Study Guide

The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

The Color Purple Summary

Overview

The Color Purple

Summary of the Novel
The novel focuses upon the growth and development of a girl named Celie. Raped at 14 by her own father and then forced into a marriage with a cruel older man, Celie learns to be quiet and submissive. The person she cares most about, her sister Nettie, is forced out of her own home and kicked out of Celie’s home by her husband, Mr.____. Mr.____ had married Celie so that she could take care of his children and work for him, since he is already in love with Shug Avery.

When Shug Avery falls ill, Mr.____ keeps her at his home. Thanks to Celie’s care, Shug is able to recover and the two women begin a friendship. Over time, Celie learns to stand up for herself and gain self-respect. Celie also learns how to love, as the two women become lovers as well as friends. Shug promises Celie that she will stay and protect her from the abuse of Mr.____.

Nettie, meanwhile, finds refuge at the home of Samuel, the local reverend, and his wife, Corrine. Corrine and Samuel have two adopted children, Adam and Olivia. Celie is actually the mother of these children; they were taken from her by her father before she married Mr.____. Eventually the entire family, including Nettie, is sent to Africa for work as missionaries. They attempt to teach African children about Christianity. Nettie becomes involved in the struggle to educate a young African girl, Tashi, despite the wishes of her father, who believes that women should follow the custom of striving to become good wives. Nettie also enters a conflict with Corrine, who believes that Adam and Olivia are the result of an affair Nettie had with Samuel. Corrine is convinced that this is what happened because the children resemble Nettie so closely.

Nettie finally tells Samuel and Corrine that Celie is the children’s original mother, but by now Corrine doesn’t believe anything she says. When Corrine falls ill with a fever and comes close to death, Nettie becomes more desperate to make her believe the truth. Finally, Corrine remembers an early meeting that she had with Celie and dies understanding that Nettie had never had a relationship with Samuel. As the years pass, however, Nettie and Samuel fall in love and marry. Eventually, the missionaries are unable to save the Olinka tribe, whose land has been taken by developers. They plan to return to America and rescue Celie from her unhappy marriage. Nettie chronicles her adventures in Africa by writing letters to Celie twice a year. These letters, however, are taken by Mr.____ and hidden from Celie, who believes her sister is gone forever.

When Celie, with Shug’s help, finds out that Mr.____ has been hiding these letters, she makes a stand and leaves Mr.____’s house. She learns how to live life on her own and how to take care of others, all the while waiting for Nettie. After her departure from Mr.____’s farm, Mr.____ and his son Harpo learn to be kinder to each other and to others. Celie enjoys a life of independence and eventually accepts and reconciles with the people who have treated her cruelly. The climax of the novel occurs when Nettie returns with Samuel, Olivia, Adam and Tashi, who has married Adam. After a tearful reunion, Celie, after all her suffering, is the happiest she has ever felt in her life.

The unique structure of the novel should be noted. Walker uses first-person narration, that is, the action of the novel is written through the eyes of the character Celie.

Celie’s narration takes place in the form of letters, first to God, then to her sister Nettie. Nettie’s adventures are told through her point of view, through letters written to Celie. Therefore, the plot of the text is actually two separate stories, loosely connected through Celie’s relationship with Nettie. Celie and Nettie comment on their shared experiences, such as Celie’s relationship with Mr.____ and the discovery of Celie’s children, allowing the reader to fill in the gaps left by only one perspective in narration.

The Life and Work of Alice Walker
Alice Walker is one of the most famous and beloved writers of our time, and this is largely due to the novel The Color Purple. Born on February 9, 1944, Walker was the youngest of eight children and the daughter of sharecroppers. She was always a precocious child, but after being blinded in one eye at age eight in an accident with a BB gun, Walker became more insecure and withdrawn. Walker has always given credit to her mother for encouraging her to make something of herself; her father and four of her five brothers failed to give her a positive male role model. She was especially influenced by her father’s brutality, which served as a model for Mr.____ in The Color Purple. She reconciled her feelings with her father once she understood the difficult life he had led and the abuse that he himself experienced (his mother was murdered coming out of church).

Walker entered Spelman College on a scholarship in 1961. Although Spelman was a mainstream college with a moderate point of view, Walker took part in civil rights demonstrations. In 1964, she transferred to Sarah Lawrence College. It was during this time that she would suffer a personal crisis that would deeply affect her life. After a trip to Africa, Walker returned to America pregnant, which isolated her from her family and threw her into a deep depression. Even though her father had expected his sons to experiment with sex, he had warned his daughters not to become pregnant. (Winchell, 28). Walker contemplated suicide, and even slept with a razor blade under her pillow, but “...a friend saved her life by giving her the phone number of an abortionist” (Winchell, 9). She recorded her experiences during this phase of her life in a book of poems, which became her first published collection.

