“You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.”
So begins Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and what a beginning it is. Immediately we get a sense that the speaker is at least uneducated and that the person he is speaking to has done something that they should not let their mother know about. We want to know so we read on:
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 Lucius 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 children.
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 against my hip and sort of wiggle it around. The he grab hold my titties. The 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.
And it is here that we realize we have something amazing and disturbing in our hands. As I recently stated in a post over at Bookriot, I tend to read books by white guys. I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while and I saw the movie a few years ago so I hadn’t really meant to read it. Until, that is, I made the conscious decision to read a book I knew was written by a black woman, a decision I am hoping becomes more and more automatic.
The Color Purple tells the story of black women in the 1930’s, told in letters written to God. It won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award and is on the the list of Most Frequently Challenged Books.
A few pages in and there’s a passage of such unexpected honesty from a character that I did one of those look-up-from-the-book-into-the-distance things. But that’s what happens when you read something so completely out of your normal frame of reference, something we should all do every now and then.
Anyway, less talk, more reading.