Growing up, I was always encouraged to read anything I wanted. I had never heard of book banning before high school, and in high school it only came up because we read a lot of books that are commonly banned. I do remember my mother being concerned that Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was on the syllabus for freshman year English (she thought that the book would be more appropriate for older students.) However, my class ended up running out of time, so we didn’t read The Color Purple after all. I decided it was a good choice for my first banned book, since it is the only book I can ever remember where there was any controversy about whether I should read it.
Having read the book, I will start out by saying that I now understand why my mother was concerned. This is a very adult book, and at fourteen, I wasn’t ready for it. I would have been upset by the violence, and I probably would have missed several of the main points the author was trying to make. As an adult reader, however, I really appreciated this book.
Celie, the main character and narrator, moves from an abusive home to an abusive marriage. Although the beginning of this book is difficult, Walker portrays the situation very delicately. None of the violence in this book is gratuitous (a major pet peeve of mine), and I would even say that much of it is understated. Slowly, Celie grows stronger and begins to make changes in her life. The book is told through a series of letters, mostly written by Celie.
One of the many things I liked about this book is that the many characters are complex and well-rounded people. The great variety of the characters provide many interesting contrasts and juxtapositions: the strong, outspoken daughter-in-law who, unlike Celie, fights back when her husband beats her, the educated younger sister who leaves home to become a missionary in Africa, the famous, charismatic singer Shug Avery. The story is told with such sympathy for everyone, including many people who start out by harming the protagonist. Despite telling the story mostly from Celie’s point of view, Walker lets us see the motivations and reasoning behind the other characters’ actions. There is a strong sense of community between the characters in this book, even when they are not getting along, which I found very interesting.
This is a beautiful story and, despite the difficult subject matter, it is hard for me to see why it is so frequently challenged and banned. I would recommend it to any adult who likes a well-written, character-driven novel. Although there are some very tragic situations in the novel, overall, I found the plot very uplifting, because of the positive changes in the characters as the plot progresses. I give this book five stars. It completely lived up to its reputation as a classic piece of literature. ★★★★★