Walker became a literary scholar after her graduation, but her work was impeded by “the blind spot” that she felt was in the education that she had received. Walker was fascinated by female writers such as Flannery O’Connor but eventually became frustrated by the lack of black women writers in the curriculum of colleges. Even when she did find black writers being taught, only prominent male writers such as Richard Wright and Langston Hughes were ever discussed. Walker eventually “discovered” the works of Zora Neale Hurston, a writer in the mid-twentieth century whose apolitical work was shunned in favor of authors such as Wright. Hurston became the biggest influence on her literary career and life. Walker eventually edited a collection of Hurston works and is largely responsible for her posthumous popularity. Hurston is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, which has become a classic in twentieth century American literature.

Like Hurston, Alice Walker’s lifestyle has been controversial and chaotic. She married the white civil rights attorney Melvyn Leventhal in 1968 but divorced in 1976. Unlike Hurston, Walker has been fiercely political; she has been a prominent lesbian and feminist, and her political views have been made the focus of her novels. Her first novels, The Third Life of Grange Copeland and Meridian, both dealt with violence towards black women by black males. The Color Purple also shared many of these themes. Possessing the Secret of Joy was a 1992 novel that dealt with female circumcision, which is used in some African rituals. Critics of Walker have stated that she has portrayed black men as cruel in her works, which has sustained stereotypes of black male violence.

The Color Purple was Walker’s third novel, written in 1982. Her novel received the Pulitzer Prize for literature and an American Book Award. A film was made in 1985, which was critically acclaimed despite the fact that the screenplay departs dramatically from the novel. The most obvious differences are the exclusion of Nettie as a central character, and the almost complete removal of the subplot of Nettie, Corrine, and Samuel in Africa. The lesbian relationship between Shug and Celie is toned down as well, although the violence towards Celie seems as chilling in the movie as it is in the novel. The movie went on to receive 11 Academy Award nominations. In addition to her other novels, two of which, The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy, form a loose trilogy with The Color Purple, Walker has published two collections of short stories, poems, and political essays.

For more information on Alice Walker and her works, read the excellent biography by Donna Haisley Winchell (1992). Two other recommended books concerning black female writers are The Common Bond, a collection of essays edited by Lillie P. Howard, and Black Women Novelists, by Barbara Christian.

Estimated Reading Time

The 295-page novel is divided into 90 “letters,” most of which are between one and two pages long. For the sake of convenience, the study guide is broken into 21 sections, based upon logical pauses in the action of the novel. Readers should be able to complete the novel in 10-12 hours.

The Color Purple Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Color Purple is an epistolary novel made up of letters written by the heroine, Celie, to God, and letters exchanged between Celie and her sister Nettie. The correspondence tells the life story of Celie, beginning at age fourteen, when she is raped by a man “us knowed as Pa” and ending three decades later, when Celie has overcome shame and low self-esteem.

Letter writing for Celie begins when her rapist stepfather tells her, “You’d better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.” Soon thereafter, Celie’s mother dies, and the mother’s husband marries Celie off to Albert, a widower with four children, whom Celie can only bring herself to call “Mr.——.” As stepmother to Albert’s four unruly and disrespectful children, as housekeeper, homemaker, and sexual object, Celie enters into a life of drudgery and abuse. When Albert’s son Harpo comes to Celie with marital problems, Celie gives him the only advice she knows, which is to beat his wife Sofia. Later, realizing the injustice of physical violence, Celie asks God to forgive her for sinning against Sofia’s spirit.

Ironically, it is the entrance of Albert’s lover Shug Avery into Albert and Celie’s household that initiates the changes that lead to Celie’s freedom. Without compunction, Albert brings Shug, who is sick with “some kind of nasty woman disease,” home for Celie to nurse to health. Noisy and lively Shug, who arrives decked out in furs and beads, is a dramatic contrast to Celie, who tells herself, “It all I can do not to cry. I make myself wood. I say to myself, Celie, you a tree.”

At first, Celie is mesmerized by Shug’s glamour and flirtatiousness. In her customary submissive manner, Celie waits on Shug slavishly. Over time, a bond develops between the women. Shug begins to defend Celie, insisting that the mean-spirited Albert quit beating her. When Shug learns that Albert has hidden the letters written to Celie by Nettie, Shug gets the key to the trunk where the letters are kept and helps Celie to retrieve them.

Nettie’s letters reveal her day-to-day interaction with her new family of missionaries and with the Olinka tribe in Africa, where she has gone to live. Noting inhumane customs, Nettie finds both positive and negative aspects of her roots in Africa. Nettie intelligently describes her life in an effort to share her experiences with her sister.

