The Color Purple Letters 1–9: Summary and Analysis
by Alice Walker

The Color Purple book cover
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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

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 wants to make love, but her mother refuses because she is too sick from recently giving birth. They are still arguing a week later. When her mother leaves the house in order to visit her sister, who is a doctor, Celie’s father quickly catches Celie and rapes her, telling her that she is “gonna do what your Mammy wouldn’t.” The father also warns her that she “better ... git used to it.” Celie, however, “don’t never git used to it,” and becomes pregnant. Soon after she gives birth to her child, a little girl, her mother dies. When Celie is sleeping, her father takes her child away, and does it again when Celie gives birth a second time, to a little boy.

After Celie’s mother dies, her father starts to look at Celie’s younger sister, Nettie. Celie promises to protect Nettie until her father marries again, and one time even offers herself to her father when he wants to take Nettie. Even though her father marries another young girl, Nettie then finds herself being examined by Mr.____, who is as old as their father and a widower. Mr.____ soon asks their father for Nettie’s hand in marriage but he rejects the proposal and offers him Celie instead. Mr.____ hadn’t even considered marrying Celie, but decides to marry her because she is a hard worker and his “poor little ones could sure use a mother.” While Mr.____ and their father discuss his marriage to Celie, Celie finds out that Mr.____’s last wife was murdered and that he has had an ongoing affair with Shug Avery, a local singer. After a few months, Mr.____ decides to marry Celie, who is about 20-years-old.

Celie spends her wedding day “running from the oldest boy” of Mr.____. Harpo, 12-years-old, attacks Celie with a rock as soon as she gets to Mr.____’s home. She immediately finds that her life is working and taking care of four ungrateful children. Celie spends her time thinking about Nettie, and wondering “if she safe.” When she has sex with Mr.____, she thinks about Shug Avery, knowing that “what he doing to me he done to Shug Avery and maybe she like it.” Although she knows that she is in an unpleasant situation, Celie refuses to cry.

The opening letters of this novel introduce us to Celie, a young girl who endures what seems to be nothing but abuse and betrayal. Her reasons for writing to God are clear. “You better not never tell nobody but God. It’ll kill your mammy,” is what Celie’s father says to her before he rapes her. Celie is left without a mother she can confide in and with a father who abuses her. Living in a hopeless situation, she looks to God for guidance and assistance. She grows up in a family that demands work from her and gives her nothing but pain in return.

We see that Celie is left to survive without support or love from her parents, who are the people expected to provide the child with security and love. Celie does not have the love of the family, the type of love that most of us take for granted. As a result, the world in which Celie lives seems very cruel to the reader. What is even more repugnant is the rape of Celie by her father; a heinous crime to begin with, the rape here is also symbolic. Just as the crime violates the woman and takes away her security and trust, Celie loses not only her trust of society but also her trust of her own family. She cannot even consider herself safe...

(The entire section is 1,598 words.)