THE COLOR PURPLE SUMMARY BY ALICE WALKER
CHARACTERS IN THE NOVEL
The main character and protagonist of the novel. She is an AfricanAmerican woman who is treated badly, especially by men. In spite of the hardships she endures, she maintains a beautiful spirit of perseverance and love. Throughout the book, Celie writes letters to God and to her sister Nettie, revealing all of her struggles and longings.
Celie’s sister. She moves with a missionary couple to Africa, where she eventually marries the minister. Nettie and Celie write letters to one another during the years of their separation. Celie truly loves her sister.
Celie and Nettie’s father, who turns out to be their stepfather. Shortly after Celie’s real father is killed, Fonso marries her mother. He then sexually abuses Celie, gets her pregnant, steals her babies, and gives them away. He also steals Celie and Nettie’s inheritance. He marries a variety of very young women.
A blues singer who is a lover to both Celie and Albert. She tries to give · Celie self esteem. She also gives the novel its title when she tells Celie that God gets angry when people do not stop to admire the color purple.
The small-time, cruel farmer who Fonso chooses as Celie’s husband; he abused Celie and neglected his children. After years of living alone, he comes to recognize the wrongs of his past attitudes and actions and becomes a loving and gentle man.
Albert (usually referred to as Mr.
She is the wife of Harpo. She is a strong, outspoken woman in spite of the hardships she must endure. She is harassed by the patriarchal mindset of her husband and the racist white authorities of her town. After spending years in prison for a minor infraction, she is forced to work for the mayor’s wife. Later, she is reunited with her family.
An unnamed woman who dies after the first chapter. She goes crazy when Celie’s father is lynched. She soon marries Fonso and is always pregnant and sick.
Sofia’s husband, Albert’s son, and, for a time, Mary Agnes’s lover. Harpo is forced into playing the role of the dominating husband by his father. Later, when he is reunited with Sofia, he takes care of the house and enjoys a more egalitarian relationship with her.
Fonso’s very young second wife whom he marries after Celie’s mother dies.
Daisy Fonso’s last wife. He marries her after May Ellen deserts him.
Daisy and Fonso’s cook.
Lucius An infant child of Celie’s mother.
Miss Beasley Celie and Nettie’s schoolteacher.
Celie’s daughter, who is sold by Fonso to the minister in town and taken to Africa, where she is raised by Nettie. Celie never sees until years later.
Celie’s son who is also taken from her and raised in Africa. He marries Tashi.
The wife of Samuel, a Christian minister and missionary. She becomes the adoptive mother of Celie’s babies, Olivia and Adam, after her husband buys the children from Fonso.
A Christian minister and missionary who spends much of his time in Africa. He is Corrine’s husband and the adoptive father of Olivia and Adam. He marries Nettie after Corrine dies.
An Olinkan African, who is Olivia’s friend. She eventually marries Adam. Nettie says she reminds her of Celie. She goes through the female initiation rites of her culture, including genital mutilation and scarification of the face.
Tashi’s mother, who at first goes along with the Olinkan prohibition on girls’ education. Later she becomes friends with Nettie and gives permission for her daughter to be educated.
Kate and Carrie
Albert’s two sisters. They come to see Albert and Celie when they are first married.
A young man who drinks excessively, does not work regularly, and is often in jail.
Swain A musician. He helps his friend Harpo build his juke joint.
Harpo’s lover during his separation from Sofia. Harpo calls her Squeak and treats her badly. Unlike Sofia,
she submits to his rule until she decides to go on the road with Shug Avery as a blues singer. She is raped trying to save Sofia from death in jail.
Albert’s father. He is a mean old man who shames his son into abusing and using his wives. He denigrates his son’s lover, Shug, and forbids Albert to marry her.
Albert’s brother, who complains that his wife does not work hard enough and who looks at Shug Avery licentiously.
Sofia’s sister whom Sofia lives with after Harpo tries to dominate her. She helps raise Sofia’s children all the years Sofia is in jail. With the help of Shug and Squeak, she finally gets Sofia out of jail.
Jack Odessa’s husband.
Sofia’s youngest daughter, whose father is not Harpo, but who is nevertheless Harpo’s favorite. She has a blood disease and eats yams prepared in all kinds of ways to combat it.
Jolentha (Suzie Q). One of Squeak and Harpo’s daughters.
Henry Broadnax (known as Buster) A big, tall man whom Sofia briefly dates and who respects her integrity as an equal.
The warden at the prison and Squeak’s uncle, who rapes her when she tries to get Sofia out of jail.
Shug’s husband. He lives off Shug and then Mary Agnes and who smokes excessive amounts of marijuana.
An arrogant, power-hungry white man. He puts Sofia in jail for talking rudely to his wife and for knocking him down.
The mayor’s wife. She is a very nervous white woman who forces, Sofia to work as her personal attendant for years after her release from prison. She keeps Sofia from her family.
Miz Millie’s son who hates Sofia and grows up to be a troublemaker and a racist.
Eleanor Jane Miz Millie’s daughter, who loves Sofia like a mother and will not stay Henrietta
away from her even after she is freed from service to her mother. After a confrontation, Eleanor Jane begins to work for Sofia, taking care of her daughter, Henrietta.
Stanley Earl Eleanor Jane’s husband
Eleanor Jane’s child, whom she wants Sofia to love. Sofia says Reynolds will grow up to become her oppressor.
Samuel’s aunt, a missionary. Theodesia
Corrine’s aunt, a missionary.
Aman who visits Theodesia and tells her that her award as a missionary is a mark of the exploitation and de-humanization of colonialism.
Doris Baines (pen name Jared Hunt) A writer who poses as a missionary in Africa to escape compulsory marriage in England. Nettie and Samuel speak with her and her adopted African grandson, Harold, on their way back to England from Africa.
Shug’s nineteen-year-old lover who eventually goes to Wilberforce; afterwards they become friends.
One of Shug’s sons who lives in Arizona and works as a teacher on a Native American reservation.
Cora Mae James’ wife.
Davis and Cantrell James and Cora Mae’s children.
Jerene and Darlene
Two women who sew for Celie’s company. Darlene tries unsuccessfully to convince Celie of the inferiority of her dialect.
The book begins with a threat: “You better never tell anybody but God. It’d kill your mammy.” The threat is not immediately explained. In Celie’s first letter to God, appearing in this first chapter, the reader learns that the main character is a fourteen-year-old girl. She explains to God how she has always been good and, therefore, does not understand why she is being sexually abused. Her mother has refused to engage in sexual activity after bearing another baby; as a result, Celie’s father has begun to rape her habitually. When she cries, he chokes her and tells her to get used to it. In addition to the cruel treatment she receives at the hands of her father, Celie is also expected to be the housekeeper, performing all the domestic chores. Celie relates that she feels sick when she does the cooking.
Chapter one shocks the reader with its graphic description of Celie’s being raped by her father. Black and uneducated, she can only detail the abuse with words such as “titties” and “pussy”; although the words are crude, they are the only ones that Celie knows for her anatomy. Almost as disturbing as the description of the rape is Celie’s inability to speak about it to her mother. In fact, Celie seems to be protecting her mother. As long as her father abuses her, Celie knows that her mother will be freed from her father’s relentless brutality.
Celie is almost voiceless at this point in the novel. When she expresses herself through tears, she is told to be quiet. When she writes the letter to God, she expresses total hopelessness, feeling she has no power to change her situation. She asks God for a sign to let her know what is happening to her. Then she does not even sign her letter, indicating she does not see herself as a valuable human being. In fact, the reader does not know Celie’s name until her sister addresses her in the eighth letter.
Little detail is really given about Celie in this first chapter. The reader is not told that she is black, but her language makes it clear that she comes from an African American family. Neither is the reader told that Celie is pregnant, but the fact that she feels sick when she cooks indicates that she probably is.
In this second chapter, Celie writes her second letter to God. She begins by explaining that her mother has died and describing the days before her death. Celie was responsible for handling everyone and everything in the household; she had to care for the other children, her sick and dying mother, and her abusive father. Her mother was demanding, yelling and cursing at Celie while the idle Fonso sat beside her bed crying that he did not want to be left alone.
The reader discovers that months have passed since the first letter. In the meantime, Celie has given birth to a baby. When her mother asked whose child it was, Celie responded that it was God’s child, for she did not know any other man besides her father, who had raped and impregnated her. One day the mother finally asked Celie what happened to the child; not fully knowing the answer herself, Celie tells her mother that God took the baby and killed it in the woods while she was sleeping. She then tells her mother that she is pregnant aga again and that God will probably take this second child and kill it as well. *** The second letter reinforces the sense of Celie’s own powerlessness, as well as her mother’s powerlessness to help her. On her deathbed, Celie’s mother makes a weak attempt to find out who is responsible for Celie’s pregnancy. She probably suspects incest, but since she feels helpless to change the situation, she does not ask her daughter many questions. Celie refuses to tell her mother who fathered her child – out of fear of her father’s revenge and wanting to spare her mother from the truth. Since Celie does not know any males“ she can blame for the pregnancy other than Fonso, she tells her mother that her child belonged to God.
The chapter also reveals that Celie has been robbed not only of her bodily integrity, but also of the child she bore. She does not know what has happened to her baby; she only knows that Fonso took it away. Suspecting that the infant is dead, she tells her mother that God took the baby away and killed it in the woods. Once again Celie is covering up the truth of her father’s brutality.
It is obvious that Celie has changed since the first letter. She is no longer a girl; instead, she has been forced into premature adulthood, carrying and delivering her father’s child at the age of fourteen. Now, at fifteen, she is pregnant again. It is no wonder that Celie has a sense of hopelessness, especially since she has no one to turn to except God. Obviously, she does have religious faith, but she even questions if God can help her out of her desperate situation.
In this letter to God, Celie writes that Fonso is beginning to regard her as if she were evil, accusing her of doing bad things. In reality, it is Fonso that is totally evil. Celie has just delivered her second child, a boy. Fonso immediately stole the infant and sold him. As a result, Celie is miserable; her breasts are swollen and dripping milk. Fonso displays disgust towards her about the milk and tells her to dress more decently; unfortunately, the girl has nothing else to wear. She tells God that she hopes fonso will soon find a woman to marry him, for he is beginning to show interest in Nettie, her little sister. She has promised Nettie that she will protect her.
In this letter, the reader discovers that possibly both children have been stolen from Celie and sold. Instead of being appalled, Celie feels relieved, even though the selling of children alludes to the horrible historical period of black slavery. For Celie, it is a blessing that the children are alive, and she has genuine hope that they may have a chance for a better life, breaking the horrible cycle of abuse.
It is obvious that Celie has no control over her life or her body. Raped repeatedly by her father, she feels helpless to break the cycle. Her lack of control over her fate is also vividly symbolized in her << swollen breasts. The emotional pain of her child being stolen from her is physically echoed in her painful breasts. She is made to feel even more miserable when Fonso screams at her about her disgusting appearance.
Celie’s promise to protect Nettie from Fonso’s abuse is the first sign of her taking a stance to prevent the horrors which are occurring in her patriarchal existence. Although she totally devalues her herself, Celie finds her sister very valuable, worth protecting. Her selflessness and lack of bitterness are evident here.
In this chapter, Celie writes to God about Fonso’s new wife; she is sixteen, the same age as Celie. Celie knows that her stepmother is overwhelmed with the number of children in the family and the work that must be done to care for them. Although she married Fonso because she was in love with him, she is already becoming disillusioned.
Celie also reveals that Nettie is being courted by an older man, a widower whose wife was killed by her lover. His main concern is finding a woman who can care for his three motherless children. Celie advises her sister to study books and leam instead of looking after someone else’s children.
There is another broad space of time that has passed between the second and third letters. Although some things have changed on the surface, nothing has really changed in the lifestyle. Fonso has married again; his wife is an unnamed girl the same age as Celie. The reader assumes he will abuse her as badly as he did Celie and Celie’s mother. Nettie has also matured and is being counted by an unnamed widower who is only looking to find a mother for his three children. Both the new stepmother and the suitor do not have names because they are meant to be symbols of the never-ending cycle that occurs in abusive, dysfunctional environments. In this patriarchal lifestyle, black women are used up, discarded, and replaced in rapid succession,
Celie continues to be concerned about Nettie, her younger sister. She knows that the suitor does not really care for Nettie, but only wants to use her. Celie strongly advises Nettie to ignore the man and study her books instead. Although Celie has some relief from her abusive father due to the new wife, she is still burdened with hard work and a life devoid of emotional warmth. The only pleasures in life for Celie are the time she spends at church and the reciprocal love she and her sister have for each other.
Celie explains to God that Fonso has beaten her for winking at a boy, even though she did not wink at anyone. Because of her past, she has no interest in looking at men. She enjoys the company of women because she is not scared of them. She explains that even though her mother cursed her, she cared for her and felt sorry for her situation. She believes that Fonso is responsible for her death.
