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Alice Walker: The Color Purple

Walker’s affectionate story of an African-American woman, Celie, and her extended family between the World Wars, is justly famous and not just because of the Steven Spielberg film. Walker skillfully has us both admiring and pitying Celie, the woman exploited both for her colour and her sex, who somehow triumphs over her many adversities, with, of course, the help of friends and family members.

Celie is first raped by the man she thinks is her father (she later learns that he is not) and her two children are taken from her. She is then forcibly married to a man she knows only as Mr. – (Walker never tells us his last name though we learn his first name is Albert). He abuses her, beating her and making her work hard, looking after his children by his previous marriage (his first wife died). He also has a lover – Shug Avery – whom he openly visits. But it is Shug that opens Celie’s eyes. When Shug comes to stay, she sides with Celie and they eventually become lovers. Shug shows her how to resist Albert and by the time Shug goes off touring as a blues singer, Celie is more self-assured. More particularly, she has found out about her sister, Nettie, thanks to Shug. Albert has been hiding the letters Nettie regularly sends Celie, because Nettie spurned when she left the family home.

Nettie had escaped and been taken in by a missionary couple. They took her and their two adopted children to Africa where they live with the Olinka tribe and see how the tribe and its way of life is destroyed by the Whites. Despite receiving no reply, Nettie continues to write to her sister. After a considerable amount of melodrama, Celie and her family pull through and get together. It could have been terribly mawkish but it isn’t as Walker is a superb story-teller with a good story to tell.

Publishing history

First published 1982 by New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich