My reaction to Alice Walker’s famous epistolary novel, The Color Purple, can be summed up in Celie’s own words: “Dear God!” In this very disturbing, very grace-filled story about rape, racism, self-deprecation, and love, despite all the sufferings Celie goes through, these two words, “Dear God,” outlines the kind of journey Celie goes through as she experiences the many trials and tribulations that occur within the span of the narrative. It is a journey of self-discovery, but, perhaps more to the point, a journey of rediscovered faith that enables Celie to grow. The two words, “Dear God,” indicates two things about Celie’s life journey: 1) it enables Celie to “persevere” through life to discover herself and her faith, and 2) its appearance and absence shows the progression, or regression, of Celie’s growth occur.
For well over the first half of the novel, Celie’s letters are exclusively addressed to God, perhaps responding to her “father’s” warning about “not never telling nobody but God” (1). Telling “nobody but God” does two things for Celie in these letters: it shuts Celie up more within herself, consequently losing her sense of her own dignity and love, but also allows her to be more honest with herself, though her limited education sometimes hinders her efforts at full transparency. Introspection and honesty are two very important qualities a character must have to fit into the framework of a self-discovery narrative. Therefore, addressing only God in such a way enables Celie to embark on this journey of self-discovery and rekindled faith. Addressing God gave Celie the hope to endure and persevere through her pain and misery, to obediently bare her cross. However, her innocent faith could not last very long in the loveless, friendless, and self-loathing environment she was in, and so she had to learn to love herself and others to really know God.
As with many strong people of faith, Celie had to question and leave God, stylistically, to rediscover, learn, and return to Him. She had never really questioned her faith until the second half of the novel, and began addressing her letters to her sister, Nettie. Stylistically, this suggests that Celie no longer finds comfort in addressing God and is slowly losing her faith. She even questions, “What God do for me?” and says, “the God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all other mens I know, Trifling, forgitful, and lowdown” (192). Of course, Celie’s description of God is wrong, but what she is questioning is very intelligible. At this point in the narrative, this change from a very introverted, abstract (though I believe God is much more than abstract) style of communication to a concrete, immediately living person indicates that Celie does have the confidence to speak her mind now to someone else. It also indicates that she has grown more free within herself to actually fight for herself rather than only to persevere through life. She needed the love and support from physical beings, who could talk and return her communications, while in turn growing to love herself. God, in a way, was a means of distraction for Celie’s own growth, and so she had to move away from Him for a little while, to live her life, to return to Him in the end. In the end, she does return to God, with gratitude, with love, and a wider, deeper understanding of Him.
At its core, Walker’s novel holds this to be true, that “we run from that chases us” (Preface), only to return to it when we better understand it. For people of faith, God always chases us with loving arms, silent but inevitably there, and we can decide whether to let Him catch us or run away from it. We almost always run away from it, but let it catch us when we know it is not a threat anymore. In a way, it is similar to Celie and her abusers, like her husband, Albert, and her stepfather; once she gains understanding of herself and of them, she returned to them without fear anymore. Love is really the underlying element of faith in God, and, as the story depicts, in God’s love can we truly find ourselves.