Celie continues to worry about her younger sister. She says that Fonso seems to be looking at Nettie more often; but she says that she stands in his way so he will not be able to see too well. To protect Nettie from her father, Celie now urges the girl to marry Albert, her suitor. She encourages Nettie to enjoy her first year of married life, because after that she is sure to have children. Celie thinks that she herself does not have to worry about becoming pregnant again, for she no longer bleeds during the month.
In this letter, Walker introduces the first hint of Celie’s sexual attraction to women. Afraid of men because of the cruel treatment of her father, Celie turns more and more towards the company of women, who represent love, warmth, and feelings of solidarity to her. Later, the reader will see Celie affirming her sexual identity in her relationship with Shug. For now, it is manifested merely as what men cannot offer. a Celie continues to act as her sister’s adviser; unfortunately her advice is limited by the world she inhabits. Unable to imagine a different option for a woman than marriage or incest, Celie now advises Nettie to marry Albert in order to protect herself from Fonso’s advances. Far from the romanticized notions of the joys of being a wife and a mother that most women have been brought up on, Celie knows that in the black patriarchal system, being married and raising lots of children is a killing chore. She tells Nettie to have “one good year” before the babies come. It is not surprising that Celie equates children with misery, for her own infants have been stolen from her immediately after a nightmarish childbirth and she has been forced to raise the children of other women.
Celie’s disturbing news that she no longer has a menstrual cycle makes the reader recognize the trauma she has been though. Her body has responded to the repeated rapes and the theft of her children by shutting down its reproductive cycle.
Celie writes to God that Albert asked Fonso if he could marry Nettie. Fonso told him that he cannot marry Nettie because of the scandal surrounding his wife’s murder, the number of children he has, and his connection to Shug Avery. Celie asks Fonso’s new wife, whom she refers to as their new mammy, if she knows who Shug Avery is. The woman says she is a blues singer; she finds a picture of Shug and shows it to Celie. Both young women think Shug is beautiful. Celie asks if she can keep the picture. When she is told can, she stares at it all night until she falls asleep and dreams about Shug. e Shug Avery is introduced as “the other woman,” for she is unlike any other female in Celie’s experience. Not only is she beautiful, but she represents the larger world outside of Macon County. Shug is free from the tyrannical patriarchy that infests Celie’s small world. By looking at the photograph and seeing the way Shug dresses and laughs, Celie decides she is a woman who has a mind of her own. When Fonso sees Shug’s picture, he has a strong reaction to it; Celie decides this “other woman” must pose some kind of threat. This picture begins Celie’s lifelong attraction and adoration of Shug Avery. Later in thenovel, Shug will become a role model lor echo providing lies with an image of a woman who has a strong sense on her sell worth and who can function independently outside the black patriarchal lifestyle
In this letter Celie informs God that Ponso has been trying to seduce Nettie since his new wife has been sick. Celic has tried diligently to persuade him to take advantage of her instead of her younger sister She even tried to dress up in feminine clothing in order to attract him and protect Nettie. Fonso’s reaction was to beat her and tell her she was dressed like a tramp. She does, however, save Nettic from being raped, even though she must offer up herself as a sexual object to be used and manipulated.
Celie also explains that Albert has visited with Fonso in order to persuade him to let Nettie get married. Fonso tells him that he cannot have Nettie because she is too young; he plans for her to finish school and become a teacher. Fonso then offers Celie to Albert in place of Nettie. He tells him that Celie is already used and that she is very ugly, but that she takes care of children, cleans, and can be used without producing offspring. When Albert does not respond, Fonso explains that Celie would make a good wife because she is not smart and will work like a man. He also explains that he needs to get rid of her, for she is too old to have around the house and is a bad influence on his other children. Celie overhears the conversation and is shocked to hear she is being offered to Albert as a commodity. She pulls out her picture of Shug Avery and stares at it.
Celie’s lack of control of her life is reinforced in this letter. She listens as her father offers her as a wife to Albert, a man to whom she has never even spoken. As if Celie were livestock, Fonso lists the advantages of her attributes: she is ugly, but hardworking; she is sterile, so he can have sex without producing the burden of children; she is not too smart, but can clean, cook, and care for children. In order to make the “deal” more attractive to Albert, Fonso is willing to throw a cow into the bargain. The exchange between the two men reveals the sordid and mercenary approach these men have towards
women. Both are eager to get their hands on Nettie, the pretty, smart, and unspoiled young woman. In contrast, they see Celie, at the young age of twenty, as nothing more than a used up woman, who can be used as a laborer and sex object. This aititude is typical of the limited role that black women play in this novel. Only Shug Avery seems to have escaped the patriarchal system. That is why Celie longingly looks at her picture when she hears Fonso bargaining her off as a wife. In Shug, Celie sees the possibility of another world where women are no longer commodified but can act and do rather than be victims of an oppressive system.
Celie tells God that it has taken Albert the entire spring to decide to marry her instead of Nettie. In order to protect her sister, she wants to take Nettie with her to Albert’s farm. She knows that Albert would be so enamored with Nettie’s presence that she would be able to plan their escape together without being detected.
Nettie continues to try and teach Celie what she learns in school. It is hard for Celie to concentrate on anything with the issue of having to marry Albert looming before her. In her letter, Celie tells God that she does not think she is as intelligent or as pretty as Nettie; however, Nettie reassures her sister that she is not dumb. Celie then tells how Fonso has convinced her that she is stupid. When she became pregnant for the first time, he took her out of school, fearing his incest would be discovered. She was dressed up for the first day of class, along with Nettie, but Fonso would not let her leave the house. He told her that only Nettie could go to school, for she was the smart one. Nettie defended Celie, saying how Miss Beasley, one of the teachers, had said that she was smart. Fonso responded by saying that Addie Beasley talked too much; that is why no man wanted her. The next week Miss Beasley came to Celie’s house in order to persuade Fonso to let his daughter stay in class; however, when she saw that Celie was pregnant, she left.
-3 Even though Celie noticed that her stomach was getting bigger and that she was sick a lot, she did not understand why; after all, she was only fourteen and had never been pregnant before. When Nettie would come home from school and try to teach her sister the lessons, Celie felt too bad to concentrate or understand. When Nettie explained to her that the world was round, Celie acted like she understood; but when she looked around, she only saw the world as flat.
After her flashback aboui school, Celie returns to more recent events. She explains that Albert came back to look at her again, for the woman who had been working for him had quit. Fonso has Celie come outside and turn around so that Albert, who is still on his horse, can inspect her. As if he were trying to sell her, Fonso reminds Albert that Celie is good with children. After thinking for awhile, Albert asks Fonso if he will still get the cow along with Celie. When Fonso answers in the affirmative, Albert decides to marry Celie.
This chapter again depicts Celie’s sad plight, largely through a flashback to the time she was fourteen years old. Celie wanted to go to class and learn, but Fonso would not let her, for he feared his incest would be discovered if his daughter was in school. As a result, he simply told the girl that she was not smart enough to attend class any longer. Celie reacted with determination; it is the first time she has shown this characteristic in the book. Even though she cannot go to school with Nettie, she can have Nettie teach her everything she learns. Unfortunately, tired, pregnant, and lacking confidence, Celie cannot concentrate on Nettie’s lessons. Walker clearly shows that it is impossible for a person to learn while being as embattled as Celie is. Although she knows that education is a way of escaping her miserable existence, her situation is so pressing that she cannot apply herself to her studies. Her sister, Nettie, remembers Celie’s sacrifices for her and perseveres in trying to teach Celie.
It is clearly Celie’s pregnancy that stands in the way of her education. Fonso will not let her go to school because she is pregnant. When Miss Beasley comes to Celie’s house to convince Fonso to let the girl return to class, she realizes that Celie is pregnant and says no more. Then when Celie tries to study at home with Nettie, she cannot concentrate because she is always sick at her stomach and often vomits due to the pregnancy. One of the tragic ironies of the situation is that everyone seems to know that Celie is pregnant before she knows it herself. Young, naïve, and largely uneducated, she has no clue that she is carrying a baby, even though her stomach is getting larger and she is constantly nauseated. When she later finds out what is happening to her body, she accepts it with a stoic resolution that seems almost beyond belief.
Back in the present, Nettie is still trying to teach Celie the lessons she learns at school. Now the girl cannot concentrate because her mind is preoccupied with terrible thoughts about having to marry Albert. When his hired help leaves him and he is desperate for someone to help with his many children, Albert decides to come back and take a second look at Celie. Fonso calls the girl outside and has her turn around in front of Albert, who is still seated on his horse. The two men negotiate in front of Celie, and finally Albert agrees to marry her if Fonso agrees to throw in the cow. Once again Celie is horrified and made to feel worthless that she is being traded off like a commodity, with no regard for her feelings.
On her wedding day, Celie learns how hard her life on the farm with Albert is going to be, for she is expected to take care of his four children. On her first day, she is attacked by her oldest stepson, who is twelve. His mother died in his arms, and he is upset about being told he has a new mother. He hits her in the head with a rock, and she bleeds profusely. Albert tells the boy not to do it again and does nothing else. The two little girls, who are six and eight, have not had their hair brushed since their mother died. They scream and cry as Celie works until bedtime to comb out the tangles. Exhausted from the events of the day, Celie falls into bed. Albert immediately gets on top of her. Having no interest in sex with Albert, Celie pays him no attention and thinks about Nettie’s safety. Then she thinks about Shug Avery and how Albert has gotten on top of Shug and done the same thing. Thinking Shug must like it, Celie tries to respond and puts her arms around her husband.
Celie’s marriage is clearly a sham. Albert simply wants a wife so he can have a sex slave and a caretaker for his four wild children, who have been abused and neglected. The little girls have noi had their hair combed for ages, and the oldest son, not knowing how to properly show his emotions, reverts to violence when he finds out he has a new stepmother. The cruelty and frustration of Celie’s wedding day clearly foreshadow the continued brutality that she will endure at the farm. There is also a clear indication that the cycle of abuse in black families is not easily broken, for it is passed on from one generation to the next.
Although Celie has changed residences, it is obvious that she has not escaped from the cycle of abuse. Although she is now married, her body is still violated, for she has no interest in sex with Albert. He, however, assumes Celie can be used as he chooses and wastes no time climbing on top of her in bed. In spite of the misery of her first day at the farm, Celie is grateful that she has kept Nettie from marrying Albert. She also feels a new closeness to Shug Avery, since she knows that Albert has slept with the blues singer, just as she is doing now.
In town one day, Celie, sitting in the wagon, spies a child that she is certain is her daughter. The little girl looks just like Celie and Celie’s father. She decides that if the girl’s name is Olivia, then she is her daughter, for Celie had embroidered that name on infant clothes, which were taken with the baby when she was abducted. Celie decides to follow the child. She gets down from the wagon and goes into the store behind the little girl. As Celie watches her, Olivia behaves disinterestedly while her new mother tells her not to touch anything. Celie notices that Olivia and her new mother are dressed alike.
is Celie compliments the woman’s choice of fabric and helps her hold it up to her face for a better look. The woman smiles, saying she is going to make her and the little girl some new dresses; she knows that will please the child’s father. Celie immediately asks who the father is, believing that she will hear her father named; instead the woman says that a reverend is the little girl’s father, a fact that confuses Celie.
Before the women leave the store, the white clerk treats them disrespectfully, for he is impatient with their chatter. When the woman finally purchases the fabric and goes outside, Celie follows. The woman is upset that the reverend is not waiting for her and the child. Celie tells them that they can sit in her husband’s wagon and wait for the reverend. As they sit together watching all the people in town passing by, the woman asks who Celie’s husband is. When she points to Albert, the woman tells Celie that he is a good-looking man. Celie agrees for conversation’s sake even though she really thinks that most men just look alike.
Celie asks the woman how long she has had the little girl. The woman answers by saying the little girl is almost seven years old. When Cèlie asks the child’s name, the woman says it is Pauline. Celie feels sad that it is probably not her little girl after all. Then, the woman explains that she personally calls her daughter Olivia. Celie asks her why, and the woman says that the little girl just looks like an Olivia. The reverend then arrives and takes the woman and Olivia.
This chapter reveals that Celie does possess a small measure of courage. When she spies a child she thinks may be her daughter, she follows her into a store and makes a connection with the girl’s mother. She even invites them to sit in her wagon while they wait for their ride. Celie’s intuitiveness is also depicted. She notices how much the child looks like her and her father and decides to find out if the girl’s name is Olivia. When she learns the child is called Olivia by her mother, Celie’s intuition is satisfied.
