The Color Purple is Alice Walker’s stunning, Pulitzer Prize–winning novel of courage in the face of oppression. Celie grows up in rural Georgia, navigating a childhood of ceaseless abuse. Not only is she poor and despised by the society around her, she’s badly treated by her family. As a teenager she begins writing letters directly to God in an attempt to transcend a life that often seems too much to bear. Her letters span twenty years and record a journey of self-discovery and empowerment through the guiding light of a few strong women and her own implacable will to find harmony with herself and her home. In The Temple of My Familiar, Celie and Shug from The Color Purple follow the lives of a brilliant cast of characters, all dealing in some way with the legacy of the African experience in America. From recent African immigrants, to a woman who grew up in the mixed-race rainforest communities of South America, to Celie’s own granddaughter living in modern-day San Francisco, all must come to understand the brutal stories of their ancestors to come to terms with their own troubled lives. Possessing the Secret of Joy portrays Tashi’s tribe, the Olinka, where young girls undergo genital mutilation as an initiation into the community. Tashi manages to avoid this fate at first, but when pressed by tribal leaders, she submits. Years later, married and living in America as Evelyn Johnson, Tashi’s inner pain emerges. As she questions why such a terrifying, disfiguring sacrifice was required, she sorts through the many levels of subjugation with which she’s been burdened over the years.
Hailed by the Washington Post as “one of the best American writers of today,” Alice Walker is a master storyteller and a major voice in modern literary fiction.
About the Author
Alice Walker (b. 1944), one of the United States’ preeminent writers, is an award-winning author of novels, stories, essays, and poetry. In 1983, Walker became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her novel The Color Purple, which also won the National Book Award. Her other novels include The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian, The Temple of My Familiar, and Possessing the Secret of Joy. In her public life, Walker has worked to address problems of injustice, inequality, and poverty as an activist, teacher, and public intellectual.
Date of Birth:February 9, 1944
Place of Birth:Eatonton, Georgia
Education:B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1965; attended Spelman College, 1961-63
Read an Excerpt
The Color Purple Collection
The Color Purple The Temple of My Familiar Possessing the Secret of Joy
By Alice Walker
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1992 Alice Walker
All rights reserved.
You better not never tell nobody but God. It'd kill your mammy.
I am fourteen years old. I am I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me.
Last spring after little Lucious come I heard them fussing. He was pulling on her arm. She say It too soon, Fonso, I ain't well. Finally he leave her alone. A week go by, he pulling on her arm again. She say Naw, I ain't gonna. Can't you see I'm already half dead, an all of these chilren.
She went to visit her sister doctor over Macon. Left me to see after the others. He never had a kine word to say to me. Just say You gonna do what your mammy wouldn't. First he put his thing up gainst my hip and sort of wiggle it around. Then he grab hold my titties. Then he push his thing inside my pussy. When that hurt, I cry. He start to choke me, saying You better shut up and git used to it.
But I don't never git used to it. And now I feels sick every time I be the one to cook. My mama she fuss at me an look at me. She happy, cause he good to her now. But too sick to last long.
My mama dead. She die screaming and cussing. She scream at me. She cuss at me. I'm big. I can't move fast enough. By time I git back from the well, the water be warm. By time I git the tray ready the food be cold. By time I git all the children ready for school it be dinner time. He don't say nothing. He set there by the bed holding her hand an cryin, talking bout don't leave me, don't go.
She ast me bout the first one Whose it is? I say God's. I don't know no other man or what else to say. When I start to hurt and then my stomach start moving and then that little baby come out my pussy chewing on it fist you could have knock me over with a feather.
Don't nobody come see us.
She got sicker an sicker.
Finally she ast Where it is?
I say God took it.
He took it. He took it while I was sleeping. Kilt it out there in the woods. Kill this one too, if he can.
He act like he can't stand me no more. Say I'm evil an always up to no good. He took my other little baby, a boy this time. But I don't think he kilt it. I think he sold it to a man an his wife over Monticello. I got breasts full of milk running down myself. He say Why don't you look decent? Put on something. But what I'm sposed to put on? I don't have nothing.
I keep hoping he fine somebody to marry. I see him looking at my little sister. She scared. But I say I'll take care of you. With God help.
