Key Plot Points

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Last Updated on September 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1042

While we recommend reading The Color Purple in its entirety, we understand that your classroom may have time constraints. The following Key Plot Points are meant to guide you and your students to the most relevant parts of the text so you can plan your lessons most efficiently.

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Celie Is Separated From Her Children (Letters 2–3): Celie, a fourteen-year-old girl living in Georgia, begins writing letters to God. She is living with her sick mother and domineering father, “Pa,” who sexually abuses her. She gives birth to two children, a girl and a boy, within a short period of time. Pa takes the children away from her and Celie assumes that they are dead.

Celie Is Forced to Marry Mr. ____ (Letter 9): Celie marries Mr. ____, an older widower whose wife was murdered by the man she was having an affair with. Mr. ____ initially wants to marry Celie’s younger sister, Nettie, but Pa convinces him to marry Celie instead. Mr. ____ has four poorly behaved children: two boys named Harpo and Bub and two unnamed girls. Celie must care for the children, who strongly dislike her.

Celie Sees Olivia (Letter 10): Celie believes that she sees her daughter while in town one day. She has not seen her since after her birth, but she recognizes the child’s eyes. She approaches the girl and her stepmother, Corinne, and asks about the girl’s father. Corinne tells Celie that the girl’s father is the Reverend and that they call her Olivia, though her name is Pauline. Celie is happy to hear this because she named her daughter Olivia.

Nettie Moves in With the Reverend and Corinne (Letter 11): Nettie initially escapes Pa’s abuse by moving in with Celie and Mr. ____. However, Mr. ____ is still interested in Nettie and makes it clear that he wants to sleep with her. Celie advises Nettie to find the Reverend and Corinne because she believes that they have money. Nettie is relieved to leave Mr. ____ and his children but worries about Celie. She promises to write after she finds the Reverend and Corinne, but Celie doesn’t receive any letters.

Shug Avery Returns to Town (Letters 14–15): Mr. ____’s mistress, Shug Avery, returns to town. Mr. ____ spends a weekend with her. Celie, who is intrigued by Shug, secretly wishes that she could ask about their time together. Mr. ____ returns home and becomes despondent. He ceases to work and instead listlessly thinks about Shug.

Celie and Sofia Become Friends (Letter 21): Sofia, Harpo’s wife, confronts Celie after learning that Celie told Harpo to beat Sofia to make her obey him. Sofia, who fights back when Harpo tries to beat her, explains that she expects him to treat her like an independent woman. Celie admits to being jealous of Sofia’s courage, as Celie has always prioritized survival over independence. They talk about the families they came from and both women laugh when Sofia suggests that Celie murder Mr. ____.

Shug Moves in With Celie and Mr. ____ (Letter 23): When Shug falls ill, the townspeople refuse to care for her, believing that she is immoral. After the town preacher insults Shug during his sermon, Mr. ____ becomes emotional and brings her to his house, where Celie helps nurse her back to health. As Celie cares for Shug, the two women bond.

Celie and Shug Become Lovers (Letter 47): Celie and Shug talk privately while Mr. ____ and Grady, Shug’s husband, are out of the house. Shug asks about the father of Celie’s children. Celie tells her about being raped by Pa. The first time it happened, Pa asked Celie to cut his hair and used the opportunity to sexually assault her. Celie begins to cry and Shug kisses her, saying that she loves her. Celie and Shug then sleep together.

Shug Discovers Nettie’s Letters (Letter 49): Letter 49 begins with the text of a letter that Nettie wrote to Celie, presumably written shortly after leaving Mr. ____’s house. Nettie’s letter assures Celie that she and Celie’s children, Olivia and Adam, are safe. Shug tells Celie that she noticed Mr. ____ taking letters with odd-looking stamps from the mailbox and hiding them from Celie.

Nettie Reveals That “Pa” Is Their Stepfather (Letter 67): Shug and Celie read all of Nettie’s letters, which Mr. ____ has kept hidden in a trunk in his bedroom. Nettie traveled to Africa as a missionary with Reverend Samuel, Corrine, Olivia, and Adam. Corinne, who has been treating Nettie poorly for years, suspects that Olivia and Adam are Nettie’s children and that Samuel is their father. Samuel privately admits to Nettie that he assumed the children were hers, too, and Nettie asks him where he found them. Samuel tells Nettie about a dry goods store that was owned by three black men back in Georgia. The store was so successful that it became threatening to the white community, who lynched the three owners. One of them was Nettie and Celie’s biological father. Their mother’s mental health declined significantly after her husband’s murder. She remarried and her new husband was the man that Nettie and Celie had believed to be their father.

Celie Moves to Memphis With Shug (Letters 75–76): Shug announces to Mr. ____ that she is taking Celie to Memphis, Tennessee, along with Grady and Squeak, Harpo’s second wife. Mr. ____ tries to force Celie to stay, but she confronts him about hiding Nettie’s letters and says that he will suffer in hell for what he has done to her. Celie loves living in Shug’s pink house in Memphis and begins to sew pants while Shug tours as a singer. Shug encourages Celie to start a business selling pants, and for the first time, Celie becomes financially independent. 

Celie and Her Family Reunite in Georgia (Letter 90): Celie lives in the house that Pa left her when he died. Her pants-making business is successful and relationship with Mr. ____ has become a genuine friendship now that he has made amends for abusing her. Shug returns home after a fling with a man named Germaine, and Nettie brings Olivia and Adam to meet Celie. Celie acknowledges that she is getting older and that she has suffered greatly throughout her life, but being surrounded by her family and friends makes her feel younger.

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