The poignancy of the scene is heart-rending. Although Célie definitely thinks it is her child, she is powerless to speak the truth to the wife of the reverend. She does not have enough self-confidence to reveal that she is probably the child’s mother, for her baby was stolen from her. Powerlessness is also revealed in the scene in the store where the white clerk treats the women with open hostility, probably becalise of their race and their gender. The chapter, however, ends on a ligter note. The two mothers, one biological and the other adoptive, syem to bond, enjoying each other’s company; they laugh together over a silly joke.
but Nettie runs away from home and comes to stay with Celie on the farm. Celie tells her sister that Albert’s children are smart, demanding and mean; she also complains that Albert never helps with them. Nettie immediately begins to help with the children, and Celie notices how patient she is with them. Nettie also shows her patience by again teaching her sister. They study spelling and facts about the world. Nettie also tries to tell Celie she must take charge of the children, not giving into their demands. Nettie encourages her sister to fight, but Celie writes that she does not know how to fight; she only knows how to stay alive.
Before long it is obvious that Albert is in love with Nettie, for he dresses up, tries to impress her, and constantly compliments her. Nettie is concerned that Celie is feeling very unattractive, so she tells her sister how beautiful her skin and hair and teeth are. It makes Celie feel better to have Nettie around and hear her words of encouragement. Then, one night when Nettie refuses to have sex with Albert, he tells Celie that Nettie must leave. Celie suggests that Nettie seek employment from the reverend’s wife, for she is kind and seems to have some money. Before Nettie departs, Celie makes her promise that she will write her letters.
In this chapter, Nettie’s kindness to her sister is depicted. When she runs away from Fonso, she comes to the farm to stay with Celie. She immediately begins to help with the care of the children and tries again to teach Celie. Sensing her sister’s lack of confidence, she also tries to compliment her and show her how to fight back against Albert and the children. Although Celie does not have the energy to fully learn Nettie’s lessons, she thoroughly enjoys her sister’s company and help; visiting with Nettie is the one pleasure Celie has in a miserable existence. Therefore, it is especially cruel when Albert makes Celie send Nettie away. He is enraged because Nettie will not have sex with him.
Once Nettie has gone, Celie realizes that no one on the farm ever gives her anything; she feels no love, warmth, or appreciation. All they do is taking from her. She misses Nettie’s kindness and companionship greatly and longs to receive a letter from her; however, no letters arrive. CHAPTER 12
Two of Alberi ‘s sisters, Kate and Carrie, come to the farm for a visit. They compliment Celie on her care of the house and children. They also complain about Alber’s affair with Shug Avery and the lack of concern and care of Albert’s first wife. On the next visit, Kate comes alone. Young and cheerful, Kate tells Albert that he needs to buy Celie some decent clothes. Kate then takes her shopping, and Celie imagines what color Shug would like. Thinking Shug would approve, Celie wants clothes that are purple and red, the colors of royalty. Unfortunately, the store does not have anything purple, and Kate says Albert would not approve of her wearing red. Celie settles for a blue dress; it is the first time she has ever had a new one. When she tells Kate how much the shopping and the dress mean to her, Kate tells Celie that she deserves a lot more. Celie almost agrees.
Kate tells Harpo, the eldest boy, to fetch the water sometimes, instead of expecting Celie to do it. He responds that women should work, not men. When Kate orders him to do it, Harpo goes and complains to Albert. He criticizes Kate, causing her to grow angry and cry. Before she leaves, Kate tells Celie she must fight and not give up. Celie thinks of Nettie who fought and was banished; she is sure that her sister is dead, since she has not received any letters.
Albert’s sisters, Kate and Carrie, come for a visit and immediately like Albert’s new wife. They compliment Celie on her abilities as a housewife and caretaker of the children. Unfortunately, Celie is still not being recognized for who she is, but only for what she does. When Kate comes back by herself for a visit, she bonds with Celie, taking her shopping for the first new dress she has ever owned. Like Nettie, Kate also tries to convince Celie to fight back against the oppression she feels and gain some self-respect. At this point in her life, Celie is not able to follow such advice.
Celie reveals that Shug Avery is still very much on her mind. When she shops for a new dress, she tries to imagine what color Shug would prefer and decides it is purple or red; since these are the colors of royalty; it is an indication of Celie’s estimation of the blues singer. Celie, however, winds up with a blue dress, indicating the vast
difference between her and Shug. Celie is still very much a part of the patriarchal system and has no idea how she might escape; Shug has escaped the system and lives an independent lifestyle. To Celie, she is the symbol of the ideal woman – sexy, vibrant, and full of laughter. It is important that Celie had wanted a dress of red or purple, indicating she is gaining a small sense of independence and self-worth; the reality is that she winds up with blue.
It is significant that when Kate asks Harpo to help Celie with the chores, he responds by saying only a woman should do housework. When he complains to his father about Kate’s request, Albert sides with Harpo and criticizes Kate. It is obvious that patriarchy is deeply rooted in this black family and will be passed down from generation to generation unless the cycle is broken.
Albert continues to beat his children and wife with a belt, but he does not beat the children nearly as often. When she is hit, Celie tries not to cry by imagining she is a tree. One day Harpo asks Albert why he physically abuses Celie. He responds that he beats her because she is his wife and because she is stubborn.
Harpo announces to Celie that he is in love and will get married soon. She tells him he is not old enough and asks if he has even gotten permission from the girl’s family. He admits that he has not spoken to the girl or her family about marriage. In actuality, he has only winked at her when he has seen her at church; she reacts with shyness or fear.
This letter reveals that some time has passed since the last correspondence. Harpo is now a young man interested in getting married. He reveals, however, that he is as ignorant of dating and sexual matters as Celie is. Harpo does seem to be somewhat sensitive. He asks his father why he physically abuses Celie. Albert’s response again reveals his patriarchal mindset; he responds that he beats Celie mainly because she is his wife and can do what he wants to her.
In this chapter, Alice Walker again reveals the cycle of oppression in black families. Children who grow up in abusive, patriarchal households are trained in these ideas and primed to accept them and act in the same way. In the last chapter, Albert teaches his son, Harpo, that he should not do house chores, for they are woman’s work. Now he teaches Harpo that a man is expected to beat his wife, to keep her in line.
Celie’s only method of escape from the abuse is to imagine that she is no: a person, but a tree. This image provides her a means to manipulate her emotions and weather the beatings. When Albert says that Celie is stubborn, he is partially right. Celie is not about to totally give into Albert; she fights back her tears and tries to hold her ground.
Celie is excited that Shug Avery is coming to town. Albert is excited too. He dresses and redresses in front of the mirror; for the first time ever, he even asks Celie’s opinion about his looks. She is shocked by his question. She is also saddened that she cannot go to the Lucky Star with her husband. She desperately wants to see Shug. Celie even carries around the pink announcement about Shug’s arrival in her pocket and often thinks about her.
The reader’s anticipation of the arrival of Shug Avery is almost as sharp as that of Celie and Albert. She has become a symbol of life, love, and the glamour of freedom in the novel. It is symbolic that Shug is singing at the “Lucky Star,” for she seems to be swinging upon one. Celie desperately wants to meet her, and Albert is eager to renew his sexual relationship with Shug.
It is important to notice that for the first time ever Albert asks Celie’s opinion. He wants her to comment on his appearance, because he is going off to see Shug Avery and wants to look his best. Celie is shocked that Albert would want to hear her thoughts. She, however, misses the irony that the question is asked by her husband who is going off to chase the woman that Celie loves.
Shug is in town for the weekend. Albert stays away from home until Monday. In contrast, Celie works in the field all weekend wondering about Shug. When he comes home, weak and crying, Celie
wants to ask him many questions about Shug. All he wants to do is go to bed. When he finally wakes, he is so exhausted he can barely hoe. He soon goes back to the house, and Celie follows, thinking he is sick. Albert orders her to return to work in the fields.
It is obvious in this chapter that Albert is lovesick over Shug. He stays away from home all weekend and comes home exhausted on Monday, unable to work. Although Celie realizes he has been with Shug, she does not seem angry about it. Instead, she wants to know about Shug, but is afraid to ask. Her lack of self-worth is evident throughout the chapter. She accepts that that her husband has no interest in her except as a laborer in the fields and tries to forget about her misery by fantasizing about Shug. For both Albert and Celie, Shug represents a magical world where hard labor does not exist and beauty and desire are paramount.
Celie tells God that Harpo, like her, is not able to fight back against Albert. Now that Harpo is old enough to work on the farm, Albert thinks he does not have to work any more. Harpo resents this and questions his father about it. Like Celie, he tries to forget his misery by fantasizing about the girl at church.
Albert is a burden on the family. Because he is not working in the fields anymore, the others have to work twice as hard. As a result, Harpo is treated much like Celie; to his father, he is nothing more than a work animal. Ironically, Celie, Albert, and Harpo all spend time fantasizing about women to escape the reality of their world.
Harpo courts the girl from church, but her father does not think he is good enough for his daughter. Harpo asks Albert why he is not accepted by others. His father tells him it is because Harpo’s mother was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. As a result, Harpo begins to have nightmares about his mother’s death. In his dream he and his mother are running from her boyfriend in a pasture. She tells the boyfriend her place is with her children, but he insists her place is with him. Heshoots her and runs away. Harpo holds his dying mother and screams out for her in his sleep, waking the other children. They all cry as if she had just died. Harpo insists that it was not her fault that she died; Celie feels sorry for her stepson and reassures him that it was not his fault.
Celie tells God that everyone notices how good she is to Albert’s children. Even so, she does not feel anything for them, nor do they feel anything for her. Harpo, however, confides in Celie about his love life, telling her that he thinks of Sofia Butler all the time. He speaks of her in glowing terms and adds that they have been able to find time away from her father. Celie realizes that Sofia is pregnant with Harpo’s child. She questions the young man and asks where they will live. Harpo thinks they can live at her father’s place. Celie warns him that Sofia’s father is going to be upset; she also advises him to talk to Albert.
Harpo brings Sofia home to meet his father. Sofia makes conversation wịth Albert, but he ignores her words and stares at her. Then, he begins to insult her about her being pregnant and implies that she has no place to go and is only looking for Harpo to take care of her. Harpo sits silently through his father’s insults. Sofia laughs and tells Albert she is being taken care of without Harpo. She then tells Harpo that he needs to free himself from his father, only then can she accept him. Before she leaves, Celie gives Sofia a glass of water. Harpo and his father sit on the porch for hours, saying nothing to each other.
This letter reveals one of the primary reasons Walker brings in the Sofia/Harpo subplot. Unlike Celie, who has been beaten down since she was very young and thereby conditioned to accept abuse as her proper lot in life, Sofia is more assertive and headstrong. When Albert treats her rudely, she does not tolerate it, but promptly leaves. Albert does not think that she acts the way a woman ‘should.’
Celie knows that she does not love Albert’s children, but she feels responsible for them, in spite of their selfish, unkind ways; she also treats them with respect, unlike their father. As a result, she would like to speak out for Sofia and Harpo, but does not have any power in the family; therefore, she cannot have any say in what happens between the two young lovers.
The silence between Albert and Harpo on the porch is deadening and reveals their lack of closeness. Sofia has told Harpo that she will have nothing to do with him if he does not free himself from his father, but the young man stays on the farm, unable to think of a life without Albert; he has been the single source of power and authority in Harpo’s life. Celie realizes that Harpo is basically “weak in will” even though he is a big, strong boy.
Harpo marries Sofia in her sister’s home, where she has been living with her baby. They leave after the wedding to live together in a shed that belongs to Albert’s father. Harpo continues to work on the farm for his father, who now pays him a small amount for his efforts. One day, Harpo, while taking care of his child, looks at it with adoration. To show his disgust, Albert blows smoke in Harpo’s face and tells him that Sofia is switching roles with him.
In this chapter, Walker depicts Sofia and Harpo as the younger generation who is trying to rise above the prescribed gender roles within a heterosexual marriage. Harpo enjoys nurturing his baby, while Sofia, because of her strength, is suited to physical labor. Albert laughs at what he sees and derides his son, claiming that Sofia is getting the better of Harpo. It is obvious that he is very uncomfortable with change.
Harpo complains that Sofia does not obey him; he has told her not to go to her sister’s house so much, but she still goes. He asks his father how to make his wife mind him. Albert tells Harpo to beat Sofia, theorizing that women need to be punished just like chiidren. Celie is also confused about Sofia’s behavior. She does not stop talking when the men walk into the room, and if they ask her where something is, she tells them she does not know. Sofia also looks at Celie with surprise and pity when Celie jumps when her husband calls. As a result, when Harpo asks for Celie’s advice concerning Sofia, she also tells him to beat his wife. The next time Celie sees Harpo, he is bruised all over. He claims that he has had an accident with the mule, but Celie knows the bruises have come from Sofia.
