Feminist Reading Journey: Alice Walker ‘The Color Purple’

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

I don’t know what it’s like to be poor (sure, my family were not what I would have called ‘well off’ but we were far from poor); I don’t know what it’s like to be black; whether I’m ugly or not is subjective and my cooking skills can be pretty decent depending on my mood. But basically what I’m trying to say is my situation in life is quite far away from that of the main protagonist of Alice Walker’s infamous novel ‘The Color Purple’; however that is the reason I started this whole journey. To read and learn about experiences other than my own.

One of my favourite traits in a person is when they can be empathic to other people. When they can push past whether something ‘offends’ them and see why it might offend others. Something, which is still lost on a lot of people. As, for example a few weeks ago I saw three men dressed up as the Jamaican bob sled team from the film Cool Runnings complete with black face, pop up on my Facebook feed, and a lot of the comments I saw focused on how it was just a ‘laugh’ and people should get over it. They concentrated on how it didn’t offend them, so people it did offend must just be oversensitive. I think this is a good example of racism in Britain works, and why people do not point to it as much as racism in America. It’s less blatant except when something like this pops up, and people cannot understand why their behaviour would cause offence. See also this brilliant article on how golliwogs are viewed in Britain today for this in action. Now, don’t get me confused, I am FAR very from being qualified to be the voice of racism within Britain. Not least, because I live in a privileged position that means I’ve never been the victim of it.

If you’re wondering what my ‘privilege’ is, basically I’m white, and I’m petite in height (this is not generally viewed as something that connotes ‘privilege’ but I’ll explain my reasoning a bit more below). And yes that means I get asked for directions a lot, as generally, people don’t see me as a threat. I’ve noticed this in airports/ in passport control, as well, where even my significant other has been treated different to me (not horribly I might add though- this experience is nothing compared to what people of colour have to go through), despite being the same level of politeness as me. However, he’s tall and some people can find the intimidating. I know this because when they realised that he was with me their whole body language towards him changed dramatically. I can only imagine what people of Asian, or black, or any other person who doesn’t present as white has had to go through.

However, forgive my rant. On to the book. Though, my rant is important because it shows just how good this book is at making you think about the racism in society that surrounds you, even though this book was set in a different time period and place to me. Also, for those not aware here is the context of the book, which I am unashamedly taking from Wikipedia: “Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of African-American women in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture”. The woman the novel specifically focuses on however is Celie, who is poor and uneducated and living in the American South, who begins the novel with a horrible home life, followed by a disastrous marriage.

So before I spoil too much of the plot let’s get onto the main things I love about the themes of this novel:

  • Female empowerment- Celie just doesn’t give up, no matter what life throws at her- she really rises like a phoenix out of the ashes (forgive my overdone metaphor).
  • Female friendships- it’s a little worrying that I still get happy about seeing positive female friendships in books and on the screen (though I’d like to point out this is not me referencing the film because I have yet to see it!).
  • Female sexuality- this book talks about female desire, which is important (obviously), and it has LGBTQ+ representation!!!

The Color Purple

Image: @aprilisthecruellestmonth/ Instagram 

So as you can see there is a heavy focus on the female within this novel, which is not entirely surprising as I’ve dubbed it as part of my feminist reading journey. However, in my research I saw that a lot of members of the black community were upset over the representation of black men as only being barbaric and as sexual predators. Though I believe this was mostly a criticism of the film (but I’m assuming by extension also the novel). However, a lot of people also said that it accurately depicted their experience, and the film was only supposed to tell one woman’s story, and not stand for black men and women everywhere.

Also, before I go on I would also like to take this moment to warn anyone who hasn’t read the book yet that it contains depictions of sexual violence (so if that makes you uncomfortable in any way shape or form I wouldn’t recommend this novel). It’s because of the sexual content of the novel and due to it’s depictions of ‘rough language’, and ‘homosexuality’ to name just a few concerns brought up (not forgetting the novel’s ‘negative image of black men’) that the book has been banned numerous times. I don’t know about you but if a book has been banned, I immediately want to read it more. Mainly, because the very idea of banning reading of any kind disturbs me to my core (knowledge is power after all).

The Color Purple The Kawaii Kollective

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

Overall, this book is about someone who had no voice, and following their journey to them finding their voice. While they were helped to that realisation by the friendships in their life on their way; ultimately Celie finds her voice all on her own. And I challenge you to think of a more empowering message than that.

There are though instances where fighting back also just sees someone constantly beat down (which, I’m sure a lot of people can find symbolic meaning in both now and for some constantly throughout their lives). Sofia, is one such character who experiences this, and she reminds me of a lot of strong people I know. Who would never give up on what they believe in. Unless it’s stamped out of them. Instead, of taking the sorrow from this, I try to see it as an example of if you crush someone so much, even the strongest people will fall. So that is why we need to ensure this unequal system of power that allows people to succeed in this is destroyed in the first place (though I’m sure you’re all thinking, if only it was that simple- and I completely agree).

So there you have it, ‘The Color Purple’ was everything I expected it to be, and delighted me in other ways (I was genuinely shocked to see depictions of homosexuality in the book- as I’d never heard this mentioned about the book or film before- though I’m not sure if the film is as explicit). If you like being sucked into someone’s world and truly feel like you’re feeling a character’s life, this novel is for you.

If you want to know more about what I thought about particular passages, etc. please don’t hesitate to leave a comment, as I fear this blog post is not as extensive as it could be due to that I’m currently fighting back a cold.

🍂April🍂

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