The Color Purple Summary

Alice Walker

The Color Purple

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The Color Purple Summary

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In 1930s Georgia, Celie—a poor, uneducated, fourteen-year-old, black girl—writes letters to God because her father, Alphonso, beats and rapes her. Celie has already been pregnant once, with a baby girl her father took from her and killed in the woods. Celie gives birth a second time, to a boy. Her father steals that baby, as well. Her mom becomes gravely ill, and on her deathbed, curses Celie. Alphonso brings home a new wife but continues abusing Celie.

Celie and her sister, Nettie, a bright, attractive, twelve-year-old, learn that a man known only as “Mr. _____” wants to marry Nettie. Alphonso refuses, but the two men agree that Mr. _____ can marry Celie. Mr. _____ needs someone to tend his house and help raise his children since a jealous lover murdered their mother. The children and Mr. _____ all treat Celie badly, but eventually, Celie gets the children and the poor conditions under control. The marriage is an unhappy one for Celie.

Nettie runs away from Alphonso and seeks refuge with Celie, but Mr. _____, still desiring Nettie, makes sexual advances toward her, and Nettie flees, looking to find assistance from a well-dressed black woman Celie had seen in the store. Celie never hears from Nettie again, and assumes she’s dead.

The children grow and begin to move out. Mr. _____’s son, Harpo, falls in love with Sophia, a large, strong-minded girl. Sophia becomes pregnant and the two marry, having five more children shortly thereafter. Their relationship is fraught with conflict, and Harpo feels emasculated because he cannot control Sophia.

Shug Avery, a glamorous singer who is also Mr. _____’s longtime mistress, comes to town, but Celie is not allowed to go see her perform.

Celie advises Harpo that trying to dominate Sophia is not the way to operate, and for a while they find uneasy happiness. Mr. _____ eventually exerts his will and opinion over Harpo, though, and after a briefly-jealous Celie recommends Harpo beat his wife, Harpo and Sophia come to blows. Sophia fights back, and inflicts serious injuries on him.

Shug falls ill and Mr. _____ brings her into his house. Celie is in charge of nursing Shug, and though Shug is rude at first, the two eventually become friends. Celie falls in love with Shug, and is attracted to her sexually.

Sophia moves out, tired of Harpo’s behavior, and takes their children. Harpo opens a juke joint several months later, where Shug can sing, and Celie continues to struggle with her feelings for Shug. Shug learns that when she leaves, Mr. _____ beats Celie, so she decides to stay. The relationship between the two women grows more intimate, and Celie asks Shug questions about sex.

Sophia returns for a visit and fights with Harpo’s new girlfriend, Squeak. During the fight, Sophia knocks out Squeak’s teeth. While in town, the mayor’s wife, Miss Millie, inspects Sophia’s children in a manner similar to the slave trade, and when Miss Millie asks Sophia to work as her maid, she answers with a spiteful, “Hell, no.” The mayor slaps Sophia in response, and she answers by punching the mayor and knocking him to the ground. The police quickly respond by brutally beating Sophia, and she’s sentenced to twelve years in jail.

Squeak tries to blackmail the sheriff into releasing Sofia, which results in her being raped by the sheriff. Squeak cares for Sofia’s children while she is in jail, and the two women develop a friendship. Sofia is released and begins working for Miss Millie, which she hates.

Shug marries a man named Grady, and despite this, upon her return, initiates a sexual relationship with Celie. One night, Shug questions Celie about Nettie, which leads to Shug helping Celie recover letters from Nettie that Mr. _____ had been hiding for decades. Celie emotionally reads the letters, and wonders how she’ll be able to stop herself from killing Mr. _____.

In the letters, Nettie explains that she’d gone to Africa with her missionary friends, Samuel and Corrine. The missionaries have two adopted children who resemble Nettie, which causes Corrine to wonder if her husband and Nettie have a secret past. The suspicion leads Corrine to distance herself from Nettie.

Nettie questions Samuel about the children and discovers that the children are Celie’s. She also learns that Alphonso is not Nettie and Celie’s biological father. Their biological father was lynched because a mob of white men was jealous of the store owner’s success. Alphonso had stepped in after their mother’s emotional collapse in order to control her family’s wealth.

In the meantime, Corrine has fallen gravely ill. When she’s presented with the facts of her family’s origin, she refuses to believe Nettie. Just before she dies, though, the two women reconcile, and Corrine believes Nettie’s story. Celie confronts Alphonso, and he acknowledges the truth about his family. Celie begins to question her faith in God, but Shug encourages her to think about God in her own way.

Sophia is released from her servitude to the mayor six months early. One night at dinner, Celie angrily lashes out at Mr. _____ for all the years of abuse she has suffered. Shug and Celie decide to move to Tennessee, and Squeak joins them. Celie finds success as a seamstress.

In the meantime, Mr. _____ has become a better man and Alphonso has died. Celie now owns Alphonso’s house and land, so she moves there. Shug falls in love with a member of her band, and though the news crushes Celie, Celie pledges to always love Shug.

In Africa, Nettie marries Samuel. Before heading back to America, Samuel’s son marries an Africa girl, and as is their custom, she goes through the ritual of female circumcision and facial scarring. He undergoes the facial scarring as an act of solidarity.

Just as Celie finds contentment in life without Shug, Shug returns and expresses her love. Sophia works in Celie’s shop and remarries Harpo. The novel ends with Nettie and Celie reuniting after thirty years apart, everyone in the family having found individual happiness.

The Color Purple focuses on the relationships between women and the effects of racism. Throughout the book, women confront their assumed gender roles, often rebelling against them. Their familial and socioeconomic statuses are determined largely by their race, and the characters are deeply affected by both overt and covert racism.

The novel takes an unflinching, sometimes violent, view of sexual relationships. Rape is a frequent threat, and Celie’s attraction to another woman is a major motivating element of her character.

Though most of the characters’ suffer through a series of traumatic events, the novel frequently returns to matters of God and faith. After Celie questions her own beliefs, her faith is strengthened, and at one point she notices all of God’s wonders she had failed to consider before, including the color purple.

The Color Purple won Walker the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, making her the first woman of color to win the award. While the novel has achieved critical acclaim, it’s also one of the most-frequently challenged books in school libraries and curriculum for its depiction of sex and violence.