Thus Spake KJ

Composed of binaries and never ending contradictions, intensely moody, stubborn, firefighter, genius manque, identity hunter on the prowl for stimuli, occasionally given to verbal diarrhoea

Monday, March 27, 2006

Why the colour of FEMINISM is PURPLE

Reviewing The Color Purple, is a little like interviewing a celebrity. The reputation of the person precedes the person himself, leaving the interviewer nervous with anticipation. A thousand questions rush through your head, you keep second guessing and there is a considerable loss of your cognitive-conative abilities. Reading and reviewing the highly acclaimed and lauded The Color Purple has been an experience akin to the above. My heart is in my mouth as I write this, but I decide to take the plunge anyway.

Ok, what is the book about? At an overt level, the story of Celie, a black American girl in the South (where racism, by the way, is still extant). The introduction plunges you straight into Celie's life and the violence that she goes through, every single living day. Strangely, the violence being spoken about is not perpetrated by another community. Instead, it comes from within the community, indeed from within her home. Thirteen year old Celie, is raped repeatedly, by the man she calls 'father'; she even bears him two children who are cruelly taken away from her. Leading a life of utter drudgery and depravity, her cage is exchanged for another, when she is married off to a man, years older than her, who fancies her younger sister, Nettie. Incidentally, her husband, referred throughout the book as Mr. - (my guess is, this is an authorial stroke to derecognise the man, who derecognises all the women in his life. Or perchance, by not naming him till the very end, the author tries to paint every man with the same brush), agrees to marry Celie, only because a cow would be a part of her dowry. Celie's life seems to be a vicious circle of drudgery, derocgnition and disrespect until she meets her husband's part time mistress, Shug Avery. Shug Avery is representative of all that Celie isn't. Beautiful and talented, Shug Avery, in every sense a liberated woman, lives life by her own rules. After the initial friction, Shug Avery gives Celie the much required push, to take the reins of her life in her own hands. Eventually, Celie discovers the power of her own spirit, which liberates her from the shackles of her past and helps her reunite with her beloved family.

Yet the book is not the story of Celie. It gradually and seamlessly moves from the personal to the political. From the personal tragedy of Celie, the book marks a transition to the state of mankind in general. The book makes several damning statements in one go – against racism, against the status of women in general, against insularity and intense xenophobia and suspicion of one community for the 'other' (real or imagined).

The novel also marks a reclamation of African history. It attempts to, and successfully attempts to, contextualise black history right from the days of slave trade to the abolition of slavery in America. And minus all the glorification. Celie then, becomes a transcriber, a medium as well as a tool to accomplish this.

Where doe the merits of the book lie? In the reconstruction of Celie's world. The style is a first person account, through letters to God. The language, the grammar and the enunciation, is typical of an uneducated black American girl from the South. Yet the sheer simplicity of the directness is heart rending. The act of writing becomes both a revelation and a cathartic experience – for both Alice Walker as well as Celie.

The book also made out into a movie, has been lauded the world over by feminists, and places Walker amongst an illustrious array of black American women authors like Toni Morrisson and bell hooks. Surprisingly, the feminism of the book does not lie in the portrayal of the victimisation and brutalisation of Celie. It lies in the strength and never-say-die spirit of the other female characters in the book. In the power that Shug Avery wields over all the men in the book. In the almost militant individualism of Celie's step daughter-in-law, Sofia. In Nettie's stoic refusal to buckle under the pressure in the wilderness of Africa. It lies in all of this and the lesbian relationship between Shug Avery and Celie – probably the only relationship in the entire novel to have been formed out of love.

On hindsight, it is easy to say that some books are meant to be written. But some books just write themselves. Alice Walker, 'author and medium', of The Color Purple couldn't agree more.


Blogger Simi said...

KJ, bloggeth more plizz

12:09 PM  

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