Turning colours into words
is implied by colour purple? According to colour symbolism, colour
purple represents Royalty, transformation, wisdom in one hand and
cruelty, arrogance, mourning in the other. Also most importantly it
represents the enlightenment. Alice Walker’s very famous novel The
Colour Purple is a perfect combination of those elements, colourfully
presented and emotionally illustrated.
A scene from The Colour Purple
The Colour Purple is regarded as Walker’s most successful and
critically acclaimed work. Written in an epistolary style, the novel
depicts the harsh life of a young Black woman in the South in the early
The Colour Purple explores the individual identity of the Black woman
and how embracing that identity and bonding with other women affects the
health of her community at large.
Although some reviewers have taken issue with the novel’s portrayal
of Black men, the novel has largely been celebrated by critics and
popular audiences alike, winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the
American Book Award in 1983. In 1985 filmmaker Stephen Spielberg
directed the film adaptation of The Colour Purple, which was nominated
for 11 awards—including best picture—by the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences.
The Colour Purple begins with fourteen-year-old Celie writing a
letter to God, asking for a sign. Celie is a scared, poor, Black girl
living in the South. Her mother has become ill after the most recent of
her numerous pregnancies and the man Celie believes to be her father
abuses Celie sexually. He tells her, “You better not never tell nobody
but God. It’d kill your mammy.”
Readers discover through subsequent letters that “Pa” fathers two
children with Celie, but abducts them from her soon after each birth.
Her mother dies during Celie’s second pregnancy, and Celie is unable to
confirm whether her children are living or dead.
The Colour Purple dramatically underscores the oppression Black women
have experienced throughout history in the rural South in America.
Following the Civil War, most Black Americans remained disenfranchised
and were typically viewed as less than human by many members of white
Women were also regarded as less important than men—both Black and
White—making Black women doubly disadvantaged. Black women of the era
were often treated as slaves or as property, even by male members of
their own families. In The Colour Purple, Celie is passed on from Pa to
Mr without any regard for her own desires. She constantly struggles to
forge her own self-identity and to not accept the subservient role that
society has ascribed to her.
Our Sinhala readers now have got the rare opportunity of reading the
Sinhala translation of The Colour Purple as Dampaata Kathaawak Amaali
Boralugoda, who translated the book, is not only a translator, but she
also is a university academic who teaches and researches on translation
studies. I did not get the opportunity to read the translation yet, but
I am sure that she might have faced with translation challenges in
handling Alice Walker and The Colour Purple.
The first issue I could see is the book’s power of narrative and
voice. The language used by Walker is very complicated and often
grammatically incorrect. Reproducing a language which has been
deliberately changed is a difficult job for a translator.
Next comes the power factor of strong female relationships. Female
ties presented in The Color Purple take many forms: some are motherly or
sisterly, some are in the form of mentor and pupil, some are sexual, and
some are simply friendships. All those ties cannot be easily rewritten
in a language like Sinhala. Language may allow, but may not the
publisher, readers or translator’s own consciousness.
The cyclical nature of racism and sexism is another key factor that
translator could be trapped in her translation. These two concepts are
socially and linguistically very sensitive and do not offer many options
in a translation.
All these facts raise my curiosity about Amaali’s translation of The
Colour Purple. I know Amaali is a special case in the field of
translation, because she does translation while exploring the
theoretical aspects of translation studies. I wish that Amaali would
have recognised the true colour of The Colour Purple: It is a
combination – wisdom, cruelty and finally enlightenment.