One of the saddest legacies of abuse is that the abused often accepts the inflicted cruelty as right and proper behavior, endorsing their own oppression. Celie is a prime example. She has been curiously watching Sofia’s behavior around the men. It is obvious that she does not fear them and dares to stand up for herself. Celie is shocked at her behavior; she is also a little jealous of her courage. As a result, Celie acts out her internalized oppression on Sofia and endorses the idea that this proud and strong woman should be brought down like she has been. She tells Harpo that he should beat his wife. It is important to understand that Celie is not being cruel. Physical abuse and oppression are the only things she understands.
Harpo obviously follows the advice of his father and Celie and attempts to give Sofia a beating. With irony and a touch of humor, it is Harpo that gets beaten by his wife. When he appears with bruises, he tries to convince everyone that his mule has done it. His lie contains some truth, for Sofia is seen as mulish by the men who observe her stubborn and willful ways. When Celie realizes that Sofia has resisted the beating, it is another lesson for her that a woman does not always have to submit to her husband’s cruelty.
When Celie goes to visit, she again hears Harpo and Sofia fighting and looks inside to see what is happening. Harpo tries to slap Sofia, but she picks up a piece of wood and knocks him on the eyes. He hits her in the stomach, but she comes up and locks her hands on his genitals. He tries to pull her over, but she does not blink. He then tries to hit her under the chin, but she pulls him over her back and throws him against the stove. Celie decides to go home without entering the house. On Saturday morning, she sees all of Harpo’s family in a wagon going to visit Sofia’s sister. This chapter centers on a physical fight between Harpo and Sofia that Celie watches. She is shocked to see that Sofia does not passively accept being beaten; instead, she fights back, getting the best of Harpo physically and emotionally. Later Sofia will fight back even more by
Celie has trouble sleeping and knows it is because she feels guilty about doing Sofia wrong. She hopes Sofia will not find out what she has told Harpo, but he tells his wife. Angry with Celie, Sofia comes to return the curtains she has made and confronts her. Celie admits she did wrong and tells Sofia that she was jealous because she was brave enough to fight back. Sofia tells Celie not to advise Harpo to beat her anymore unless she wants a dead stepson. The women then talk about abuse, and Celie confesses that she has never hit a living thing. Sofia asks her what she does when she gets mad. Celie says she cannot remember the last time she got angry, for the Bible has taught her to honor her mother, father, and husband; therefore, she feels she cannot get angry with them. She then admits that she does not feel much of anything anymore and hopes that her life will soon be over. Sofia cannot believe that Celie has no emotions. She tells her that she ought to knock Albert’s head open. They laugh at the image and begin quilting. That night Celie is able to sleep.
This letter, one of the most powerful ones in the book, reveals a breakthrough for Celie. Sofia confronts her about what she has told Harpo. Celie admits she was wrong and apologizes. Celie then takes a first step in overcoming her internalized oppression by recognizing her solidarity with another woman. A discussion follows which reveals the different ways these women have dealt with the violence and abuse in their lives. Sofia, a fighter, cannot understand how a person can shut down anger as fully as Celie has. On the other hand, Celie cannot believe that any woman is brave enough to hit her husband. The Bible has taught her to honor her parents and her husband, and Celie does not dare to question God’s word. As a result, she thinks the only answer to her misery is death. Walker will later introduce another idea of God and spirituality, one that empowers rather than cripples its believers.
Celie learns at church on Sunday that Shug Avery is ill and cannot find anyone to take care of her. Neither her parents nor the women at church are interested in helping. It is not surprising since the preacher has used Shug as an example of the evils in society, and no one defends her. Celie then thinks about the hypocrisy of some of the church members. While she works hard to clean the church, other women flirt with her husband.
After church, Albert leaves in the wagon. Five days later he returns with Shug in the back, protected by a canopy. When Celie realizes who is in the wagon, she worries about her appearance because she has been working all day. When Harpo asks his father who is in the wagon, he tells his son that she is the woman who should have been his mammy. The two men then help Shug get out. Celie feels her heart beat faster as she watches. She notices that Shug has make-up caked on her face and is dressed in an outfit that she probably wore while singing, one which Celie considers very stylish. Celie wants to open her arms to Shug and invite her inside the house, but she knows it is not her house. Albert then orders Celie to prepare the spare room for their guest. When Shug looks up at Celie, she exclaims that Albert’s wife “sure is ugly.”
For the first time in the book, Shug appears before Celie in person, and she cannot believe her eyes. She has been preparing to meet this blues singer ever since she was twenty years old. Idolizing Shug, Celie believes her to have everything that she herself is missing: glamour, beauty, style, and independence. It is ironic that Celie still holds the woman in such awe, for Albert has brought her to the farm because she is sick and alone. No one else would volunteer to care for her. Celie genuinely wants to care for Shug in her illness and unselfishly nurse her back to health. Unfortunately, Shug is not kind like Celie; she cruelly calls her ugly, reinforcing what Celie already thinks about herself.
Celie writes that Shug Avery is sicker and meaner than Celie’s mother when she died. Surprisingly, Albert is nicer than normal. He tells Celie that she should say if she minds having Shug at the farm. She quickly says she wants Shug to stay; her answer comes so rapidly that Albert fears Celie might be thinking of harming Shug. He obviously does not know his wife at all.
Albert often sits in the room with Shug, but she does not allow him to hold her hand. She accuses him of being a boy who cannot say no 10 his father. He defends her and his eyes water when he remarks that no one stands up for Shug. He obviously has much deeper feelings for this woman than he does for his wife.
For the first time in the book, Albert is seen as something other than an oppressive figure. Far from the domineering husband and father he has been, he turns into a doting lover around Shug. He even shows some concern for Celie, asking her if she minds having the woman around. When Celie gives a positive answer so quickly, Albert, not knowing his wife, misreads the response.
Noticing Albert’s kindness, Celie sees her husband in a new light. He does not seem such a powerful figure, especially when she notices his weak chin and his dirty clothes. It is another step in Celie’s maturing process.
Although Shug has had three of Albert’s children, he is nervous about bathing her and asks for Celie’s help. She stares at Shug’s naked body so intently that the woman asks Celie if she has ever seen a naked woman before. Shug tells her she is welcome to take a good long look and even puts her hands on her hips and bats her eyes. Celie feels like she is praying when she bathes Shug, for they really talk to each other. They discuss their children and realize that both of them have children who are absent. When Celie asks if she misses them, Shug says she does not miss anything.
Shug seems quite unworthy of Celie’s reverential love for her. Equating washing Shug with praying reveals Celie’s devotion to this woman, who has become almost an idol to her; it also shows that Celie’s feelings of longing and desire can only, at this point, be channeled in way which is imbued with Christian devotion. Celie can feel comfortable bathing Shug’s nude body, for she is helping the sick, as the Bible directs. Celie has not become aware of herself as a sexual being though she obliquely alludes to her feelings when she says that she feels like a man at the sight of Shug’s nakedness. Despite Shug’s mean comments and rude ways, Celie excuses her and blames her behavior on the facts that she has lost her children and been ostracized from the community.
Celie eventually brings Shug back to life through her unconditional love for her. It is the kind of Christian love taught by Christ and learned from the Bible.
When Shug asks what is for breakfast, Celie lists many foods, but she asks for things that Celie cannot offer, like coffee and cigarettes. Celie, however, finds a way to get them for Shug. She is totally devoted to this woman and begins to realize that her emotions are somewhat sexual. She knows that “if I don’t watch out I’ll have hold of her hand, tasting her fingers in my mouth.”
Celie brings breakfast into Shug and asks if she can stay and eat with her. Shug says she does not care. Celie enjoys a hardy breakfast while Shug merely stares into her coffee cup, refusing to eat a bite. When Celie returns with some water for Shug, she notices some of her food is missing from her plate. Albert asks his wife how she got Shug to eat. Celie says no one can smell her ham and resist tasting it. Albert laughs and teases with her.
Shug is depicted as demanding, selfish, and child-like. She shows no appreciation for the care that Celie gives her lovingly and faithfully. In fact, she attempts to get Celie to react in a negative way. Celie’s only purpose, however, is to serve this woman she idolizes. Shug’s indifference does nothing to stifle Celie’s adoration for her. In fact, Celie finds herself longing to put Shug’s fingers into her mouth; it is the first time Celie has realized there is a sexual attraction to Shug.
Albert continues to be a more pleasant character in the chapter. He is genuinely concerned about Shug’s well being and is grateful to Celie for the care she has given in nursing Shug back to health. He even teases with his wife for the first time in the book. It is ironic that both husband and wife are in love with Shug, and because of her, they are nicer to one another.
Shug is finally able to sit up in bed, and Celie lovingly combs her hair. She even saves the strands from the comb. At first Shug resists Celie’s attention but then rests against Celie’s knees and enjoys it. Her touch is so gentle that it reminds Shug of her grandmother. It also relaxes her to such a degree that she hums a tune. When Celie asks her what song she is singing, Shug says she just made it up.
Shug has been called the prototypical blues woman, who is often portrayed in African-American literature. She is free from domestic ties and the conventional thinking that goes with them. Selfish and absorbed in her own pleasure, she takes what she can and gives little, if anything, in return. At first she openly resists Celie’s attention, for she has seen this woman for years as an obstacle to her love for Albert. Now she learns that Celie has no jealousy. or evil motives.
Celie is a mother figure to Shug, lovingly combing the tangles out of her hair. Shug even says that her touch is as gentle as her grandmother’s. When Shug sings a song for Celie, she sings her into existence, saying it was Celie’s combing which encouraged the song. Although Celie is not particularly pleased by the lyrics, which sound dirty to her, she accepts everything about Shug exactly as it is and feels excited that someone has acknowledged her worth. It is another step for Celie coming into her own identity.
Albert’s father, whom Celie refers to as Old Mr.__, shows up at the farm. He insults Shug and shames Albert for bringing her into his house. Hearing Shug insulted Celie spits in Old Mr. ‘s water before giving it to him. Albert tells his father that he loves Shug and should have married her when he could. His father says he would have been throwing his life away. He claims that Shug does not have a father, that her brothers and sisters are all by different men, that she has a woman’s disease, and that her mother takes in white people’s clothes. Albert answers that at least all of Shug’s children have the same father him. Old Mr. reminds Albert that the land and the house belong
to him. He threatens to take care of the trash on his land, referring to Shug. and tells Celie that most wives would not tolerate their husbands keeping a whore in the house. Celie thinks she will serve him some of Shug’s urine in his water glass the next time he comes. Celie and Albert make eye contact with each other, feeling closer than ever before. Old Mr. _ just walks away.
Next, Albert’s brother, Tobias, comes to visit, bringing a box of chocolates for Shug. He is big and tall with a mustache and slicked back hair, however, he picks his nose and wipes his hand on his pants. When he asks Celie what she has been doing, she says that she and Sofia are quilting. He says he wishes his Margaret was as busy as Celie so he could save more money.
Shug enters the room, looking as if she were in a sour mood. She is wearing an outfit that Celie made for her. Her hair is in cornrows, and she is very thin from her illness, looking almost like a child. Celie and Albert move to get her a chair. She ignores Albert and sits next to Celie, picking up a square of material from Celie’s basket. Celie shows her how to sew. Shug’s stitches are long and crooked; reminding Celie of the tunes she hums. Celie tells her she did a good job for the first try. Shug tells Celie that she always gives praise, and it is only because Celie does not have any sense. Tobias says Celie has more sense than Margaret, who would sew a person’s nostrils together. Shug says that not all women are alike. Tobias agrees, but says the world does not hold the same opinion.
The visits of Old Mr. and Tobias indicate that Shug threatens patriarchal power. Albert’s father feels so disgusted by Shug’s presence in his son’s house that he vows to kick her out and disown his son. The old man is so mean and rude that the reader is actually made to feel sorry for Albert. The exchange between Albert and his father is reminiscent of the silence that followed his prohibition of Harpo’s marriage to Sofia. In fact, Albert has his eyes trained on Sofia and Harpo’s shed during the entire confrontation. It is one more example about how habits are passed down from one generation to the next. Albert does not know how to love his children, for he has never felt loved by his father. It is ironic that Celie feels closer to her husband at this moment than ever before; because of their love of Shug, she feels they have something in common for the first time.
Significantly, when Celie hears Old Mr. -_ insulting Shug, she feels anger for the first time in her entire marriage and retaliates through subterfuge. Lacking the self-confidence to confront her father-in-law, Celie spits in his drink. When he continues to talk ugly about Shug, she imagines that next time she will put some of Shug’s urine in his glass; for Celie it is truly an ironic and revolutionary thought. The man at the top of the patriarchal structure would be drinking from the bottom of the woman whom he scorns.