Until Shug comes into her life, Celie has lived without sustaining personal relationships. Cut off from Nettie by distance and by Albert’s interference, and restricted to communication with God, Celie has no experience of intimacy until friendship with Shug is established. In teaching Celie, Shug tells her, “People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.” Shug shows Celie how to laugh and to feel alive.

With Shug Avery, no single relationship is confining or exclusive. Shug leaves Albert, then returns married to Grady. Still married to Grady, Shug returns her amorous attention to Albert, then to Celie, and then to a nineteen-year-old boy. Celie, who would like Shug all for herself, learns to accept her friend’s philandering.

In time, Shug takes Celie to her Memphis home, a big, pink, wildly decorated barnlike structure, which Shug has purchased with the riches she has earned from singing. Increasingly shedding restraints, Celie begins her own business making “folkpants.”

As her life brightens, Celie learns that her father has willed to her and Nettie a house and a dry goods store back in Georgia. With a career, a big home of her own, independence, and a newfound sense of self, Celie returns to her native rural community.

Nettie, who has married her good friend Samuel after his wife Corrine has died, returns to visit Celie. Albert, who has taken note of Celie as a woman for the first time, approaches her in friendship. With a sense of well-being at the end of the novel, Celie confesses to God, “But I don’t think us feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt.”

The Color Purple Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The Color Purple, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1983 and made into a successful film, is ultimately a novel of celebration. Initially, however, it is the tragic history of an extended African American family in the early and middle years of the twentieth century. Its tragedy is reflective of the country’s and its characters’ illness, and its celebration is of the characters’ and the country’s cure.

The story is written as a series of letters by two sisters, Celie and Nettie. The first letters reveal the fourteen-year-old Celie’s miserable existence as caretaker of her parents’ household. She bears two children to the man she believes to be her father (he is her stepfather), who immediately takes the children from her.

Celie is given into the same situation in marriage: She is made caretaker of another, now-deceased, woman’s children and a stand-in sexual partner for yet another woman. When Celie and Nettie’s father seeks to make Nettie his next victim, Nettie follows Celie to her new home, only to be victimized there by Celie’s husband.

Nettie finds a home with the minister and his wife, who have become parents to Celie’s children, Adam and Olivia. The five move to Africa to bring their Christian message to the Olinka. When the woman for whom Celie is stand-in partner enters her home, the note of harmony which will swell to the final chorus of celebration is sounded. Celie comes to love and to learn from Shug. She learns that she must enter Creation as loved creature of her Creator, who, neither white nor male, creates out of love and a desire to please “Its” creatures. Reverence for all of Creation—trees, the color purple, humanity—is the cure, finally, to her and the novel’s ills. Nettie’s letters show Celie that she and her minister husband have come independently, in Africa, to know the same loving Creator who loves all and repudiates no part of Creation.

Celie leaves her abuser, Albert, who is slow to learn and sing the novel’s song. He finally helps to bring Nettie, Samuel, Adam, Olivia, and Tashi, Adam’s wife, back to Celie. He tells Celie, as they, finally, establish a friendship, that the more he wonders at and about Creation the more he loves. Celie, now lover of self and Creation, is reunited in middle age with her sister and grown children.

The Color Purple Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The Color Purple consists of a series of letters describing the complex life of Celie and her extended family as they deal with poverty and racism in the rural South in the early part of the twentieth century. The first fifty-one letters are written by Celie, a fourteen-year-old girl who has been repeatedly raped by her father. They are addressed to God, the only one to whom she can tell this secret and mourn the fact that her two infant children were taken from her.

Another major worry in the early letters concerns her younger sister Nettie. Because their father has stopped molesting her, Celie believes he will start abusing Nettie. However, Celie is unable to protect her sister because of her forced marriage to Mr.——, a widower, who needs a wife to take care of him and his unruly children. Her life in this new family is dismal because no one treats her with kindness or affection. She briefly gains relief from worry, as well as companionship, when Nettie arrives, living with Celie briefly. However, Mr.——’s lustful attitude toward Nettie forces her to leave. Celie advises Nettie to seek refuge with a minister and his wife because the couple has enough money to employ her. Celie also believes that this couple has adopted her lost children.

In spite of her mistreatment by her new family, Celie tries her best to create a good home. Eventually Harpo, Mr.——’s son, marries Sofia, a strong, confident woman who will not be dominated by any man. Celie, at first, supports Harpo and encourages him to beat Sofia since this is the only type of relationship she has ever known. However, reading the Bible makes her feel that she has wronged Sofia, and the two women become friends. Sofia encourages Celie to stand up for herself against Mr.——’s tyranny, but she is unable to follow this advice.

