I think this is maybe the third or fourth time I’ve read this book. Once in college for a Black Women’s Writers course, once for a Southern Literature course, and now, and I think maybe one other time. In addition, I’ve read the sequel (Possessing the Secret of Joy), which carries on especially the conversation about FGM that this book gets into with the Nettie in Africa sections.
This particular time, I listened to Alice Walker reading the book for an audio edition (which involves among other things her doing her best British accent to narrate the African neighbor – Doris, based in part off of Doris Lessing).
The novel of course is both a diary novel and then an epistolary novel (Dear God giving way to Dear Nettie) and then the novel is mostly split into a few sections involving Celie before she’s married, after she’s married, and then in her long correspondence with her sister, who has moved to Africa on a mission trip. Through each of these sections we gets the maturation and changing of Celie as she understands more and more about the world, and begins to form her own views and ideas of what the world is, and what shape it’s to take in her life.
In my edition, Walker begins by explaining a little more about her vision for the book, which involves among other things looking at his Eurocentric views of Africa (as a godless, backward place) informs colonialism, but also how the spiritual life of African Americans doesn’t automatically mean material happiness or earthly salvation in the US. There’s a life worth living that can be separate from religion as we find in Celie’s development as a person.