Unlike Old Mr. _, Tobias is not threatened by Shug, but intent on seducing her because of her reputation as a “loose” woman. To win her favor, he brings her a box of chocolates. He is small-minded and, in patriarchal fashion, puts women into one of two categories; they are either useful for the work they do or for the sexual satisfaction they give. Tobias values Celie for her usefulness and wishes his wife, Margaret, were more like her.
The image of Shug as a child who needs to be nurtured is again presented in this chapter. When she comes into the room wearing a girlish outfit with her hair in cornrows, she looks very young, especially since she is so thin from her illness. Both Albert and Celie jump to be of service to her when she enters. It is significant that Shug, who at first resisted Celie’s care and concern, now prefers her attentions to those of Albert. She sits beside her friend and asks Celie to show her how to sew. Celie feels valuable and a part of a family for the first time ever. Through healing Shug, Celie is really healing herself.
Sofia and Celie are working on their quilt on the porch. Shug has given them her yellow dress for scraps, and Celie is determined to use every piece of it. She thinks she may give the quilt to Shug if it turns out good. If it is not good, she will keep it for herself, so you can own Shug’s yellow dress, now stitched into the quilt.
Sofia asks Celie why people eat too much, for Harpo seems to be gorging himself. Celie says maybe it is because he is tired of doing housework. Sofia claims that Harpo likes inside work, while she likes field work more. She says Harpo is a wonderful cook, even though he never cooked on the farm.
Sofia asks Celie to observe Harpo’s eating habits next time she has a chance. When he comes for a visit soon afterwards, Celie notices he asks for something to eat first thing. She also sees that he is getting a potbelly. She teases him, saying perhaps he is pregnant. Harpo ignores her and gets something else to eat.
Quilting is a perfect symbol of the artistry that grows out of women’s solidarity. While working on their stitches, women strengthen and comfort each other. Celie shares her innermost thoughts with Sofia as they quilt. She tells her that Albert is not all that bad; she then retracts her statement and says he is good in some things, bad in others. Quilting also becomes a metaphor for their existence. Just as a quilt is the piecing together of mismatched bits of cloth, the mismatched lives of the women are put together into a solid whole during the course of the novel.
Celie’s love for Shug is expressed in the quilt making. She appreciates that Shug has donated her yellow dress to be cut up for patches in the quilt; Celie is determined to use every scrap. She also wants to express her love for Shug by giving her the completed quilt – but only if it turns out good. If it is not so good, Celie will keep it for herself, for the yellow patches will remind her of Shug.
The Sofia/Harpo subplot continues in a semi-comic vein. Harpo, still needing to express his dominance over his wife in some way, seems to be trying to outweigh her. Sofia tells Celie he eats all the time. It is like he wants to become bigger than Sofia so that eventually he can oppress her through his physical might. Harpo obviously continues to be influenced by patriarchal role models.
Harpo spends the weekend at the farm. He arrives in the middle of the night, crying on the porch. Celie goes to comfort him and sees that his eyes are almost swollen shut. He tries to find a lie, but tells the truth; Sofia has hit him when he tried to beat her for not minding him. He wants Sofia to behave like Celie. She tells him that it is more
important that they love each other. She reminds him that Albert Shug and that he cannot make Shug mind, She says that when Shug has gained her weight back she might sit on Albert to make him behave. When she brings up the topic of weight, Harpo cries harder.
It is clear that Celie has learned her lesson well. The second time Harpo comes to her complaining that he cannot control Sofia, she provides prudent advice. She reasons with him and uses his father, his role model in manhood, as her example of a man who does not dominate the woman he loves. This letter reveals how Celie, despite being married to Albert, has no relationship with him; she acknowledges that Albert does not love her, but Shug. Amazingly, she has no bitterness about it. The letter also reveals her attempt to rectify the situation between Harpo and Sofia before it escalates into an allout battle. She emphasizes that it is more important to love each other than for one to dominate the other. By directing Harpo away from the traditional behavior patterns of black men, Celie is attempting to subvert the patriarchal system which has abused and victimized her; but Harpo is not able to see beyond what society dictates about how men and women act.
Celie goes to visit Sofia, and talks to her while she is fixing the roof. Celie asks how she and Harpo are doing. Sofia says that he is not eating so much anymore. Celie tells her she thinks he was trying to gain weight to become bigger than Sofia so he could fight her. Sofia says she is tired of Harpo trying to make her mind and believes he should have a dog instead of a wife. She tells Celie she would like to leave with the children and go live with her sister. Celie is painfully reminded of Nettie and wishes she had somewhere like that to run.
Sofia says she loves Harpo, but that he often makes her feel hostile. She says that she is not interested in sex with Harpo anymore, for he just climbs on top of her even when she is too tired. He does not even notice her disinterest when they have sex. Celie is reminded of Albert who climbs on her for ten minutes before falling asleep. She thinks of how she never feels anything “stirring down there” unless she thinks about Shug. The women look back towards the house where
Shug and Albert sit on the porch. He is getting something out of her hair. In this chapter, Sofia talks to Celie about the disintegration of her marriage, largely due to Harpo’s insistence on trying to dominate, even in their sex life. Ironically, in his efforts to control Sofia, he is driving her away; rather than submit to his will, Sofia tells Celie she is thinking about taking the children and going to live at her sister’s.
Celie recognizes more and more her eroticinterest in Shug Avery. She has suffered through forced sex since she was fourteen, never having a sexual longing for a man. Now she feels a stirring for Shug, which she does not see as unnatural. She never questions that Shug is a woman and that such love is disdained by society and religion. In comparison to the evil of patriarchal sexuality, her lesbian desire for Shug seems sane and wholesome.
Sofia’s sisters, all big and strong, arrive in two wagons to pick up Sofia and her children. Harpo acts like he does not care, but Celie notices dullness about him. She asks him if he is going to allow Sofia to leave. He does not understand how she can ask him this question when he cannot make his wife do anything. He knows he cannot stop her from going. As Sofia rummages through the house gathering things, one of the daughters asks if their father is coming. Sofia tells her children that he is staying to watch the house. Harpofto keep busy, changes his baby’s diaper even though it is not wet. Heldries his wet eyes with the dry diaper. Before Sofia departs, Celie offers the quilt to her. They are then on their way, and Harpo is left standing in the yard.
Sofia’s family of sisters seems to represent the trength that women gain when they act in solidarity with one another. None of them has money or room to spare, but they do not hesitate to help Sofia when she is in need. This sisterly unity makes Celie’s loss of her only sister more touchingly poignant. Celie’s gift of the quilt is significant, for it reveals the close bond she feels with Sofia. It is also significant that Celie acted on her own, making the decision to give the quilt to Sofia rather than Shug. Such independent thinking is new to her. Celie is discovering her own agency through other women.
Harpo is not prepared for this sad moment, for it goes against his patriarchal beliefs. Sofia’s departure is the supreme display of the fact that he has no control over his wife, who is leaving him and taking his children. He cannot hold back the tears, for he feels ashamed and lost. He has truly loved Sofia.
Celie notices significant changes in Harpo after Sofia and the children have left. Within six months, he realizes that he is smart, goodlooking, and capable of earning money. He and a friend, Swain, are turning the shed into a juke joint. Celie asks him where the children will sleep when Sofia returns. He tells her that Sofia is not going to return.
This brief letter describes an important change in Harpo that will affect many of the characters in the book. He is building a juke joint, which will open up a new social world for the black community, including Celie and Shug. Through his industry, Harpo has learned that he has value. As a result, he has accepted the fact that Sofia has left him. When Celie suggests that she might come back, Harpo, with detachment, says she will never return.
The juke joint is completed and named Harpo’s. At first, there are almost no customers. Harpo and Swain are alone most of the time, except when Albert or Shug joins them. Harpo invites Celie to come, but she declines. Celie notices Harpo staring at Shug, amazed that the woman will say whatever enters her mind, even if it is mean. Later, he asks Celie if she thinks Shug would sing at his joint, which would help bring in customers. When he questions Shug about it, she says she will sing at Harpo’s, although the place is not as classy as where she is used to singing.
The old pink announcements of Shug’s last performance are located, and the old establishment’s name is scratched out and changed to Harpo’s. On opening night, more people arrive than can be seated inside the joint. They are excited to hear Shug again, for many thought
she was dead. Celie also wants to watch Shug at work. Albert, however, says his wife cannot go to such an establishment. Shug tells him it is a good thing she is not his wife. She also insists that Celie attend her performance, saying she might need Celie’s help.
1 Shug sings a song called “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and talks about her friend Bessie Smith. Celie admires her beautiful black skin against her tight fitting red dress. She also sees that Shug looks at Albert occasionally as she sings, and Celie notices that it makes him look “puffed up,” even though he is a little man. She wishes Shug would look at her instead of Albert. Celie suddenly feels tears in her eyes, even though she understands this is the way it is supposed to be. Then, Shug announces Celie’s name and says that the next song is called “Miss Celie’s Song,” because Celie “scratched it out of my head when I was sick.” The song is about a man doing her wrong, but Celie just listens to the tune, proud to have a song named after her.
This letter reveals an awakening within Celie. For the first time since Nettie left, she actually feels loved and valued by someone. First, Shug stands up to Albert for her sake, insisting that Celie be allowed to come to the juke joint to hear her sing. Shug then dedicates a song to Celie, affirming her importance and raising her self-esteem. The chapter also sheds a new light on Shug. It becomes more apparent that she truly cares for Albert, as the watches him as she sings. She also shows her appreciation for the fact that Celie has nursed her back to health, allowing her to sing again.
Shug sings every weekend at the juke joint, always bringing in customers, but she is growing restless. Finally, she tells Celie she must leave at the beginning of the next month. Celie feels as pained as when Nettie left. She tells Shug that Albert beats her when Shug is not there. Shug hugs her and later kisses her. She says she will stay until she is confident that Albert will not abuse Celie anymore.
2013. This chapter reveals a major breakthrough for Celie. She actually speaks up for herself and reveals that she will be beaten by Albert if Shug leaves. She has begun to value herself as a person and realizes that the patriarchal abuse she receives is wrong. She also displays, through her confession to Shug that she has established trust with someone for the first time since Nettie left. Shug again shows her positive side. Indebted to Celie for helping her in a time of need, she now promises to protect Celie from Albert’s beatings. Even though she is ready to move on from the farm, Shug will stay until she is certain that Albert will not abuse her friend. The chapter clearly establishes a reciprocal love between Shug and Celie.
Shug and Albert sleep together almost every night. Shug asks Celie if this upsets her, but Celie does not seem to care. Shug explains that she would have married Albert, but he was too weak and acts like a bully. Celie asks her if she likes sleeping with Albert, and Shug confesses she does, laughing. Celie says that with her Albert just does his business and rolls over. Shug again tells Celie that she is still a virgin since she has not experienced sexual pleasure. She explains to Celie that she has a clitoris that can be stimulated to create great enjoyment. She gives Celie a mirror and tells her to go look at herself. When Celie touches herself, she feels a spurt of pleasure, “enough to tell me this is the right button to push.” Celie, however, feels like she has been doing something wrong. Although Celie has told Shug she does not care if she and Albert sleep together, it often makes Celie cry. That night in bed, Celie touches her “button” and cries as she thinks about Shug and Albert.
Celie’s love for Shug begins to take on a tragic tone. Wanting Shug to remain at the farm, she assures her that she does not mind her sleeping with Albert. In truth, Celie does not want to sleep with Albert, for he just uses her and rolls over. There is never a concern about Celie’s feelings. Still Celie often cries at the thought that Shug sleeps with her husband, for she knows she would like to be the one sleeping with Shug. nu.4o50ft, te wet
Shug’s teaching Celie how to enjoy her body is an important part of Celie’s path to claiming ownership of herself. Shug teaches Celie the pleasures of autoeroticism, the ability to make her feel sexual enjoyment without being dependent on anyone else. This clitoris-centered sex frees Celie from the phallic-centered sex of the patriarchal world in which she lives. Nevertheless, Celie still longs for Shug as a partner.
Sofia shows up at one of Shug’s performances and is happy to see Celie. She even shakes Albert’s hand, noting that “his handshake is a little weak.” He asks Sofia where her children are, insinuating she should not be at the juke joint, and she responds by asking him where his children are. Sofia has come with a muscular man she introduces as Henry Broadnax or Buster. Albert offers them a seat, and the prizefighter” boyfriend straddles his chair and wraps his arms around Sofia. Harpo is across the bar with Mary Agnes, his “yellowskin” girlfriend, but he watches Sofia.
Celie tells Sofia how good she looks for a woman who has had five children. Sofia informs her that she now has six, explaining that life does not stop. Celie thinks about her own life stopping in the past. Now she thinks it is beginning again because of Shug. Shug comes to the table and hugs Sofia. Celie notices her breasts and feels stimulated.
