If you’re reading this, I assume you would have read The Colour Purple by Alice Walker published in 1982. Written in the form of letters to God from protagonist Celie and to Celie from her sister Nettie, the novel brings to forefront social issues faced by African American, especially women. It’s an intersection of themes of racism, sexism, questioning the existence of traditional gender roles, and a slight reference to homosexuality.
Today, this world faces much of what has been depicted in this book. These themes have stood the test of time, unfortunately. Let’s take a look at what’s actually in this novel that is still pertinent. While reading, you may be able to draw similarities between the reality of then and now, though I’m sure there has been a certain degree of change.
The novel explicitly brings out the above-mentioned themes, leaving us to question the morality of traditions that do more harm than good to the society. Violence and discrimination against Blacks in those times went to the extent of Whites lynching them for their good. The superiority instilled in the consciousness of Whites is clearly exhibited. Slavery may have been abolished, but its seeds still persisted in the minds of people. It became the way Blacks were perceived and treated.
What’s interesting is the way the protagonist transforms from an abused, raped teenage girl to an independent woman standing up for herself. With various female characters exhibiting different nature, the novel throws light on the suppression of women through violence and abuse. The induced social superiority of man over woman is questioned by showing different lives. Women who refused to give in, who stood up for themselves and fought for their right, who didn’t let men dictate their life empowered and inspired the protagonist, who was buried under ignorance, which led to teenage pregnancy and abuse.
In the days when colour dictated the terms of social relations and established norms biased to a certain community, questioning the traditional ideas cannot be labelled as a radical attempt. The novel does a good job of highlighting the confusion of illiterate, teenage mind conforming to brutal ways of the world only to realise her own worth with the release of built up emotions.
Walker doesn’t go into much detail of clearing the confusion of protagonist regarding her sexuality, which could be interpreted as an effort to mean that whatever be the sexual preference, it’s people’s right to explore and figure it out for themselves rather than be told what is right or wrong. While this may attack the conservatives, it also instils the belief that people should be allowed to be themselves regardless of race, colour, gender and religion. She does do justice to dissecting the gender roles to question if women really should be relegated only to the domestic sphere and men to the public.
I do believe we’re all evolving. I do believe that we’re on a road to progress. However, if you look around, you are going to find some people still struggling with the above-mentioned issues as well as many others. Both women and men face the social challenges of the world in varying degree.
Today, The Colour Purple stands as a metaphor of struggles each one of us goes through no matter how big or small they are. It stands out for its explicit depiction of truth, which does need to be put out to realise the need to change the reality.
We don’t need to change the world. We need to change ourselves and impact people around us and the world will change automatically.
Start today. Start now.