The Color Purple Summary

The Color Purple is a novel by Alice Walker. Written in epistolary form, the narrative is told through a series of letters that protagonist Celie writes to God.

  • Fourteen-year-old Celie is sexually abused by her father, and she has two children as a result. Her father takes the children away from Celie and forces her to marry Mr.—, an abusive older man.

  • Celie befriends Shug Avery, a singer and Mr.—'s ex-girlfriend, who encourages Celie to leave Mr.— and live for herself.

  • After discovering a stack of letters that Mr.— hid from her, Celie reunites with her sister Nettie and her long-lost children.

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Last Updated on March 4, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1007

The Color Purple is a novel by African-American author Alice Walker. It was published in the United States in 1982 and won the National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983. Despite gaining great critical acclaim by critics and awards, the novel also caused controversy and was censored due to its sexual and violent content. It was later adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg in 1985 and into a Broadway musical in 2005. The Color Purple is considered one of the best works of African-American literature.

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Plot Summary

The Color Purple is told through a series of letters written by the protagonist Celie to God. Celie is a fourteen-year-old teenage girl who lives with her father, Alphonso, and her twelve-year-old sister, Nettie, in Georgia. Alphonso is abusive to both children. He rapes Celie regulary, which results in her giving birth to two of his children. The first child is a daughter named Olivia; the second, a son named Adam. Alphonso takes both children away to somewhere that Celie doesn’t know. A man called Mr. __ intends to marry Nettie, because he needs someone to take care of his children, but Alphonso convinces him to marry Celie instead.

Mr. __ and Celie get married. Both Mr. __ and his children treat Celie horribly. Mr. __ beats and rapes Celie just as Alphonso did. Some time after Celie gets married, Nettie runs away from home and goes to Celie’s house. Mr. __, who initially wanted to marry Nettie, makes sexual advances toward her, which causes her to leave the house. Celie advises Nettie to find the woman she once met at a store. Celie doesn’t know what happens to her sister after she leaves. She doesn’t hear anything from Nettie and assumes that she is dead.

Time passes, and Mr. __’s son Harpo marries a girl named Sofia despite Mr. __’s wishes. Harpo and Sofia have six children. Celie, whom Mr. __ continues to abuse, is surprised by Sofia’s resistance to Harpo, who tries to control his wife like her father controls Celie. Celie is jealous of Sofia’s stance against Harpo and advises him to beat Sofia to make her submit to him. But Sofia resists Harpo’s beatings and finds out that Celie advised him. Sofia is angry at Celie for what she has done, but once Celie explains the abuse she has endured and her jealousy, the two women become friends. Sofia tells Celie that she doesn’t have to endure Mr. __’s abuse and advises Celie to fight back. Sofia has had enough of Harpo’s treatment of her. She takes their children and leaves him.

Celie finds out that Mr. __ has been having an affair with a jazz singer named Shug Avery, who has three children by Mr. __. When Shug becomes ill, Mr. __ lets her stay at the house. Celie doesn’t mind taking care of Shug and soon becomes very interested in the singer. Shug is mean to Celie, despite Celie’s assistance, but after a while they start a friendship. Shug finds out that Mr. __ beats Celie and tries to protect her.

Shug and Celie start having a sexual relationship, and Celie falls in love with Shug. Shug tells Celie that her sister, Nettie, sent letters but Mr. __ hid them. Shug shows her the letters, and Celie finds out that her sister is alive. Nettie is living with a missionary couple: Corrine, the woman Nettie met at the store, and Samuel, a reverend. The couple had adopted Adam and Olivia years ago without knowing their true heritage. Nettie suspects that the children are Celie’s. Celie questions Alphonso about the truth and finds out that Nettie’s suspicion was correct. Alphonso also tells her that he is not Celie and Nettie’s biological father. Rather, he is their stepfather. Celie learns that after her real father died, her mother had a mental breakdown. Alphonso took advantage of the situation and married Celie’s mother. Nettie tells Corrine and Samuel that their adopted children are her sister’s. Corrine, who has lately fallen ill, believes Nettie. Corrine then dies. After finding out the truth, Celie has had enough of Mr. __’s abuse and leaves him.

Celie moves to Memphis with Shug and starts a business as a tailor. Shug has affairs with other people, which bothers Celie, but she does not leave her. Celie finds out that Alphonso is dead and goes back to Georgia to inherit her mother’s house. Meanwhile, Nettie and Samuel get married. Celie settles in Georgia and finds out that Shug fell in love with Germaine, a member of her band. The news is hard for Celie to bear, as she is still in love with Shug.

Nettie and Samuel get ready to return to the United States. Before they return, Celie’s son, Adam, falls in love with an African girl named Tashi, who has to go through facial scarring and female circumcision as a traditional African ritual. To support Tashi, Adam goes through the same ritual of face scarring.

After moving back to Georgia, Celie meets with Mr. __, who has changed since she last saw him. She calls him by his first name, Albert. Albert tells Celie that he regrets everything he has done to her. He apologizes for abusing her during their marriage. He wants to marry her, but Celie is not interested and declines his offer. As time passes, the two develop a friendship.

Shug returns from travelling with Germaine. Celie realises that she doesn’t need Shug to be happy and decides to accept Shug’s affairs with other men. Meanwhile, Sofia and Harpo get back together. Sofia starts working as a seamstress at Celie’s shop.

Nettie and Samuel return to the United States. After almost thirty years, Celie and Nettie are reunited. Celie finally meets her children, Adam and Olivia. She also meets Samuel, as well as Adam’s wife, Tashi. The novel ends with Celie and Nettie thinking that though they are now old, they feel younger than ever.

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