A first step in Celie’s growth occurs when Mr.—— invites his old mistress Shug Avery, a nightclub entertainer, to his house to recover from a venereal disease. Both Shug’s appearance and behavior fascinate Celie. Even more than Sofia, Shug demonstrates that women can control their own lives. Meanwhile, Sofia and Harpo continue to fight for dominance. Finally Sofia goes back to her family. After her departure, Harpo suddenly gains self-confidence and turns their home into a juke joint, a nightclub, which becomes very popular, particularly after Shug agrees to sing there. When Sofia eventually returns with her new boyfriend, the mayor’s wife offers her a job as a maid. After Sofia violently refuses, she is beaten and jailed. Ironically, she is eventually released when she agrees to work for the mayor’s family. She is treated like a slave, forbidden to see her family except on rare occasions.

Shug also returns with a new husband, Grady. However, she and Celie become even closer, beginning a sexual relationship. While she is there, Shug discovers several letters from Nettie that Mr.—— had hidden from Celie. These letters, recounting what happened to Nettie over the years, form the next section of the novel. Samuel and Corrine, the minister and his wife who adopted both of Celie’s children, take in Nettie. They are missionaries, and Nettie accompanies the family to Africa, where they live with a native tribe, the Olinka, until the tribe is almost destroyed by English rubber manufacturers. When Corrine dies, Nettie and Samuel marry.

While Celie is pleased to know that Nettie had written, the discovery that Mr.—— hid the letters causes Celie to question her faith. She stops addressing her letters to God because in her mind God is just another man who will betray her. Shug comforts her with a different view of God, a pantheistic one in which God is present in all of nature.

Shug convinces Celie to move to Memphis, thus providing a life of comfort and happiness for Celie, who shows her appreciation by designing some clothes for Shug. This eventually leads to a successful business, Folkpants Unlimited.

When Celie returns home again, she has money and confidence. In fact, Mr.—— doesn’t even recognize her. He, too, has changed and is working hard and treating others with respect. In addition, she learns that she has inherited the family store. The man who raped her was only her stepfather, and therefore she is entitled to the family property.

Unfortunately, Celie’s comfortable world falls apart. Shug falls in love with a younger man and leaves to be with him. The Department of Defense reports that Nettie and her family were killed. In spite of all this, Celie learns to accept her life. She and Mr.—— discover that they enjoy each other’s company. Each of them has grown to value the people and things around them. By the novel’s end, Shug returns and even seems a little jealous of the relationship between Celie and Mr.——. Nettie and her family come home as well; the letter about their death was incorrect. She and Samuel hope to found a church that preaches the spirit of God not just his image. In the last letter, Celie once again writes to God; however, this time God includes the trees, the sky, and everyone. This letter celebrates her extended family, finally together, finally happy.

The Color Purple Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Celie, a poor, barely literate black woman living in rural Georgia, is raped and impregnated by a man she assumes is her father when she is fourteen years old. A short time later, Celie’s mother dies, and Pa, her stepfather, takes Celie’s children away, removes her from school, and has her married to a poor farmer she called Mr.——. She becomes the stepmother of his four children by a previous marriage, and she becomes his slave. When his son, Harpo, asks him why he beats his wife, he says that he does it because she is his wife and because she is stubborn.

Far from rebelling against her treatment by Mr.——, Celie accepts her abuse and neglect. Having been called ugly and worthless so often by both her stepfather and her husband, Celie comes to accept their view of her. Whatever hope she possessed early in life is directed outward in two directions: toward God and toward her sister, Nettie. By writing letters to both, Celie asserts that she is still alive. Her real hope for life lies in Nettie, to whom she is very devoted and whom she helped escape when Mr.—— made advances to her and threatened to have someone marry her. While Celie believes that her own life is over, she hopes that Nettie—who has a similar intelligence and a love of learning—can escape; then she can live vicariously through Nettie. Nettie moves to Africa to become a missionary, and the sisters vow to write to each other; however, Mr.—— intercepts Nettie’s letters for many years.

Harpo marries Sofia and, modeling his behavior after his father, attempts to dominate her in the same way his father dominated Celie. Sofia is too strong and independent, however, to submit to his abuse. Though she later feels guilty for having betrayed Sofia by telling Sofia’s husband that if he wants to keep her in line he should beat her, Celie is actually jealous of Sofia’s strength.