He come home with a girl from round Gray. She be my age but they married. He be on her all the time. She walk round like she don't know what hit her. I think she thought she love him. But he got so many of us. All needing somethin.
My little sister Nettie is got a boyfriend in the same shape almost as Pa. His wife died. She was kilt by her boyfriend coming home from church. He got only three children though. He seen Nettie in church and now every Sunday evening here come Mr. _____. I tell Nettie to keep at her books. It be more then a notion taking care of children ain't even yourn. And look what happen to Ma.
He beat me today cause he say I winked at a boy in church. I may have got somethin in my eye but I didn't wink. I don't even look at mens. That's the truth. I look at women, tho, cause I'm not scared of them. Maybe cause my mama cuss me you think I kept mad at her. But I ain't. I felt sorry for mama. Trying to believe his story kilt her.
Sometime he still be looking at Nettie, but I always git in his light. Now I tell her to marry Mr. _____. I don't tell her why.
I say Marry him, Nettie, an try to have one good year out your life. After that, I know she be big.
But me, never again. A girl at church say you git big if you bleed every month. I don't bleed no more.
Mr. _____ finally come right out an ast for Nettie hand in marriage. But He won't let her go. He say she too young, no experience. Say Mr. _____ got too many children already. Plus What about the scandal his wife cause when somebody kill her? And what about all this stuff he hear bout Shug Avery? What bout that?
I ast our new mammy bout Shug Avery. What it is? I ast. She don't know but she say she gon fine out.
She do more then that. She git a picture. The first one of a real person I ever seen. She say Mr. _____ was taking somethin out his billfold to show Pa an it fell out an slid under the table. Shug Avery was a woman. The most beautiful woman I ever saw. She more pretty then my mama. She bout ten thousand times more prettier then me. I see her there in furs. Her face rouge. Her hair like somethin tail. She grinning with her foot up on somebody motocar. Her eyes serious tho. Sad some.
I ast her to give me the picture. An all night long I stare at it. An now when I dream, I dream of Shug Avery. She be dress to kill, whirling and laughing.
I ast him to take me instead of Nettie while our new mammy sick. But he just ast me what I'm talking bout. I tell him I can fix myself up for him. I duck into my room and come out wearing horsehair, feathers, and a pair of our new mammy high heel shoes. He beat me for dressing trampy but he do it to me anyway.
Mr. _____ come that evening. I'm in the bed crying. Nettie she finally see the light of day, clear. Our new mammy she see it too. She in her room crying. Nettie tend to first one, then the other. She so scared she go out doors and vomit. But not out front where the two mens is.
Mr. _____ say, Well Sir, I sure hope you done change your mind.
He say, Naw, Can't say I is.
Mr. _____ say, Well, you know, my poor little ones sure could use a mother.
Well, He say, real slow, I can't let you have Nettie. She too young. Don't know nothing but what you tell her. Sides, I want her to git some more schooling. Make a schoolteacher out of her. But I can let you have Celie. She the oldest anyway. She ought to marry first. She ain't fresh tho, but I spect you know that. She spoiled. Twice. But you don't need a fresh woman no how. I got a fresh one in there myself and she sick all the time. He spit, over the railing. The children git on her nerve, she not much of a cook. And she big already.
Mr. _____ he don't say nothing. I stop crying I'm so surprise.
She ugly. He say. But she ain't no stranger to hard work. And she clean. And God done fixed her. You can do everything just like you want to and she ain't gonna make you feed it or clothe it.
Mr. _____ still don't say nothing. I take out the picture of Shug Avery. I look into her eyes. Her eyes say Yeah, it bees that way sometime.
Fact is, he say, I got to git rid of her. She too old to be living here at home. And she a bad influence on my other girls. She'd come with her own linen. She can take that cow she raise down there back of the crib. But Nettie you flat out can't have. Not now. Not never.
Mr. _____ finally speak. Clearing his throat. I ain't never really look at that one, he say.
Well, next time you come you can look at her. She ugly. Don't even look like she kin to Nettie. But she'll make the better wife. She ain't smart either, and I'll just be fair, you have to watch her or she'll give away everything you own. But she can work like a man.
Mr. _____ say How old she is?
