In 1982, Alice Walker (February 9, 1944-) won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her nationally and critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple. Born in Eatonton, Georgia, Walker witnessed first hand the brutalities of slavery which was still prevalent in the Southern town, and this is evident in her works.
When Walker was eight, her brother accidentally shot her in the eye while playing with his BB gun. Her parents could not afford a car to take her to a doctor, and the wound cost her the use of her right eye. After this, Walker withdrew from others and kept to herself while unconsciously observing people and their relationships with great insight.
Walker was an excellent scholar and was awarded a scholarship by Spelman College in 1961. In this period, drawn to the Civil Rights movement, she became an activist. Walker celebrates the emotions, frailties and characters of women, calling herself a ‘Womanist’. However, her works reflect a universality of emotion and the bleakness of the human condition.
The Color Purple is a narrative that unfolds primarily through the letters that the protagonist Celie writes to god. Celie is a black Southern woman who, as a teenager, is repeatedly raped and beaten by her stepfather and she attempts to escape the brutal world she is trapped in. A plot summary would never do justice to what the story is actually about. The intricacies and impact of the story is built through subtleties of the interactions that Celie has with the other characters.
Walker has been accused of painting her male characters in a completely bleak light, but it is important to note that she allows them to redeem themselves later in her novel, and in the process attributes universally identifiable human traits to those characters. The center of Walker’s vision is this redemption, this ability to find hope in the midst of despair and forgiveness in the mesh of brutality. This is brought out as Celie grows emotionally and psychologically, and realizes that there is more to retaliation than simple hatred for the perpetrator of the violence. Celie brings out the multifaceted nature of forgiveness, and the idea that forgiveness need not be synonymous with acceptance, and it may sometimes come simply from understanding.
Renee Tawa of the Los Angeles Times feels that Alice Walker “is one of the country’s best-selling writers of literary fiction”. The genius behind her novels bear testimony to that claim.