Celie has always tried to be a good person. At 14 years old, she helps her mother to take care of her younger siblings; loves and protects her sister Nettie. But when the unimaginable happens to her, she has no one to turn to. Raped by the man she considers to be her father, she bares two children by him and both are taken away. Her ‘father,’ Alphonso, tells her not to breath a word of the events to her mother, so instead she tells God. When her mother dies whilst Celie is pregnant with her second child, Alphonso remarries and no longer wishes to have Celie around. He marries her off to a man whose wife has died and who needs a woman to look after his children. Both men see Celie as a commodity to be bought and sold. Celie is beaten by her new husband, and the behaviours is so intrinsic that Celie herself seems to accept it: advising her new daughter in law that she shouldn’t argue back to her husband, advising him to beat his wife.
Cut off from Nettie, stuck with a man she does not love and grieving the death of her two children, Celie is purely existing from one day to the next. And then she meets Shug Avery. A former lover of her husband, Shug is everything Celie isn’t: confident, glamorous and not afraid to tell a man what she thinks. Shug offers Celie the chance to discover the woman she really is, the chance to love and ultimately know happiness.
It’s not difficult to see why this book is a classic. Yes, it deals with very difficult themes straight from the offset which makes it a very hard read at times, but it manages it well. The development of Celie’s character is wonderful, obvious both in terms of her actions and her language. The book is written in Celie’s voice, the grammar and language colloquial and occasional difficult to read, but the language changes as she does.
Although distressing to start with, this is actually a hopeful book. It’s so lovely to see Celie change, fall in love and become more confident. This should be on everyone’s ‘to be read’ list.