had to go through during those times. It is the color of rarity as well as the injustice hurled upon them. The title refers to a moment when Shug Avery asks Celie if she takes the time to notice what little things that God does to show us that it (God is neither he nor she) loves us. “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it,” Shug says. The novel was adapted into a film of the same name in 1985, directed by Steven Spielberg. On December 1, 2005, a musical adaptation of the novel opened at the Broadway Theatre in New York City. The critical acclaim received by the book was well deserved. And the people who criticized it for showing the Black male as a dominating, unfaithful, abusive male chauvinist should look around the world without their blinkers.