He say, She near twenty. And another thing—She tell lies.
It took him the whole spring, from March to June, to make up his mind to take me. All I thought about was Nettie. How she could come to me if I marry him and he be so love struck with her I could figure out a way for us to run away. Us both be hitting Nettie's schoolbooks pretty hard, cause us know we got to be smart to git away. I know I'm not as pretty or as smart as Nettie, but she say I ain't dumb.
The way you know who discover America, Nettie say, is think bout cucumbers. That what Columbus sound like. I learned all about Columbus in first grade, but look like he the first thing I forgot. She say Columbus come here in boats call the Neater, the Peter, and the Santomareater. Indians so nice to him he force a bunch of 'em back home with him to wait on the queen.
But it hard to think with gitting married to Mr. _____ hanging over my head.
The first time I got big Pa took me out of school. He never care that I love it. Nettie stood there at the gate holding tight to my hand. I was all dress for first day. You too dumb to keep going to school, Pa say. Nettie the clever one in this bunch.
But Pa, Nettie say, crying, Celie smart too. Even Miss Beasley say so. Nettie dote on Miss Beasley. Think nobody like her in the world.
Pa say, Whoever listen to anything Addie Beasley have to say. She run off at the mouth so much no man would have her. That how come she have to teach school. He never look up from cleaning his gun. Pretty soon a bunch of white mens come walking cross the yard. They have guns too.
Pa git up and follow 'em. The rest of the week I vomit and dress wild game.
But Nettie never give up. Next thing I know Miss Beasley at our house trying to talk to Pa. She say long as she been a teacher she never know nobody want to learn bad as Nettie and me. But when Pa call me out and she see how tight my dress is, she stop talking and go.
Nettie still don't understand. I don't neither. All us notice is I'm all the time sick and fat.
I feel bad sometime Nettie done pass me in learnin. But look like nothing she say can git in my brain and stay. She try to tell me something bout the ground not being flat. I just say, Yeah, like I know it. I never tell her how flat it look to me.
Mr. _____ come finally one day looking all drug out.
The woman he had helping him done quit. His mammy done said No More.
He say, Let me see her again.
Pa call me. Celie, he say. Like it wasn't nothing. Mr. _____ want another look at you.
I go stand in the door. The sun shine in my eyes. He's still up on his horse. He look me up and down.
Pa rattle his newspaper. Move up, he won't bite, he say.
I go closer to the steps, but not too close cause I'm a little scared of his horse.
Turn round, Pa say.
I turn round. One of my little brothers come up. I think it was Lucious. He fat and playful, all the time munching on something.
He say, What you doing that for?
Pa say, Your sister thinking bout marriage.
Didn't mean nothing to him. He pull my dresstail and ast can he have some blackberry jam out the safe.
I say, Yeah.
She good with children, Pa say, rattling his paper open more. Never heard her say a hard word to nary one of them. Just give 'em everything they ast for, is the only problem.
Mr. _____ say, That cow still coming?
He say, Her cow.
I spend my wedding day running from the oldest boy. He twelve. His mama died in his arms and he don't want to hear nothing bout no new one. He pick up a rock and laid my head open. The blood run all down tween my breasts. His daddy say Don't do that! But that's all he say. He got four children, instead of three, two boys and two girls. The girls hair ain't been comb since their mammy died. I tell him I'll just have to shave it off. Start fresh. He say bad luck to cut a woman hair. So after I bandage my head best I can and cook dinner—they have a spring, not a well, and a wood stove look like a truck—I start trying to untangle hair. They only six and eight and they cry. They scream. They cuse me of murder. By ten o'clock I'm done. They cry theirselves to sleep. But I don't cry. I lay there thinking bout Nettie while he on top of me, wonder if she safe. And then I think bout Shug Avery. I know what he doing to me he done to Shug Avery and maybe she like it. I put my arm around him.
I was in town sitting on the wagon while Mr. _____ was in the dry good store. I seen my baby girl. I knowed it was her. She look just like me and my daddy. Like more us then us is ourself. She be tagging long hind a lady and they be dress just alike. They pass the wagon and I speak. The lady speak pleasant. My little girl she look up and sort of frown. She fretting over something. She got my eyes just like they is today. Like everything I seen, she seen, and she pondering it.