Harpo comes over and asks Sofia why she is at a juke joint instead of with her children. Sofia says a woman needs to have a little fun. Buster tells Harpo that it is his “job to love her and take her where she want to go.” When Buster and Sofia are on the dance floor, Harpo’s girlfriend watches intently. Mary Agnes is so eager to please and mind Harpo that he has re-named her Squeak.
Harpo wants to talk to Sofia and keeps grabbing her arm, telling her that this is her house. Squeak gets involved and tells them both that Harpo should not talk to Sofia. She slaps Sofia, who then knocks Squeak to the floor, taking out two of her teeth. Harpo comforts squeak while Sofia and Buster leave.
This chapter shows that the juke joint has become a space of freedom for women, even for Celie. When she comes here, she sees how other women have control over their lives and destinies, she also observes how they act and talk. The usual patriarchal dividing line between the sexes is blurred in the juke joint.
Squeak is introduced the first time. She seems to be almost a younger version of Celie, timid and submissive. When she does attempt to speak up for herself, she is knocked down forcefully by Sofia.
Physical violence still dominates in this society, for most of the women have learned to fight violence with violence. Ironically, Sofia’s new “prizefighter” boyfriend is a gentleman and allows Sofia plenty of space to express her feelings. Although huge, he is a hands-off guy who respects Sofia’s ability to stand up for her. Celie is again reminded of her attraction to Shug. When Sofia talks about life not stopping because of circumstances, Celie thinks that her life is beginning again because of her love for Shug. When the singer comes up to the table to greet Sofia, Celie notices her breasts and feels stimulated. She physically longs for Shug.
Harpo is moping around, treating Squeak as if she were invisible. Squeak tries to ease his tension but cannot. Celie advises Squeak to ask Harpo to call her by her real name of Mary Agnes if she wants him to acknowledge her. Squeak does not understand, and Celie does not push the issue. Celje knows that Harpo is upset because Sofia is in jail. She is worried about Harpo and finds herself crying for him.
Celie then explains what has happened to Sofia. Out one night, she and Buster and the children crossed paths with the mayor and his wife. The mayor’s wife remarked how clean the children were. She then asked Sofia if she would like to come and clean her house. Sofia flatly told her, “Hell no!” The mayor slapped Sofia for her impudence, and Sofia knocked him to the ground. The police arrived. When they began throwing Sofia’s children around, she began to hit the police. They then beat her up and took her to jail. Before she left, Sofia asked Buster to take the children home. Celie cannot finish the story because she is all choked up. Her husband completes the tale. Albert had gone to see Sofia, ingratiating himself to the sheriff in order to get in the jail. He told the sheriff all women were crazy, and the sheriff agreed with him, laughing. Albert found Sofia in bad shape. They had cracked her skull, broken her ribs, ripped away part of her nose, and blinded one of her eyes. She was swollen, purple, and unable to speak. When Celie went to see her she tried to cleanse her wounds.
This chapter is an ugly scene of violence. Sofia, the born fighter, is confronted by the white power structure. When the mayor’s wife insults her, asking her to clean her house, she shouts “hell, no.” The mayor reacts in a racist and sexist manner, slapping Sofia. Not surprisingly, she knocks the mayor down, for she only knows how to answer violence with violence. Although she beats the mayor physically, she cannot beat his system. The mayor has the police, the justice system, and the penal system on his side; Sofia’s toughness cannot overcome such institutions. When the police arrive on the scene, they beat her unmercifully and take her to jail. Even Buster, the most physically powerful man in the book, cannot save Sofia; he stands aside to protect the children.
Albert’s actions in the tragedy are commendable, yet ironic and reprehensible. In order to see Sofia, he jokes with the sheriff through a sexist discourse. It is only by using his patriarchal privileges that he can manipulate the white power structure, which ironically oppresses both black women and black men. Albert recognizes, however, the imperative of solidarity when it comes to taking care of each other against the brutality of the white power structure.
Celie is seen in a dual role in this chapter. She advises Squeak to stand up to Harpo, telling him to call her Mary Agnes. Celie knows that the name Squeak is a negative term meant to keep the girlfriend in her place; the timid Squeak, however, does not give any importance to her nickname. Celie, on the other hand, is beginning to understand how the patriarchal establishment tries to keep black women in their “place.” Next, Celie is seen in her role as caretaker. When she goes to the jail to see Sofia, she is horrified at her condition and frightened by what the white establishment can do to a black woman. She tenderly tries to care for Sofia’s wounds. In both instances, Celie is showing solidarity with other black women. She is eager to help those who are physically or emotionally wom down by outside power systems.
Twice a month for half an hour, the family goes to visit Sofia in prison, where she has been assigned to the laundry room for day labor. Sofia asks about her children. She is told that Odessa and Squeak are working together to take care of them. Sofia then describes her deplorable living conditions, which include infestations of roaches, mice, lice, flies, and snakes. People who do not obey are stripped and made to sleep naked on a cement floor. When Celie asks Sofia how she is handling it all, she says she pretends like she is Celie, holding in her anger. Later, she admits she dreams of murder day and night. earlier
Sofia’s living conditions in the prison are beyond belief. As evidenced by the cleanliness of her children, Sofia is a meticulous housekeeper. Now she is forced to live with roaches, mice, lice, and snakes. For the simple infraction of hitting a white man after he has slapped her, Sofia has been physically brutalized and forced into the role of a cleaning woman, a position she has fought valiantly all her life to avoid. Ironically, she must now act submissive, like the earlier Celie or the current Squeak, in order to survive. Even though she must spend twelve years in jail, Sofia refuses to be broken, even though she bears the signs of trauma, as Celie did years ago when she had been ritually abused.
The family fears Sofia will not last long under her horrible conditions in jail. They discuss ways to get her out. Harpo wants to break her out of jail, but Albert tells him to shut up. Celie thinks about God and angels and imagines a bunch of white albinos coming down to save Sofia. When everyone finds out that Squeak is the warden’s niece, they decide that she can be instrumental in saving Sofia.
This chapter is important, for it shows how the family has been galvanized by Sofia’s tribulations. All of them are now working together, rather than at odds; they have become solidified by the white power structure that would like to destroy them. It is ironic that the meek Squeak may be the one who is able to save Sofia.
Celie again shows her religious devotion in the chapter. Unable to come up with any realistic plan to help Sofia escape from jail, she imagines God sending down angels to rescue her friend. She believes in God’s omnipotence and turns to him when her resources fail her. Her tragi-comic image of God and the angels, however, shows that the white power structure has convinced her that God and his heavenly abode are all white.
The family dresses squeak like a white woman, cleaning the grease from her hair and making her smell good. Not surprisingly, she is very scared and cannot imagine what she will tell her uncle, the warden. They instruct her to say she is living with Sofia’s husband and wants revenge on her. Then she is to suggest that the real punishment for Sofia would be making her the maid of a white woman instead of leaving her in prison.
The family’s plan seems unrealistic, even a little dangerous; but it is the only hope they have to free Sofia from jail. It is surprising that meek-minded Squeak consents to such a daring role; perhaps she is not as submissive as Harpo pictures her to be. It is also amazing that Squeak is willing to help Sofia, the wife of Harpo and her previous adversary. The black family unit, ho ever, is united in trying to save a fellow family member and is eager to outwit the white establishment. It is sadly humorous that they feel that Squeak must be “whitened” before she goes to see the warden. They rid her hair of grease and doll her up in clothes, like the kind worn by white women; it is an effort to make her appear more genteel. Squeak, in fact, is a mulatto, half-black and half-white; she is, therefore, a symbolic link between the black world she lives in and the white world she is going to meet.
When Squeak returns from the visit with her clothing torn, Harpo becomes irate, for he realizes she has been raped. She tells him to be quiet and listen to her story. After she told the warden what they told her to say, he began asking her about her relations. When she told him that he was her uncle, he took her hat off and instructed her to undo her dress. The warden then raped her. Harpo says he loves her and puts his arms around her. She tells him that her name is Mary Agnes.
This chapter displays white power at its worst. The warden, who is Squeak’s uncle, rapes her when she goes to try and get Sofia out of jail. When he learns that the girl is his mulatto niece, he feels she does not have any rights. Southern law dictated that any person of mixed race was deemed black, allowing plantation owners a wider pool of slaves to choose from. Lighter skinned blacks were often used as house servants while darker skinned blacks labored in the field. The white warden knows he will never be punished for taking a black girl.
It is ironic that the rape of Squeak makes her tougher, giving her a sense of her own being. For the first time ever, she stands up to the condescension of Harpo. Celie’s advice that she insists on being called by her real name now has meaning, and she tells Harpo that her name is Mary Agnes. Instead of Squeak, Harpo is pictured as the weak one. His anger is impotent; it is merely an unleashing of emotion with no plan to do anything about it. He feels powerless against the white hierarchy.
Six months after being raped by her uncle, Mary Agnes works as a singer at the juke joint even though her voice has a funny quality to it. Celie asks Harpo if Mary Agnes is still mad about Sofia knocking her teeth out. Harpo says that she understands what a rough time Sofia is having. That is why she is willing to help care for Sofia’s children.
Once again, the juke joint seems to be a place of self-determination for women. Mary Agnes has blossomed into a blues singer, growing emotionally in the process. She shows her maturity by her willingness to help Sofia’s sisters take care of her children. Again the importance of the solidarity of women is emphasized.
Three years after Sofia had first been jailed; Celie is visiting her at Miz Millie’s, the mayor’s wife. Sofia’s job is to watch Miz Millie’s children. A ball rolls to Sofia, and a little boy orders her to throw it to him. She tells him that she is there to watch him, not throw balls. He comes over and tries to kick her leg, but instead catches his foot on a rusty nail. He is bleeding and crying as his mother comes outside, keeping her distance from Sofia. She seems scared of her and asks the little boy if Sofia hurt him. The little girl tells her that he hurt himself trying to kick Sofia. Celie notes how the girl dotes on Sofia, even though she pays her little attention. While they talk, Celie makes Sofia laugh, the first time in three years. Mostly, Sofia speaks of killing people.
This chapter clearly shows Sofia’s resentment. Her feistiness and love of life has boiled down to a deep hatred, and all she can think about is retaliation and murder. The mayor’s wife senses her anger and is actually afraid of her. She looks for things to blame on Sofia so she can be punished.
It is no wonder that Sofia is so resentful. Unable to be with her own children, she is ironically forced to care for the children of the white family who put her in jail. Celie acts as a true friend to her in visiting her and trying to give her hope; but Sofia seems to be detached from living, showing no emotion for the children. She does not even notice that the little girl dotes on her.
Sofia tells Celie that the white people for whom she works are backward and inept. The mayor bought Miz Millie a new car, for he did not want a black having something his wife did not have; but he refused to teach her to drive it. Finally, Miz Millie asked Sofia to teach her how to drive. Now in addition to caring for the children and doing the housework, Sofia must give Miz Millie driving lessons.
One day Miz Millie tells Sofia she will drive her to see her children. When they arrive at the house where her children are staying, the mayor’s wife tells Sofia she has until five o’clock with them. Fifteen minutes later, however, Sofia sees that Miz Millie is still out front. She goes to see what is wrong and finds out Miz Millie does not know how to shift into reverse and back up. In the process of trying, she has ruined the gearbox. Now Sofia has to interrupt her visit with her children to take Miz Millie to a mechanic, for she refuses to go with Sofia’s brother-in-law, a black stranger. By the time Sofia returns after the car is fixed, it is already five o’clock, and they must leave. There is no time for a visit.
This very painful chapter reveals the frustration level in Sofia’s life. She is forced to care for a weak, unintelligent woman who acts like a tyrant. On the day that Miz Millie is finally doing something nice for Sofia, driving her to see her children, she ruins the gearbox on her car and demands that Sofia take her to the mechanic. After the car is fixed, Sophia has no time to visit with her children, whom she misses greatly. This is the first of several times that automobiles are mentioned in the book. They are used as a symbol of financial progress and independence. Both Shug and Buster own one.
These letters which feature news of Sofia are important to the development of the plot. Celie sees the price that Sofia has been made to pay for her independent spirit, which fights against the patriarchal and white supremacist philosophies. If Celie is to stand up for herself, she knows there will be a price to pay.
Celie and Albert are excited that Shug is coming back for a visit. She has written ahead to let them know she is bringing a surprise. Albert thinks she has bought him a car. Celie and Albert are both surprised and disappointed to find that Shug arrives with a husband, whom she introduces as Grady. Sidling up to Celie, she claims that they are “two married ladies now.”
Shug’s marriage is a surprise. Totally independent, she seemed to have been beyond the need for a husband. Since both of them love her, Celie and Albert are disappointed about her surprise, Shug’s appearance makes Celie aware of herself again since the focus of her recent letters has been on Sofia.
