Though I have never been really been tempted to read the book, I have almost always been aware of Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’, mainly because Woopie Goldberg’s first starring role was in the movie based on the book. Browsing at my favourite bookstore the other day, I chanced upon a recent reprint of the book, and bought it mainly because the cover was so attractive.
On the face of it, I should not have liked the book. Rape, incest, poverty, gender and racial discrimination – the book promised to be rather morbid. And though I keep trying to make myself read ‘good’ books on human suffering, I will not pretend I enjoy them.
But ‘The Color Purple’ was a happy exception to the rule. Celie suffers, but accepts her suffering to such an extent, she doesn’t go into the gory details. Her first letter to God talks about how he put his thing in her, and when she cried told her to, “better shut up and get used to it.” By the end she writes the second letter to God, the child is born, taken away, and her mother dead. No long morbid descriptions of her plight. Just an almost clinical letter to God, all the more effective because she seems almost detached while describing her predicament.
The entire book proceeds in the same manner. Jumps of a few months, or even a few years, accomplished effectively from one letter to the next. Celie’s silent acquisition to whatever is meted out to her morphing into a realisation that she is a person in her own right.
Gender roles gradually bend, everyone becomes a better person than (s)he started out as, almost everyone is victorious on their terms, reality is not compromised – The Color Purple is very much my kind of book. I am glad I picked it up. Judging a book by its covers is not always a bad thing.