The Color Purple is a series of letters written by Celie, the novel’s protagonist, to God and her sister. The story follows Celie over four decades as she struggles to find her identity after suffering abuse from her father, husband and others.
I think the first main point of discussion was the form of The Color Purple. Walker presents the novel almost like a collection of diary entries written by the protagonist Celie, with a few letters from Celie’s sister Nettie interspersed throughout. There are around 90 entries in total, each signed off with “Amen”. Celie’s narrative is unique and one book-clubber had warned us at our last meeting that it might take a while to get used to her voice. I thought this was pretty good advice, but then someone at the meeting said that they were able to read it easily from the get go. Another book-clubber even admitted that they’d given up on the book as they hadn’t taken to the actual story. This was awesome to hear as each book we read can’t be a smash with everyone! And good on them for actually giving it a try before judging it.
Both racial and gender inequality feature heavily throughout The Color Purple, with Sofia’s story arc providing a particularly harrowing glimpse into Jim Crow America. However I believe we all agreed that the novel seemed to more directly combat issues surrounding gender. The inclusion of Nettie’s experiences in Africa seemingly confirmed this, as patriarchy was still a suppressive force amongst the Olinka tribe. During the meeting we discussed how Harpo seemed to have picked-up his oppressive tendencies towards his wife from his father. One could draw parallels between this sort of transference and the harsh cultural practices of the Olinka tribe. In both Western and African society, therefore, we saw female characters stifled by patriarchal ignorance.
So I’d hate to speak for everyone, but I think the main point I took away from the meeting was that The Color Purple is still a very relevant and relatable novel. As some book-clubbers pointed out, the Olinka’s encounters with colonials and the disasters which follow the introduction of western agricultural practices are not entirely dissimilar to current disruptions in South America relating to deforestation. Similarly, issues surrounding preserving cultural heritage and ceremonies like female circumcision are still hotly contested in some developing nations. And lastly, I think its impossible to ignore the fact that gender inequality is still a serious issue in modern society.
Ultimately, The Color Purple scored an impressive average score of 8.5/10! Emma Cline’s The Girls is up next!
Adam Comber, Carnegie Library Book club