When Mr.—— brings his mistress, Shug Avery, home to be nursed through an illness, Shug joins him in mocking Celie’s looks and submissive behavior. A growing closeness emerges between Celie and Shug, however; Shug is a strong, independent woman with a career as a blues singer. She teaches Celie many things: to stand up to Mr.——, to believe in her self-worth, to appreciate her own beauty, and to experience the joys of sexuality. Shug is the first person, besides the absent Nettie, to love Celie for who she is, and Shug and Celie band together to make Mr.—— end his abuse of Celie. With Shug’s encouragement, Celie defies Mr.—— and eventually curses him when she discovers that he kept Nettie’s letters from her. She leaves him, just as Sofia previously left Harpo.

Shug takes Celie to her home in Memphis, and Celie begins a business making men’s trousers. Later, when Celie discovers that her stepfather left her and Nettie a house and a dry goods store in Georgia, she returns to Georgia as an independent woman.

Nettie’s letters from Africa indicate that the relationship between African men and women parallels the relationship between men and women in the American South. Nettie’s life in Africa is fulfilling and frustrating. Unlike Celie, she was able to escape the rural South, and she is educated by books and by the experience of a wider world. A sincerely religious person, she feels that she is doing important work as a missionary, but she is frustrated by her lack of success. Nettie, her family, and Celie’s children have to return to the American South to find integration into a true community. Like Celie, Nettie is frustrated by her lack of communication with her sister, but she develops a meaningful relationship with Samuel, another missionary. She later marries him.

At the conclusion of the novel, Nettie, her husband, and Celie’s long-lost children return to Georgia to live in the home that was left to Celie. The novel ends with a Fourth of July celebration that signifies the absorption of all the characters of the novel into a living, vital community.

The Color Purple Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Walker’s third novel, The Color Purple, made her famous, winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award. The novel takes the form of letters: from Celie to God and Nettie, from Nettie in Africa to Celie. The letters afford the characters the opportunity to speak in their own voices, their own unique language. Not only does the language enhance the storytelling qualities of the novel, but the changes in Celie’s language also illustrate her emotional growth.

Warned by her father to tell “nobody but God” about his sexual abuse of her, Celie writes letters to God that tell of repeated rape resulting in the births of two babies, of the babies’ removal by her father, and of being married off to Mr. _______, a man whose name Celie will not speak. Woven into the letters as well are details of day-to-day farming life in the South that involves racism and economic hardship. Celie’s life of mistreatment and drudgery continues unabated until Shug Avery, a blues singer and Mr. _______’s former lover, appears. Shug is beautiful, stubborn, and independent—traits that Celie has never seen in a woman. Their unlikely friendship changes Celie’s life. Shug convinces Mr. _______ to stop beating Celie and encourages her to see herself as a worthwhile person. The feeling between them intensifies, and Shug and Celie become lovers for a time.

It is Shug who discovers and procures the years of letters from Nettie hidden in Mr. _______’s trunk. From Nettie’s letters, written in a language illustrating her education, Celie learns that the man who raped her was not her biological father and that her two children were adopted by the same missionaries with whom Nettie lived and traveled to Africa. Although it intensifies her hate for Mr. _______, the culmination of this knowledge, coupled with loving Shug, frees Celie from the guilt and poor self-image she had developed at the hands of men.

Exemplifying Walker’s theme of self-determinism, Celie, at Shug’s urging, exhibits a “womanist,” entrepreneurial streak and begins to create and sell pants for men and women. The pants allow her a creative expression and suggest Celie’s liberation from men on an economic as well as a physical level. Through Shug’s belief of God’s existence in everything, Celie reclaims her spirituality as she reclaims her body and soul by becoming comfortable with herself, a transformation that occurs in her language as well. This new Celie eventually makes peace with Mr. _______, whom she comes to call Albert. Albert’s maturation and Celie’s forgiveness reflect Walker’s recurrent theme of the possibility of change—that there can be respectful relationships between black men and women.

Nettie, her husband, Samuel, and Celie’s children return from Africa to reunite the family, their missionary work having proved futile. Much as Celie’s was, Nettie’s God has been transformed to an immediate, internal spirituality. Nettie’s faith in Celie, shown through years of unanswered letters, coupled with Celie’s reciprocal faith, even after Nettie’s supposed drowning on the return ship, underscores the kindred spirit of the long-separated sisters.

For all the praise it received, The Color Purple also received much criticism for its negative portrayals of black men. The optimism of the novel outweighs its negativity, however, and Celie’s triumphant embrace of a vital existence reflects Walker’s hope for humanity.

The Color Purple Summary

First Period
In The Color Purple, the story is told through letters. The only sentences outside the letters are the first...

(The entire section is 1643 words.)

