The Color Purple Additional Summary

Alice Walker

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...

(The entire section is 706 words.)

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...

(The entire section is 405 words.)

Summary

(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...

(The entire section is 885 words.)

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...

(The entire section is 695 words.)

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....

(The entire section is 565 words.)

Summary

(Novels for Students)

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.)