Last Updated April 27, 2023.
The opening of the book features a letter to God penned by Celie, a young girl who considers herself to be well-behaved. At the age of fourteen, Celie begins addressing God in writing, expressing her desire to understand her current situation. In the spring of the previous year, Celie witnessed a heated argument between her parents. Her father had attempted to initiate sexual activity with her mother, but her mother was unable to participate due to her recent childbirth and illness. The argument continues for a week.
Celie's father raped her after her mother left to see her sister, a doctor, telling Celie that she was "going to do what your Mammy wouldn't." She "better.. git used to it," her father added in a stern voice of warning. Celie ends up with a baby on the way. Her mother passes away shortly after the birth of Celie's daughter. As Celie gives birth for the second time, to a baby boy, her father snatches the first child from her while she is sleeping.
As Celie's mother passes away, their father starts to look at Celie's younger sister, Nettie. At one point, when her father wishes to take Nettie, Celie even offers herself to him as a replacement. Despite her father's decision to wed a much younger woman, Nettie is subjected to an examination by Mr.____, a widower of the same age as her own father.
Mr.____ approached his father to ask for permission to marry Nettie, but his father refused and suggested he marry Celie instead. Mr.____ had not previously considered marrying Celie, but decided to do so because she was a diligent worker and could serve as a mother figure for his children. As they discussed the marriage, Celie learned that Mr.____ had been involved in the murder of his previous wife and had been having an affair with a local singer named Shug Avery. Eventually, Mr.____ decided to marry Celie, who was roughly twenty years old, after a few months had passed.
Celie's wedding day is spent "running from the oldest boy" of Mr ___. As soon as Celie enters Mr. ___'s house, Harpo, then twelve years old, strikes her with a rock. Working full-time and taking care of four ungrateful kids quickly becomes her life's focus. Celie constantly wonders if she is safe when she is not with Nettie. She thinks of Shug Avery every time she has sex with Mr.____ because "what he doing to me, he done to Shug Avery and maybe she like it." Celie is aware that she is in a bad circumstance, but she is not going to let that make her cry.
The case of Mr.'s previous spouse highlights the ridiculousness of the societal expectations placed on women. Celie's father laments that Mr.'s wife caused a disturbance by being murdered by her jealous partner. In this society, the act of being unfaithful is considered a greater offense than a man taking the life of a woman. This demonstrates the challenge that Celie faces, which seems insurmountable.
Nettie tries to teach Celie so that they may both get out of this horrible environment together, and she is Celie's only ally in this massive effort. Celie's need for safety and her desire to shield Nettie sap her courage, though. Celie understands that as Nettie becomes older, she, too, is becoming a victim of Nettie's abusive father. Celie assures her that she will be safe, but she has no chance of survival against such relentless attacks. She tries to shield Nettie by playing the victim for her father and by marrying Mr....
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___. This selflessness is unprecedented, but Celie has been desensitized to the severity of the trauma she has suffered and hence views it as normal.
With God's aid, she strives to shield Nettie from harm. For Nettie, this has about the same effect as it did for Celie. Throughout the book, Walker will utilize the church as a metaphor to undermine the faith that Celie has in God. Celie's father "say I winked at a boy in church," leading to her being smacked. While Mr. ___'s first wife was leaving church, she was gunned down.
Women who pray for deliverance from their abusers at this church have no one to turn to for help. Walker uses this symbol to imply that no one is paying attention to Celie's letters or her wishes.
Celie's marriage to Mr. ___ is not the end of her troubles. Even after hearing that Celie is a hard worker, Mr.____ only agrees to marry her because he wants the cow her father is going to give him. The oldest child, Harpo, throws a rock at her as she is introduced to the kids as their new mother. The kids also seem to reject her as a mother because they whine and scream whenever she takes care of them.
Sexual activity between them is clear indication that Mr.____ does not love her. In her mind, Shug Avery becomes the perfect woman because of her attractiveness and her capacity to take pleasure in having sexual relations with Mr.____. She finds solace in her circumstances by thinking about Nettie and being concerned about her sister's welfare.
In the introduction of the novel, Celie has demonstrated that she is able to endure and persist, but she has done so by becoming emotionally detached from both the joys and sorrows of life.