Albert stays home and drinks throughout Christmas with Grady. Shug and Celie pass the time talking. Shug says she met Grady when he helped fix her car. She also explains how she has been singing around the country, making a lot of money, and meeting famous people.
Celie tells Shug how sad Albert is about her marriage, but she does not mention her own grief. Shug says that she was not interested in Albert after seeing how cruelly he treated Celie. She inquires whether he has stopped hitting her. Celie says he has for the most part. Shug says if she were Celie’s husband, “I’d cover you up with kisses stead of licks, and work hard for you too.” Shug asks if they have better sex. Celie says they try, but it does not work for her.
While the men are involved in drinking, the women talk, mainly about sex. Celie says that Albert has stopped beating her. She admits, however, that she still does not enjoy sex with him, even though he is trying harder. Although she is not sexually satisfied, it is important that Celie can now discriminate between what is lovemaking and what is forced sex. It is important to note that there has been a positive change in both Celie and Albert, largely brought about by Shug’s influence.
After Grady and Albert take off in Shug’s car, Shug asks Celie to sleep with her because she is cold and lonely without Grady at night. The two women talk. Shug asks Celie about the father of her children. Celie explains that it was her father, and she was only fourteen. He had asked her to cut his hair one day while her mother was out. Before the hair cut was complete, he raped her. He then made her finish cutting his hair while blood dripped down her stockings. Shug puts her arms around Celie, and Celie cries at the pain of remembering it all. Celie then tells Shug how her mother died, how Albert married her to care for his children, and how her sister left. She says no one has ever loved her. Shug tells Celie that she loves her and kisses her, surprising Celie. Celie kisses her back; then they kiss and fondle for a long time.
After Celie tells Shug of her sad past and grieves over the painful memories, Shug comforts her by putting her arms around her and then kissing her. Celie responds and they make love. Walker makes the lesbian sex seem comfortable and natural, especially in contrast to the brutal sex that Celie has endured. In fact, it is a healing process for Celie.
Celie does not like Grady and recoils when she hears him call Shug “Mama.” She also resents that he stares at Mary Agnes a lot of the time. Shug helps Mary Agnes with her singing and encourages her to perform at Harpo’s. When Harpo disapproves of the suggestion, Shug reminds him how much money he can make if he dresses Mary Agnes up right. Shug says the men will be attracted to Mary Agnes long hair and “yellow skin.”
In this chapter, the bonds between the women in the novel are strengthened, empowering them further. Shug helps Mary Agnes improve her singing of the blues and encourages her to perform at Harpo’s. Harpo at first resists Shug’s suggestions, but she reminds him how much money he can make from his wife performing at the juke point. In contrast to the women, the men in the chapter are shown as ineffectual and almost infantile. Grady calls Shug “Mamma,” revealing his pathetic dependency on her. In addition, Harpo shows that he is not sharp enough or wise enough to recognize Mary Agnes’ talent and ability to make money for the juke joint.
Celie finally receives a letter from Nettie, given to her by Shug. The letter explains how Albert has not allowed her correspondence to go through, but she has continued to write, hoping someday that Celie will get a letter and learn that she is alive and well. Nettie also tells Celie that Olivia and Adam, her two children adopted by the minister, are both doing well. Shug tells Celie that she walked out to the mailbox with Albert and saw him stuff an envelope with funny stamps into his inside coat pocket. She later took the letter, the one written by Nettie, from his coat pocket.
Shug asks Celie all about Nettie. There are so many questions to answer that Celie’s voice starts to hurt. Finally she asks Shug why she wants to know so much about her sister. Shug tells her it is because “she the only one you ever love … sides me.”
For the first time in the novel, the speaker changes. The letter in this chapter is written by Nettie to Celie. Celie prefaces the letter with a one-line note to God, telling Him she has amazingly been holding a letter from Nettie in her hand. A ter the letter, Celie gives a brief narrative to relate her conversation about her sister with Shu 3.
It is very significant that Celie has finally received one of Nettie’s letters. She has assumed that her sister had forgotten her or was dead. Now she learns that her cruel husband has been keeping the letters from her. It is Shug that makes the discovery and recovers the letter to give to Celie. It is also Shug who understands that Celic has only really loved two people in her life – Nertie and herself.
The shift in the storytelling is also quite significant With the discovery of her sister’s steadfast love for her, Celie begins to speak openly, not hiding her thoughts in letters to a distant God.
Shug and Albert are good friends again, spending a lot of time together. Now it is Grady and Celie whare upset; to forget their sadness, Grady smokes marijuana and Ce ie prays.
Before long, Shug drops another letter from Nettie in Celie’s lap. She confirms that Albert has been hiding all the letters through the years. Celie cannot believe he could be so cruel, knowing how much Nettie means to her. Celie feels murderous for the rest of the day. That evening, Shug tells Albert that Celie has a fever which might be catching. She suggests he sleep somewhere else. Shug then sleeps with Celie and talks to her; Celie lies on the bed, trying to think of nothing.
Shug tells Celie about her past. Her mother did not like anything that involved touching. When she tried to give her a kiss, her mother would push her away. In contrast, her father wanted to touch her too much. She explains how she met Albert, fell in love, and had his children. Then his family would not let him marry her because she had children, even though they were his. They pushed him to marry Annie Julia, a beautiful woman Shug knew from school. While Shug and Albert were having an affair, Annie had to take care of the children physically and financially. Annie finally got fed up and found he self a boyfriend; unfortunately, he got mad at her and killed her. Shug then explains
how jealous she was of Celie when she first realized Albert was married to her. As a result, she treated Celie badly. Shug admits she never wanted Albert for a husband, but she wanted him to want her above all other women. She also says that “what was good tween us must have been nothing but bodies.” Shug says she is shocked at the changes in Albert; she cannot believe he has beaten Celie and hidden Nettie’s letters.
In this chapter, Shug Avery reveals her past history, which echoes the life of Celie. Shug’s mother rejected any physical contact with her daughter, and her father abused her. Instead of turning her into a submissive woman like Celie, Shug’s past turned her into an independent woman. It also caused her to seek assurance that she was loved and to sexualize her relationships.
Shug also reveals that she is full of remorse for previously treating women poorly. She was cruel to Annie Julia, Albert’s first wife, and she was also cruel to Celie. She admits it was out of jealousy. Although she did not want to be Albert’s wife, she wanted to be the most important woman in his life. His being married threatened that position for her, and she took it out on the two women, rather than on Albert. Now she realizes that her relationship with Albert has never been anything other than sexual and she is ready to break away from him.
It is important to note that Shug’s release from her ties to Albert coincides with Celie’s reuniting, at least in spirit, with her sister. Shug has ingratiated herself to Albert in order to steal the letters from him. She is now working fully with Celie to break Albert’s control over her. Celie’s growing sense of identity and independence can be seen in her uncontrollable anger towards Albert after discovering his deceitful actions concerning her sister’s letters. She is almost Sofia-like in her rage, but Shug manages to calm her down by explaining what she will lose if her temper gets the best of her.
Albert’s attempt to obstruct communication between Celie and Nettie speaks to the larger theme of how patriarchy attempts to disarm any solidarity between women; if women find power in numbers, the men know their power will be diminished. As a result, they try to set women against each other. This is seen in the relationships between Shug and Annie Julie, between Sofia and Mary Agnes, and even between Shug and Celie.
Celie realizes that Albert is keeping Nettie’s letters in a locked trunk where he stores his private items. Shug is able to sneak the key from Albert, and the two women open the trunk together. Inside they find some of Shug’s underwear, nude photos, tobacco, and Nettie’s letters, some of them opened. They steam open the envelopes in order to take all the letters out. They then replace the envelopes in the trunk so Albert will not realize the contents are missing. After Shug puts the letters in order, she and Celie sit in Shug’s room and read them.
Celie realizes that Albert is hiding Nettie’s letters in a locked trunk, which becomes a symbol of the knowledge that men attempt to hide from women. It is also symbolic of the fact that Celie has been locked out of Albert’s life. Appropriately, it is Shug who steals the key to the trunk from Albert and opens it for Celie. Now Shug has opened the door of communication for Celie with herself and with her sister. It is also important to realize that reading, a skill taught to Celie by Nettie, now becomes the conduit for their re-connection with each other.
The first letter from Nettie explains what happened after Nettie left Celie behind at Albert’s farm. Albert tried to rape Nettie, but she injured him enough to get away. He promised that he would never allow Celie to hear from her sister again as punishment for Nettie having hurt him. With no family other than Celie, Nettie followed her sister’s advice and called upon the reverend. When the minister’s door is opened to her, Nettie is surprised to see a little girl standing there with eyes and a face just like Celie’s.
This is the second in a series of letters from Nettie that will act as a counter-narrative to Celie’s story of suffering and injustice. Nettie’s voice will reveal a powerful and positive experience as she comes to terms with being an African American. In this letter, she tells how it all begins. Following Celie’s advice, Nettie has gone to the minister to seek help. The door is opened to her, and she discovers that Celie’s daughter is living inside.
Nettie’s letters will enlarge Celie’s world. Never traveling outside of the provincial South, Celie will learn for the first time about a foreign place as her sister tells of her experiences in Africa.
In the next letter, Nettie tells Celie how much she misses her, thinking of her constantly. She explains that she is living with the minister and his family; the reverend’s name is Samuel, his wife is Corrine, the little girl is Olivia, and the little boy is Adam. They treat her well and include her in many activities, mostly church related. Before she closes the letter, Nettie tells Celie how she thinks “about the time you laid yourself down for me.”
In this chapter, a new set of characters is introduced. Nettie confirms that Celie’s children, Olivia and Adam, are in the custody of the minister and his wife and are treated well. Celie is living with the four of them and is also treated well, even being included in the family activities. For Nettie, life begins to form wholeness, for she is delighted to be in a position where she is not abused and where she can help to care for Celie’s children. She knows that her positive position in life is due to Celie’s sacrifices for her. Nettie is very appreciative and constantly thinks about her sister.
In the next letter, Nettie writes that she believes Albert is not passing on her letters to Celie. As a result, she is afraid of losing all contact with her older sister. She is also worried because Corrine and Samuel are preparing to go to Africa as missionaries, and Nettie does not know what will happen to her. She will not ask their Pa for help, for she does not want Fonso to know where she is. She asks Samuel to speak to Albert about her situation, but he declines, not wanting to get involved with a man he does not know. Nettie encloses a few stamps so that Celie will write her some letters.
In this letter, Nettie is filled with worry. She feels like her ties with Celie are being cut off by Albert. She is also worried about what will happen to her when the minister and his wife go to Africa as missionaries. She is fearful that she will again find herself in a life of abuse and oppression.
The next letter explains that Nettie has gone to Africa with Samuel and Corrine. She wrote to Celie every day on the ship, but she tore her letters up, thinking Albert would never pass them on. She acknowledges the fact that Celie writes letters to God, feeling too ashamed to speak directly with Him. Celie’s faithfulness in writing letters serves as an example for Nettie to continue writing to Celie, even if she does not receive them. She admits that writing to Celie makes her feel less lonely.
Nettie was allowed to go to Africa because one of the missionaries backed out of the trip at the last minute; therefore, there was an extra ticket for her. Nettie told Samuel she wanted to learn to be a real missionary, someone they would be proud to call a friend. In the letter, she tells Celie how she is learning about the history of the Africans. She is thankful Miss Beasley kept alive her thirst for learning.
Nettie also explains how she saw the mayor’s wife in town one day with a maid and found out from Samuel about Sofia’s predicament. She also tells Celie she wants to tell Samuel and Corrine that Olivia and Adam are her sister’s children, but she is no sure how to do it. She closing by telling Celie how wonderful it is that she is there “to lavish all the love I feel for you on” the children.
Nettie reveals in this letter where her narrative intersects with the time line of the Sofia/Harpo narrative. She was still in town when Sofia was imprisoned and then released to work for the mayor’s wife. This connection also reveals the irony of how physically close Nettie was to Celie, yet how distant and different their lives have been.
Nettie provides an insight into Celie’s strength of character in spite of her lack of self-confidence. Despite all her hardships and difficulties, Celie has kept her faith and written letters to God. Nettie knows Celie writes letters because she does not feel worthy to talk to God directly. Nettie, who is in a much more privileged position than her sister, still takes strength from Celie’s perseverance. She continues to write Celie letters to give her sister encouragement, hoping one of them may get through to her. Nettie also finds that the letter writing makes her feel less lonely.
Nettie tells Celie about the new clothing that Corrine bought her. Although she works for the minister and his wife and takes care of their children, she is not made to feel like their maid. They treat her with respect and eagerly teach her new things. In fact, she says “there is no beginning or end to teaching and learning and working.it all runs together.”