I think she mine. My heart say she mine. But I don't know she mine. If she mine, her name Olivia. I embroder Olivia in the seat of all her daidies. I embrody lot of little stars and flowers too. He took the daidies when he took her. She was bout two month old. Now she bout six.
I clam down from the wagon and I follow Olivia and her new mammy into a store. I watch her run her hand long side the counter, like she ain't interested in nothing. Her ma is buying cloth. She say Don't touch nothing. Olivia yawn.
That real pretty, I say, and help her mama drape a piece of cloth close to her face.
She smile. Gonna make me an my girl some new dresses, she say. Her daddy be so proud.
Who her daddy, I blurt out. It like at last somebody know.
She say Mr. _____. But that ain't my daddy name.
Mr. _____? I say. Who he?
She look like I ast something none of my bidniss.
The Reverend Mr. _____, she say, then turn her face to the clerk. He say, Girl you want that cloth or not? We got other customers sides you.
She say, Yes sir. I want five yards, please sir.
He snatch the cloth and thump down the bolt. He don't measure. When he think he got five yard he tare it off. That be a dollar and thirty cent, he say. You need thread?
She say, Naw suh.
He say, You can't sew thout thread. He pick up a spool and hold it gainst the cloth. That look like it bout the right color. Don't you think.
She say, Yessuh.
He start to whistle. Take two dollars. Give her a quarter back. He look at me. You want something gal? I say, Naw Suh.
I trail long behind them on the street.
I don't have nothing to offer and I feels poor.
She look up and down the street. He ain't here. He ain't here. She say like she gon cry.
Who ain't? I ast.
The Reverend Mr. _____, she say. He took the wagon.
My husband wagon right here, I say.
She clam up. I thank you kindly, she say. Us sit looking at all the folks that's come to town. I never seen so many even at church. Some be dress too. Some don't hit on much. Dust git all up the ladies dress.
She ast me Who is my husband, now I know all bout hers. She laugh a little. I say Mr. _____. She say, Sure nuff? Like she know all about him. Just didn't know he was married. He a fine looking man, she say. Not a finer looking one in the county. White or black, she say.
He do look all right, I say. But I don't think about it while I say it. Most times mens look pretty much alike to me.
How long you had your little girl? I ast.
Oh, she be seven her next birthday.
When that? I ast.
She think back. Then she say, December.
I think, November.
I say, real easy, What you call her?
She say, oh, we calls her Pauline.
My heart knock.
Then she frown. But I calls her Olivia.
Why you call her Olivia if it ain't her name? I ast.
Well, just look at her, she say sort of impish, turning to look at the child, don't she look like a Olivia to you? Look at her eyes, for god's sake. Somebody ole would have eyes like that. So I call her ole Livia. She chuckle. Naw. Olivia, she say, patting the child hair. Well, here come the Reverend Mr. _____, she say. I see a wagon and a great big man in black holding a whip. We sure do thank you for your hospitality. She laugh again, look at the horses flicking flies off they rump. Horsepitality, she say. And I git it and laugh. It feel like to split my face.
Mr. _____, come out the store. Clam up in the wagon.
Set down. Say real slow. What you setting here laughing like a fool fer?
Nettie here with us. She run way from home. She say she hate to leave our stepma, but she had to git out, maybe fine help for the other little ones. The boys be alright, she say. They can stay out his way. When they git big they gon fight him.
Maybe kill, I say.
How is it with you and Mr. ____? she ast. But she got eyes. He still like her. In the evening he come out on the porch in his Sunday best. She be sitting there with me shelling peas or helping the children with they spelling. Helping me with spelling and everything else she think I need to know. No matter what happen, Nettie steady try to teach me what go on in the world. And she a good teacher too. It nearly kill me to think she might marry somebody like Mr. _____ or wind up in some white lady kitchen. All day she read, she study, she practice her handwriting, and try to git us to think. Most days I feel too tired to think. But Patient her middle name.
Excerpted from The Color Purple Collection by Alice Walker. Copyright © 1992 Alice Walker. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThe Color Purple,
The Temple of My Familiar,
Possessing the Secret of Joy,
A Biography of Alice Walker,