The Color Purple Summary and Analysis

Letters 1–9: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Celie: a 14-year-old girl who is the protagonist of The Color Purple

Alphonso and his wife: Celie’s mother and father

Nettie: Celie’s younger sister

Mr. ____: a local farmer who wants to marry Nettie, but ends up marrying Celie

May Ellen: Alphonso’s second wife

Harpo: the 12-year-old son of Mr.____ from a previous marriage

Summary
The novel begins with a letter to God, written by Celie, a young girl who has “always been a good girl.” Celie starts writing to God when she is 14, saying that she wants to know “what is happening to me.” One day last spring, she noticed her parents fighting. Her father...

(The entire section is 1598 words.)

Letters 10–12: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Olivia: Celie’s daughter, taken from Celie at birth

The Reverend Mr.____ (Samuel): Olivia’s adopted father and husband to Corrine

Corrine: Olivia’s adopted mother

Kate and Carrie: Mr.____’s sisters

Summary
While Celie is at the dry goods store with Mr.____, she sees her daughter walking with Corrine. She begins to talk with Corrine and finds her to be a friendly and kind woman. When Corrine’s husband is late picking them up, Celie offers a ride to her and Olivia. They are ready to accept, but the reverend comes by and whisks them away. Corrine tells Celie a joke as they leave, and Mr.____ wants to know why Celie is so happy as he...

(The entire section is 1072 words.)

Letters 13-18: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Sofia Butler: Harpo’s new wife

Summary
Harpo starts to ask questions about Mr.____’s marriage and confesses to Celie that he is in love. Harpo met a girl in church and even though they haven’t even spoke to one another, he already plans to marry her. Meanwhile, Mr.____ becomes excited when Shug Avery comes to town to play in a nightclub. He fixes himself up in a way that he has never done for Celie. He tries to keep it from her, but Celie already knows. She wishes she could go and meet the woman she has pictured in her mind for so long. Mr.____ is gone for the weekend, and when he finally returns, he acts so strangely that Celie becomes even more curious about Shug. Even...

(The entire section is 1035 words.)

Letters 19–21: Summary and Analysis

Summary
Harpo wants to know why Sofia will not listen to his orders. Mr.____ tells his son that Sofia needs “a good sound beating.” While Celie likes Sofia, she advises Harpo to beat her also. The next time Harpo visits, he is heavily bruised on his face, and walks in on sore legs. Some time after that incident, Celie drops in on Sofia and Harpo’s place, only to find them viciously fighting. Their house is devastated from their struggle, and Celie walks back home.

Celie feels guilty for telling Harpo to beat Sofia, and has trouble sleeping for about a month. She understands that her greatest fear is that Sofia will find out. Eventually, Harpo confesses to Sofia that Celie told him to beat her, and...

(The entire section is 860 words.)

Letters 22–27: Summary and Analysis

Summary
The news goes out all over town that Shug Avery is sick. Nobody wants to take her in, and she has been abandoned by her parents. Furthermore, the town seems to be delighted by Shug’s sickness; even the town preacher gives a thinly veiled sermon in which Shug is chastised for her lifestyle. Celie is outraged by this treatment of Shug but does nothing. Mr.____, on the other hand, quickly calls on Harpo to prepare the wagon, and he leaves town. He returns five days later with Shug Avery, and tells Celie to prepare the guest room.

Mr.____ tries to take care of Shug, but she is weak and unhappy from her sickness and pushes him away. Celie starts to take care of Shug on her own, and Shug begins to...

(The entire section is 1271 words.)

Letters 28–31: Summary and Analysis

Summary
One night while Sofia and Celie are making another quilt together, Sofia asks Celie why a man eats. Sofia tells her that Harpo has been eating voraciously for the last few days, even though he isn’t hungry. Neither one of them can figure out why he would do this to himself. The next time he visits Celie he begins to go through the pantry and eat whatever food he can get his hands on. Celie doesn’t understand this at all, especially since Harpo doesn’t seem to be enjoying the food that he is eating.

Harpo grows fat, and one night shows up at Celie’s, this time crying and with two black eyes. Celie accuses him of bothering Sofia and wonders why he would do such a thing to a wonderful woman....

(The entire section is 1045 words.)

Letters 32–36: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Swain: Harpo’s friend

Henry “Buster” Broadnax: Sofia’s new companion

Squeak (Mary Agnes): Harpo’s new girlfriend

Summary
Six months after Sofia leaves, Harpo has become a different man. He takes his old house, and builds a jukejoint (bar and nightclub) along with his partner, Swain. No one comes to the new place, so Harpo begs Shug to perform at his bar. Shug, who by now has almost fully recovered, agrees to perform, and the club fills up in anticipation of her arrival.

Celie is excited that she will finally get an opportunity to hear Shug perform. Mr.____ does not want Celie to be there, but Shug insists upon it. Celie and Mr.____...

(The entire section is 1459 words.)

