The Color Purple” is one of the strongest statements of how love transforms and cruelty disfigures the human spirit that this reviewer has ever read. Alice Walker gives us Celie, 14 years old when the book opens, who has been raped, abused, degraded and twice impregnated by her father. After he takes her children away from her without a so much as a word, he marries her off like a piece of chattel to her husband, who is so cold, distant and inhuman to her that she can only refer to him as Mr; and this person deprives her of her sister Nettie, the only one who ever loved her.
Celie manages to survive by living one day at a time. Her life is a series of flat, lifeless panoramas painted in browns and grays. Into this existence, if you can call it that, comes Shug Avery, her husband’s mistress, who shows Celie her own specialness and uniqueness. A lot has been made about lesbianism in this book and all of it is beside the point. Celie isn’t a lesbian, she is a human being in need of love and Shug Avery helps Celie realize that she is somebody worth loving and caring about. When Celie hurls her defiance into Mr’s face — “I’m poor, I’m black, I may be ugly… but I’m here”, she is making an affirmation not only to him, but to the whole world; the reader can only say, along with Shug Avery, “Amen”.
When Celie finds the strength to leave Mr, he is left to face the reality of himself and what he sees isn’t pretty; his transformation humanizes him and allows Celie to call him Albert, recognizing him as a person, as he finally recognizes her as one. The last chapter makes many readers go through half a box of Kleenex (Stephen Spielberg once said in an interview that he “cried and cried at the end” of the book), but Walker doesn’t play cheap with the reader’s emotions; she has a powerful story to tell and she tells it with such consummate skill and sensitivity that she brings us into it and makes it ours. This is a book to be treasured and read over and over again.