Pretty in Purple

I love purple. Here’s me in my favorite purple dress.

I also love The Color Purple by Alice Walker. It’s one of those books that’s different every time you read it. Because of that, you’ll get widely varied interpretations of the central messages put out there by different folks. Some people will swear it’s about racial injustice in the early 20th century. Some others will say it’s about the oppression of women. I think there’s an even more metaphysical layer.

Celie, who is 14 when the story begins, writes letters to a God she’s been told about but has little understanding of. She asks for a sign. He’s just one more man, and a white one at that, to victimize Celie the way every other man in her world does. Celie is pretty much emotionally numb, until her husband’s mistress, Shug, teaches her a different way of seeing. The story ends with Celie finally knowing love of family and friends and using her strength to be successful and independent.

Celie’s life is spent as a victim of her stepfather, whom she believed to be her father and who violated her sexually, and then her husband, whom she only knows for a long time as Mister. Her life outpictures her belief and understanding of God as she’s been told about him: hard, needing to be pleased, to be endured as capricious and uncaring. Everything she ever loved—her children, her mother, her sister Nettie—has been taken away from her and she basically shuts down. Life is to be survived.

One reason I love this story is it has so much to teach about God.

“Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe God is inside you and inside everything. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you’re looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit.”

More from Celie: “Don’t look like nothing, she say. It ain’t a picture show. It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found It…. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see It always trying to please us back.”

This presents Celie with a different perspective on God as good. As her understanding changes, she’s able to develop a love relationship with Shug and something of a friendship with her husband. Suddenly (it seems), circumstances change to where she finds the letters from Nettie that Albert has hidden from her all those years. As she reads Nettie’s letters and learns about all the wonders of Africa through Nettie’s eyes, she finds more and more to love about life and her strength increases. She had made one failed attempt to leave “Mistah Jail,” but at that point she still had a victim mentality. Learning that her children and Nettie are alive provides the counterpoint for her identity. She gradually lifts her consciousness level to a point where these events can happen and she finally get “out into creation.” She leaves with Shug and Squeak and opens a custom sewing business in Tennessee.

Celie’s life had to change when her thinking changed. There was a time when she was unable to accept any view of herself or any approach to her life except as a victim. Although we can presume from her solo visits into town that she could have left whenever she wanted, her shackles were essentially of her own making. She always had had faith in God, but as her understanding of God shifts from heartless taskmaster—mirrored in her stepfather and her spouse—to a God of love, her life follows suit. I can’t imagine Celie using “affirmations,” putting up inspirational Post-it notes or reading self-help books. Thinking different thoughts was the simple difference.