Letters 37–41: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Odessa: Sofia’s sister

Miss Millie: the mayor’s wife

The Mayor: town official

Summary
Squeak asks Celie why Harpo has been so morose lately, and Celie tells her about the scandal that has shocked the entire family. Sofia has been arrested for attacking the mayor. One day she went to town with Buster and the children when the mayor’s wife stopped them. The mayor’s wife, Miss Millie, coos over Sofia’s children. She thinks that they are so cute, she asks Sofia if she wants to be her maid. When Sofia refuses, the mayor slaps her for not being respectful. Mr.____ simply says “you know what happen if somebody slap Sofia” and Celie doesn’t feel...

(The entire section is 1258 words.)

Letters 42–44: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Eleanor Jane: the young daughter of Miss Millie

Billy: the young son of Miss Millie

Jack: Odessa’s husband

Summary
Six months have passed since they tried to use Squeak to get Sofia out of jail. Mary Agnes surprises everybody by starting to sing some songs that she wrote. She soon becomes very popular, and everyone discovers that she has a good singing voice. Harpo can’t understand why she sings now when she had been so quiet the year before, but he doesn’t object.

Meanwhile, Sofia has been released from prison under the condition that she work for the mayor and Miss Millie as their maid. Three years after she starts working for them,...

(The entire section is 1119 words.)

Letters 45–48: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Grady: Shug’s new husband

Summary
Shug has been on the road and making money, and is now very successful. She writes to Mr.____ and Celie that she is coming home for Christmas and has a big surprise for them. Mr.____ and Celie are shocked to discover that the surprise is Grady, Shug’s new husband. Celie knows “the minute she say [that they are married] that I don’t like Grady.” Nevertheless, they make him feel welcome. Mr.____ spends most of the vacation drinking with him.

Celie spends a lot of time talking with Shug, who now owns a house in Memphis and 100 pretty dresses. Shug asks her if she has had a better life with Mr.____ ever since Shug convinced him...

(The entire section is 946 words.)

Letters 49–51: Summary and Analysis

Summary
Shug asks Celie many questions about Nettie, because Nettie was the only girl Celie ever loved. Celie tells her that she has been waiting every day for all of these years for a letter from Nettie, but she never wrote. After this conversation, Shug starts hanging out with Mr.____ again, which shocks and pains Grady and Celie.

It soon becomes clear why Shug is doing this, however. After a week Shug gives Celie a letter from Nettie, which Mr.____ took out of his mailbox and hid in his coat pocket. Obviously, Mr.____ has been hiding these letters from Celie all of this time. Hearing about this causes Celie to temporarily lose her mind. She fantasizes about murdering him, and even approaches him from...

(The entire section is 680 words.)

Letters 52–60: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Adam: Celie’s lost son, now the adopted son of Samuel and Corrine

Summary
Celie reads Nettie’s adventures since leaving the farm of Mr.____. The next letters are read from Nettie’s point of view.

Nettie writes that as she left the farm, she was followed by Mr.____, who wanted to take advantage of her. Nettie manages to hurt Mr.____ just enough to escape. She finds her way to the home of the Reverend Mr.____, and is surprised to see a little girl with eyes just like her sister’s open the door.

She is taken in by the reverend and his wife, Samuel and Corrine, and takes care of the children, Adam and Olivia. She finds happiness and friends within the...

(The entire section is 989 words.)

Letters 61-63: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Joseph: the guide of the missionaries

Tashi: a young Olinka girl and best friend of Olivia

Tashi’s mother (Catherine) and father: the parents

Summary
Celie starts to feel a little better now that she knows that Nettie is alive, but she still wonders about her children. Shug had told her that children that are born from an incestual relationship turn out to be “dunces.”

After a long, difficult journey, the missionaries arrive at the Olinka village. The Olinkas are surprised that the new missionaries are black and that there are two women among them. Samuel is asked by the villagers if Corrine or Nettie is the mother of the children, and...

(The entire section is 1111 words.)

Letters 64–69: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Daisy: Alphonso’s new wife

Summary
Five years have passed between letters as Nettie picks up her narrative. Tashi’s father died in the rainy season the year before, and Catherine, Tashi’s mother, insists that her daughter continue to learn. As the years go by, Tashi becomes a wonderful storyteller and cries when she hears about slavery, which is something the other villagers refuse to acknowledge. Other women begin to send their daughters to school as well, which is reluctantly accepted by the men.

Corrine tells Nettie not to come to their hut if Samuel is alone. Nettie complains that “since Corrine almost never visits me herself I will hardly have anybody to...

(The entire section is 1378 words.)

