A Review of The Novel The Color Purple In the Lead Up To ‘Celebrating Black on Screen Talent’

I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ast. And that in wondering bout the big things and asting bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, he say, the more I love.”

On Tuesday 15th November from 5:30-8pm, The Women’s Library will be screening Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985), the first in a series of screenings set to take place throughout autumn at GWL and the Glasgow Film Theatre as part of the British Film Institute’s Black Star season – the UK’s biggest ever season of film and television dedicated to celebrating the range, versatility and power of black actors. In honour of this (and to put us all in the mood) I decided to read, review and briefly analyse its source material – the eponymous feminist novel by Alice Walker, winner of the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1983.

From the very outset, I realised that Walker’s novel is quite unique in its ardent preoccupation with spiritual survival and the exploration of the trials, tribulations, mental and physical health, social constructs, defeats and victories of her characters – the black women of the old American South. Walker’s major focus is whether, when and how change can occur in the lives of her despondent and embattled characters, most of whom lead totally insular lives, unaware of what is happening outside their own tiny and impoverished ghetto-like neighbourhood, painfully ignorant to the larger social and political tidal waves sweeping the Western World. Despite their social and political isolation, however, they battle a life miserable and harrowing; filled every day by the most virulent racist, sexist and physical abuse, with the overall arc being a celebration of the endurance of the human spirit and its ability to triumph through oppression and torment to achieve a certain wholeness, both personal, spiritual and communal.

In form and content, The Color Purple is as basic a slave narrative as can be found; the life story of a former slave who has gained freedom through many trials and tribulations. Instead of the expected overtones of white supremacy and oppression of black people by the whites, however, Walker instead brings the abuse even lower, to a point where the majority of the novel highlights novel black oppression by blacks within a same community, facing the same struggles. Following Celie – a woman who survives only through a network of other women who fight, support, love, grow with and heal each other – the novel begins in abject misery and ends in intense joy.

After a second read-through to try and get a better grasp of how the narrative flips on its head from beginning to end, I felt that it was important to examine three aspects of the novel, themes that I also encourage you to bear in mind during the screening of Spielberg’s film adaptation: the relationships between men and women, the relationships among women, and the relationships among people, God, and nature. You’ll notice that, at the beginning of the novel/film, alienation and separation are deep-rooted in all of these relationships, but by the work’s conclusion, a harmony has established itself, and now exists among all elements and important aspects of life. In this way, the Color Purple is hopeful in its depiction of feminism, the female cause, and ideas of liberty and civil equalities.

Extremely heart-stirring and powerful, I found The Color Purple to be a truly inspiring read. Personally – from page one until page done – my feelings were all over the place, in a way they haven’t been in a very long time: sometimes outraged, often saddened, occasionally amused, but ultimately joyful. When I read the opening lines of the book book, I was admittedly hesitant about the epistolary format and struggled somewhat getting used to the dialect. However, such misgivings quickly melted away and I was drawn right into Celie’s life and her intimate story of abuse that was so entangled with delicate optimism. I cheered her on the whole way as she suffered through unthinkable misery and eventually developed her own voice and a strength that I thoroughly admired, and strangely related to. As she discovered what it was like to love and be loved, as she cherished the hope of one day seeing her sister again, as she learned to understand God and what God meant to her personally, and as she learned the gift of forgiveness, Celie has reserved a place in my mind as one of the most treasured of heroines.

Please do reserve a spot for the screening – having watched the film after reading the novel I guarantee its an experience and topic you won’t soon forget.

This event is open to all and we prefer for tickets to be booked in advance whenever possible. This event costs £5 full price. Select the number of tickets you want to book below, or come in to the Library to book. We offer subsidised places for students, people on a low income, unemployed or those in receipt of benefit and Friends of GWL at £3 each. If you are eligible for a subsidised place select the subsidised ticket found in this link: https://womenslibrary.org.uk/event/celebrating-black-on-screen-talent-the-color-purple/ or come in to the Library to book.

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