Celie endures sexual abuse at the hands of the man she believes to be her father. Further, she keeps his attention on her, accepting even more abuse from him, in order to distract him and protect her little sister, Nettie. Celie endures her mother's suspicion, resulting from this abuse. She goes through pregnancy and childbirth twice, believing that her father kills her first child and gives her second away. Somehow she remains positive and kind, most especially to her sister.
Celie is forced to marry a man who does not love her, who also physically, verbally, and sexually abuses her. She continues to try to protect her sister, even from Celie's own husband. This man, Albert, brings his mistress to live in her house and Celie not only endures her hateful and hurtful words, but she also tends to and nurses this woman, Shug, back to health.
Celie comes to terms with and begins to embrace her sexuality, with Shug's help, though society would condemn her for being a lesbian and her husband would argue that she doesn't deserve to feel sexual pleasure at all. She learns that her real father was actually lynched and that the man she thought was her father was her stepfather. She learns that her children are alive and have been brought up apart from her. She begins to lose her religious faith as a result. However, Celie finds her own voice and uses it to stand up for other people and herself. She realizes her talent for sewing pants, and she creates a whole new, independent and fulfilling life. Celie comes from someplace worse than nothing -- she is told that she is nothing and no one -- and she still manages to become an empowered and satisfied woman. Without her tremendous resilience, this would never have been possible.