Letters 70–73: Summary and Analysis

Summary
Nettie tells Samuel and Corrine that she is the aunt of Adam and Olivia, and her sister, Celie, is their mother. Corrine, however, doesn’t believe her. Nettie tries to make Corrine remember her meeting with Celie in the dry goods store years ago, but Corrine doesn’t remember. When Nettie shows her a quilt made from the cloth that Corrine had bought so long ago in order to make Olivia a dress, Corrine starts to cry. She had blocked Celie out of her memory because she looked so much like Olivia that Corrine was afraid that Celie would want her daughter back. Samuel, Corrine, and Nettie hold each other until Corrine drifts off to sleep. Later, she murmurs to Samuel, “I believe,” and dies.

...

(The entire section is 1302 words.)

Letters 74–77: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Jolentha (Suzie Q): the little daughter of Squeak and Harpo

Henrietta: the little daughter of Sofia

Jerene and Darlene: twins who help Celie with her sewing

Summary
Sofia is released from the mayor’s house after serving eleven and a half years of a twelve-year sentence. To celebrate, everyone goes to Odessa’s house for a dinner. At this dinner, Shug and Grady announce that they are returning to Memphis. Everyone, especially Mr.____, is disappointed when they hear this news, but that disappointment turns to shock when Shug announces that Celie is coming to Memphis as well. Mr.____ starts to protest, and Celie confronts him about hiding Nettie’s...

(The entire section is 1029 words.)

Letters 78–79: Summary and Analysis

Summary
Hearing that Sofia’s mother died, Celie comes back to pay a visit to Harpo and Sofia. She has changed so much that Mr.____ doesn’t even recognize her as she walks across his farm. As she approaches their house, Celie can hear Harpo and Sofia fighting. Sofia intends to be a pallbearer at her mother’s funeral but Harpo thinks that “peoples use to men doing this sort of thing.” Sofia is adamant, and during a lull in their argument Celie knocks on the door. They both stop everything and greet Celie warmly.

Harpo wants to know why Mary Agnes acts so detached, and Celie tells him that she has been constantly smoking marijuana. Grady grows and sells marijuana from his backyard, and Celie shares a...

(The entire section is 1018 words.)

Letters 80–81: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Doris Baines: an old missionary from England

Harold: a small African child, and the adopted grandson of Doris Baines

Althea: Samuel’s aunt, a missionary

Theodosia: Corrine’s aunt, a missionary and friend to Althea

Edward DuBoyce: a young Harvard scholar

Summary
Nettie begins her letter by announcing that she and Samuel were married the previous fall. They were married in England, where they tried to get some help for the Olinkas. The entire village was displaced in order to build new headquarters for the rubber plantation. All of the huts are destroyed and the villagers must live in a gigantic shelter, covered in tin, which had...

(The entire section is 1342 words.)

Letters 82–85: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Germaine: a young musician

Summary
Celie gets a call from Daisy informing her that Alphonso, her stepfather, has died. Celie is unmoved by this until she finds out that she and Nettie have inherited his house and dry goods store. Celie wants to give up the house when Shug has a better idea. They go to the house with cedar sticks and use smoke to chase “out all the evil” and make “a place for good.” Celie now has a new store to sell pants.

Unfortunately, while she fixes up her home she is barraged with bad news. Shug tells her that she met a young man one night, and that she is going out on the road with him. Celie is shocked, and cannot believe her. She tells...

(The entire section is 568 words.)

Letters 86–87: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Stanley Earl: Eleanor Jane’s husband

Reynolds Stanley: the baby son of Stanley Earl and Eleanor Jane

James: Shug Avery’s son

Summary
Nettie writes that Tashi has run away with her mother to join the mbeles. Although Nettie is upset, there is nothing more that she or her family can do in Africa. The rest of the tribe is dying out due to malaria and other diseases, as a result of the lack of yams that were once plentiful in the region. The family decides to return to America, where Nettie hopes to find Celie. Nettie cannot believe that it has been 30 years since they have last met, and she hopes that living with Mr.____ has not changed her character or...

(The entire section is 1227 words.)

Letters 88–90: Summary and Analysis

Summary
Nettie writes happily that Adam and Tashi have returned. While Adam and Tashi were in the forest, they uncovered a huge hidden city full of displaced members of different tribes. When they return, Adam asks Tashi to marry him, but she refuses. Tashi is afraid that with her scars she will be looked upon as a savage in America and Adam will eventually become ashamed of her. Adam promises her that he will always be with her, and proves this by having his face scarred in the same manner. Tashi and Adam are married by Samuel, and they immediately set out for home.

While Celie waits for Nettie to come home, she sets up her store and employs Sofia as a clerk. Harpo takes care of the children. He gets some...

(The entire section is 620 words.)