The Color Purple has been in my life for a long time, thanks to my obsession with the musical. “I’m Here” has gotten me through literally every dark time I’ve ever had. I only just got around to reading it fairly recently, and it was worth it. Duh, it’s an American classic, but it is for a reason. As a feminist and a woman, I have so much love for how central female empowerment is within the text. One can read the book and say, “the tragedies in Celie’s life are just one person’s experience”, but I really think Walker was trying to engage readers with the horrific reality of misogyny and gender-based violence. While the book is absolutely about the specific experience of black women, I believe the violence the characters experience is something universally endured by all women, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I couldn’t help but feel queasy during the parts that described the horrific abuse towards Celie. However, I also felt challenged to continue reading Celie’s story because I so desperately wanted her to stand up, fight back, and reclaim herself. It’s that investment in the character that Walker so carefully cultivates, and even though Celie appears to be hopeless, I rooted for her because I wanted to witness someone (even someone fictional) coming to terms with their trauma and triumphing in spite of it.
Celie’s eventual proclamation of self-love matters because it is proof that with a lot of work, we can overcome our issues and learn to love ourselves again. I know from my own life that one of the hardest journeys a person can take after experiencing trauma is learning how to love yourself again. And I’m the first one to admit I’m still working on it. But when you see someone else finally get to that point on their journey (again, real or fictional), it makes me feel a little bit better about my own recovery story. Therefore, I’m glad I read this incredibly hard book. Stories like these matter because they are very much based in the realities of women all over the world. Preventing and stopping sexual and gender-based violence is just one part of the battle. The other part is learning how to live with your trauma and thrive in spite of it, and Celie’s story shows us how beautiful that endeavor can turn out to be.