When I have a ho-hum attitude about a well-received book that I expected to like, I have to wonder what I missed. The Color Purple was supposed to be great. Many reviewers I tend to agree with gave the novel their highest accolades. Typically, I agree with these sorts of books--Beloved and Ruby are two books with similar themes that also tackle issues both horrific and relevant. So what did I miss with The Color Purple?
I wonder if much of the praise centers around the original publication of the novel. Was The Color Purple the most honest novel regarding the post-Civil War life of the southern black? Was it the first to focus on primarily women characters? One would have to ignore the four Toni Morrison novels that had already been published by 1982 to assume this fact, not to mention novels that had been published during the Harlem Renaissance and in the subsequent years.
Perhaps the likability is the result of the philosophical musings the story captures. Questions of theology and the African woman's relationship with God abound. Yet, this doesn't seem to be enough to sustain the average reader. What else could it be? The bond between the sisters? The misandry? The happy ending? Frankly, all I can do is guess.
Personally, I didn't hate the novel, by any means, but I did find it rather uneventful. Perhaps the hype had crushed it for me. Perhaps the warnings of “graphic content” seemed excessive when compared to the likes of Ruby—a novel with truly excessive graphic content. In the end, however, what left me least impressed was the story itself and its delivery: two sisters, divided, telling two different stories through unreceived letters.
The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that what draws people to this story are the joys. Yes, it's a sad story with all kinds of horrors, but the focus is the color purple, the pleasure of the world. It's about a love between sisters that conquers all. Through my many years of reading, I've seen that many readers like to feel a range of emotions throughout a book, but that the feeling they want to be bowled over by in the end is joy. I cannot be counted as one of these readers and that is perhaps why I was underwhelmed by The Color Purple. I felt for Sethe in Beloved. I felt very strongly for Ruby, Ephram, and many characters in Ruby. Yet, for Celie and Nettie, I felt little. They seemed strong enough to not need my pity. They found beauty in the world around them and strength within their selves, and there was nothing anyone could do to completely crush them. As a weak and frail human, I cannot relate; therefore, I surmise, that it is because of my own weakness I could not identify with this story. What a humbling experience.