Slow Reads: The Color Purple Week 1

The idea for this recurring posts is to read a book over the course of 4-6 weeks, and each week to delve deeply into what has been read the previous week. This will allow for a more interesting analysis of the meaning of the book, and allow me to make predictions, in a way that isn’t possible with book reviews. Reading over a number of weeks also lets you read along at home at the same time, which will hopefully enrich the discussion.

Spoiler warning obviously

Wow. I was expecting the book to be heavy, but not this heavy. Celie, the main character, is literally raped by her step-father on the first page, and that sets the tone for the rest of the book. I can’t help but feel such sympathy for the trials and tribulations she has had to go through already in the first 50 pages.

The first thing I noticed was the conscious choice by Alice Walker to often use phonetic spellings and short sentences. This was a constant reminder that Celie had minimal education, sharply contrasting the lives of most Western children today. Yet, despite her lack of schooling, she still has a kind heart, which causes me to remember that being educated doesn’t necessarily make you a good person. The phonetic spellings also cause me to read at a slower pace than usual, as I had to decipher the meanings sometimes. This slower reading allowed for the force of each scene to sink in to a greater extent I think.

So far, all the men have remained nameless (excluding Harpo – but he’s not like the rest). I take this to mean that the atrocities committed so far are not exceptions, but normality, and that the men are interchangeable. It could also be that Celie thinks so lowly of them that she doesn’t think it’s worth writing their names, but I’m less inclined to this idea since she has not stood up to any of them so far at any point.

The first thing that made me root for Celie was when she consistently sacrificed herself for her sister Nettie. While this fiercely protective streak seems to have been ground out of her after Nettie disappeared, I’m hoping it will reemerge soon. It was heartbreaking when she said that she doesn’t feel anymore, implying the only way she could survive was to smother her soul. I’m also hoping that Nettie isn’t dead, as Celie believes, but has found a happy life somehow. She had such potential and it’s painful to imagine that wasted after everything Celie gave up to protect her.

Harpo and Sofia’s story has been interesting so far. Harpo has some of the cruel traits of his father, but he seems to be a decent person nevertheless. It feels more like he has been modelled a type of behaviour by the other men in society, but it doesn’t suit him. I’m hoping he stays happy and kind and in love, but I’m not hopeful. It just feels like tragedy is coming around the corner. Sofia is a stark contrast to Celie, being a strong woman who has fought all her life instead of giving in. Life might have made them both hard, but they have reacted in different ways.

Shug Avery is a fascinating character, and it’ll be interesting to see how she develops. So far, she is the only thing that Mr ——- seems to care about, yet it doesn’t seem like she cares for him, just uses him. Definitely a source of conflict brewing. It also seems she is disrespected within the town because she is a strong woman who won’t bow to the cultural norms. I feel she has a larger part to play.

I’m sure that Olivia is going to have a bigger role in the story, but I’m not sure what it is. Likewise, I think the mystery surrounding Mr —— previous wife will be further uncovered. So far, it’s been a black mark upon many of the characters who had no way of preventing it.

My biggest takeaway this week has been the way that the women have been treated like property. Celie’s Pa took both her children as if they were nothing more than inanimate objects. Harpo assumed that Sofia would love him before he even spoke to her, as if he was entitled to her because he was a guy. Mr ——- has Celie working in the field for him as if she was a slave. It’s all been horrifying, and it’s even more horrifying to think that this brutality actually went unchecked for years.

If your following along with me, I’m reading to page 100 in my copy of the book, which is just before ‘Dear God, Mr ——- drink all through Christmas. Him and Grady. Me and Shug cook, talk, clean the house, talk, fix up the tree, talk, wake up in the morning, talk.’

What have your impressions been so far? Who’s your favourite character? How are you finding the brutal portrayal? or the phonetic spellings? Hopefully I’ll see you back here next week.

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