Before leaving for Africa, Nettie tells how she went with the family to New York and visited many churches in Harlem, trying to raise money for the mission effort. The African-American people were very willing to help the people of Ethiopia. Samuel tells Nettie that their family will have an advantage in their mission work, for they are black like the Africans; he also explains that working to better the blacks in Africa uplifts black people everywhere.
Nettie then tells Celie some of the things she has learned. First, she has been amazed to discover that the Bible is not just about white people; the inhabitants of Ethiopia and Egypt were “colored” and lived on the African continent in the time of Jesus, and the “white” Europeans lived in another part of the world. She also tells how Jesus “had hair like lamb’s wool,” tight and curly like the hair of a black. Additionally, Nettie explains that there is a white woman missionary who has worked in Africa for over twenty years; unfortunately, the Mission Society of New York did not even mention her work, but only the work of white men. The female missionary talks about her love of Africa; but the men only speak of their duty to the Africans, never of their love.
In this chapter, Walker introduces for the first time the idea of solidarity among people of color all over the world, a concept that was emphasized by Marcus Garvey in the 1930s. Garvey was a Jamaican who immigrated to New York and founded the first Black Nationalist movement. He thought that black Americans should return to Africa where they would not be treated with such oppression. This movement was popular in Harlem, where Nettie had been staying before her departure to Africa.
This letter reveals that Nettie is learning many new things. Like Celie, she had always believed that God, the angels, and everybody else in the Bible were white. She has now.dearned that there are stories in the Bible about people of color who lived in Africa during Christ’s time on earth. She also has a new image of Jesus, with his hair like lamb’s wool. These insights into Nettie’s black heritage prepare her for the education she will receive about her ethnic identity in Africa. Nettie is also developing a consciousness about the unfair treatment of women in the world, as indicated in her story about the white women missionary who receives no recognition for her work in Africa.
This letter from Nettie to Celie is filled with happiness and wonder. She first tells Celie how big and gentle Samuel is and how lucky Corrine is to be his wife. Nettie then writes about her two-week voyage across the Atlantic in a large ship; she and the minister’s family first went to England, before departing for Africa. Durino their stay in Great Britain, they visited missionary societies; Nettie also visited a museum that had many amazing artifacts from countries in Africa.
On the long journey to Africa, the ship stopped at several ports, including Senegal and Monrovia. Nettie thought about how Africans were sold into slavery and shipped to America from such ports. She wonders how most African-American people feel in relation to Africans, their ancestors.
In this letter, Nettie is exposed to new wonders. She travels across the Atlantic in a ship, arriving in London, England after a two-week voyage. It must have seemed like a miracle for this small-town Southern black woman from Georgia. When Nettie visits the British Museum in London, she is overwhelmed. Within its walls are treasures from cultures the British have colonized, conquered, or helped to enslave for several hundred years. Nettie is amazed to find that many of the artifacts are from Africa. She also naively accepts the English people’s assurance that the artifacts were taken from cultures now dead and gone; such an explanation is obviously an imperialist justification of their taking advantage of African cultures.
Walker seems to have chosen the idea of making Nettie a mission, as a plausible way to get her to Africa. Before her arrival there, she is totally naive about the role missionaries played in the colonization of Africa. During her stay ar’ her interactions with Africans. she will come to realize the nature on Furopean imperialism and the missionaries’ role in it. In order to take over the land and control the people of Africa, European countries convinced themselves that they were actually conferring the gift of civilization and salvation, saving a whole continent of heathen peoples. After Nettie stays in Africa for awhile, her unthinking acceptance of the Judeo-Christian religion will change significantly. Her understanding of black slavery will also shift.
The main emphasis in this letter is Nettie’s sense of security, happiness, and wonder. She praises the famil, for her opportunity to travel with them and says that Samuel is a big, but gentle, man. This is the first foreshadowing of Nettie s later attraction and marriage to Samuel.
This letter describes Nettie’s emotions when she first sees Africa. She and her fellow travelers all kneel and pray to God, thanking Him for the opportunity to see the home of their ancestors. She then explains that their first stop in Africa is in Senegal, where the people are so “black” that they seem “blueblack.” During their next stop in Monrovia, she notices many European people in the city. Corrine tells her that the Dutch own much of the land, which is organized into plantations, many of the people with darker skin do hard labor on the plantations. Also while in Monrovia, Nettie and her adopted family dine with the president and other officials, all dressed in silks and pearls. The president, a light colored African like his cabinet members, talks about the local people, whom he calls “natives.” Nettie does not think it is a very positive picture.
Nettie is amazed what she spies Africa, the home of her ancestors. Like her fellow black travelers, she gives thanks to God for the opportunity. She is further amazed to find out that even in Africa, a color hierarchy reigns; lighter skinned Africans sit in power while their darker-skinned compatriots are described as “natives” and are made to work in the fields. “Native” has always been a term of denigration used by the colonizer to place the colonized in a position which is less than human. Nettie finds that colonialism results in a stratified society similar to the culture she has left in the South.
This is another letter to God from Celie. She explains to Him that it takes a long time to read just a few of Nettie’s letters, for she and Shug are unfamiliar with many of the words that her sister writes. As they read, Celie finds herself crying, for she misses her sister and she is angry with Albert for having kept the letters from her. Celie and Shug are interrupted when Grady and Albert come home. They carefully put the letters aside.
Celie tells Shug she does not know how she will keep from killing Albert. Shug says she must remember that Nettie will be coming home and will want to see the gentle Celie she knows and loves. If Celie murders Albert, she may never see Nettie again. Celie agrees to hold her anger in, but she asks Shug to sleep with her that night. Shug arranges not to sleep with Albert in order to accommodate Celie.
Celie’s long pent-up anger is now barely contained. The fact that Albert has kept Nettie’s letters from her is almost more than she can tolerate. She tells Shug she does not know how she will keep from murdering Albert. Shug warns her of what the consequences would be, including never being able to see Nettie again.
This chapter presents a very different Celie than was seen at the beginning of the novel; she is no longer willing to be submissive and abused. However, she has not lost her intelligence and will keep her anger in check and not do anything rash. In reality, Celie gains power and authority through her anger. She has a new view of her relationship with her husband.
That night Celie and Shug sleep together like sisters rather than lovers; they only hug to express their emotions. Celie is too angry to be sexually motivated. Shug tells her that lack of desire is a natural result of anger.
Shug suggests that they make Celie some pants. Celie thinks pants are only for men, and she says that Albert will never let her wear them. Shug points out that Celie does all the work around the place and should, therefore, wear pants while laboring in the field. They decide to get some army uniform material from Odessa’s husband. Then they will sew every day while they read Nettie’s letters.
Sewing, like quilting, is again pictured as an activity that unites women. Shug has wisely suggested that they sew Celie some pants. It will be a positive way to channel their anger and vindictiveness into a productive activity. The fact that Shug has suggested pants for Celie is very significant. Since Celie is already performing “man’s work” by laboring in the fields, she should also wear man’s clothing. At first Celie is unsure of the idea. She thirks that Albert will never permit her to dress in pants; then, however, she sees the logic of Shug’s argument.
The wearing of pants has been a significant symbol in America. The term, “I wear the pants,” was used by men to assert their dominance over family decisions and sexual matters. Since Celie is now making decisions about her life and sexual preference, it is doubly meaningful that she begins to literally wear some pants. Celie’s break with the traditional feminine dress code is her symbolic throwing off of roles which no longer fit and which literally stifle her growth and development.
Celie begins to “strut a little” now that she knows Nettie is alive. She dreams about her sister coming home and bringing Olivia and Adam. She worries about the children being conceived from incest, but she loves them anyway.
The next letter from Nettie describes her arriving at the African village where she will live. The village is in the middle of the jungle and isolated from other villages. The only contact with the outside world will be from white missionaries. Nettie also describes the people of the village. One significant physical attribute she notices is the difference between the teeth of the English, which were decayed and crooked, and those of the villagers, which are healthy and strong “like horses.” Also the skin color of people of the village is brown, rather than black.
When Nettie and the missionaries arrived, the villagers crowded around them in curiosity. It was obvious they were awed to see missionaries who were not of European descent. They held a welcoming ceremony for them, singing songs and dancing. It centered on the roof leaf, a deity which the Olinka worship, and told the legend about the origin of their village. At the end of the ceremony, the missionaries were given a roof leaf to use as the roof of their dwelling place.
The form of the novel shifts again; now Celie’s letters to God are intertwined with Nettie’s letters from Africa. The two letters, which form each chapter, are in concert with each other. Before she reads Nettie’s next letier, Celie tells God that she is worried about her children being products of incest; but she dreams of the day that Nettie will bring them home to her. It never crosses her mind to wonder how she will be able to take Olivia and Adam away from their adoptive parents. Samuel and Corrine.
Nettie’s letter is filled with information about Africa. The village where she lives is patriarchal. The women are used for labor, yet they are later referred to as being lazy. During the welcoming ceremony that she describes, Nettie notes that the men sit in the front, while the women and children sit in the back. It is clear that Walker is drawing parallels between African customs and African-American customs.
Nettie also writes about the Olinka religion. They honor the roof leaf as the symbol of an omnipresent deity; they believe the leaf protects the Olinka people from terrible weather that often ravages their village. They are not, however, primitive people and have been exposed to Christian teachings. They declare that “we know a roof leaf is not Jesus Christ, but in its own humble way, is it not God?”
Nettie writes to Celie describing her daily routine, saying how she likes to imagine Celie reading her letters. She explains that she spends much of her time teaching at the children’s school, where Olivia is the only female student; Olinkas do not believe girls should receive an education, for a daughter’s only value is what she will be able to do for her husband. Olivia, who recognizes the African discrimination against females, astutely compares it to the white discrimination against black people in America. Olivia secretly shares her lessons from school with her friend, a village girl named Tashi.
Nettie explains that Corrine is bothered that the villagers regard her as Samuel’s second wife. She asks Nettie to refer to Samuel as “brother” and insists that the children stop calling her “Mama Nettie.” Nettie then describes her small hut, which is round rather than square. She has hung up native fabrics and village items, rather than photos of Jesus or other “white” men’s pictures. She wishes she had a photo of Celie to put in the hut.
Through Nettie, Celie is now experiencing vicariously the lives of her children and her sister’s activities in Africa. She is also learning about the African patriarchal culture, which she compares to the oppression she has felt in America. This knowledge raises Celie’s consciousness about her own position, a necessary step in her liberation. Ironically, her daughter Olivia is also learning about gender discrimination, something she has never really felt before. As the only girl in the Olinka school, she is ostracized by the boys.
Nettie reveals to her sister that Corrine now feels uncomfortable with Nettie’s role in the family. Up until they arrived in Africa, the family situation has been idyllic for Nettie; she had been accepted as a family member and an equal. Now, in reaction to the villagers’ misperceptions about Nettie being Samuel’s second wife, Corrine begins to exclude her from family activities and asks that she refer to Samuel only as “brother.”
It is obvious that Nettie is maturing through her African experience. Although she does not agree with Olinka ways, she does not judge them or impose her own views. Instead, she respects their feelings and only decorates her hut with African fabrics and images. She does not even hang a picture of Jesus, for it would picture him
Tashi’s mother and father come to speak with Nettie about Olivia’s influence on their daughter. They think that under Olivia’s guidance, Tashi is changing; she seems unconcerned about becoming a traditional Olinkan woman. Nettie tries to tell them that Tashi can be a teacher or a nurse for the village, but her father says that they have no need for women like that. He further explains that Olinkan men take care of their wives and do not allow them to do as they please. The conversation ends by his declaring that Tashi cannot come over to visit Olivia anymore; Olivia, however, will be allowed to come to their hut “to learn what women are for.” Nettie tells Celie how similar the Olinkan men are to their Pa. They never pay attention to what women have to say; they only “listen long enough to issue instructions.”
This chapter explores the rigid gender roles prescribed in Olinkan culture, comparing it to the patriarchy found in the Southern United States. Tashi’s parents are upset that their daughter is being modernized under Olivia’s influence. When Nettie explains that Tashi could be educated to become a teacher or a nurse for the village, her father will not even think of such a thing. He says that Tashi is not free to do what she wants; she must be directed and cared for by her future husband. To Nettie, the family structure sounds just like what she has experienced in the South. She understands that what the Olinkas consider protection of their women is actually control.
Nettie also finds that she is pitied in the Olinkan culture, for she has no husband; therefore, she has no value. This thought is similar to Fonso’s earlier statement about Ms. Beasley, the teacher who had no value to him since she could not find a husband. Nettie does not feel threatened by this evaluation of her, but it does make her feel isolated and lonely.
It is important to notice that the younger generation, represented by Olivia and Tashi, does not easily accept traditions that violate their sense of self; they will never be as submissive as their parents. Olivia refuses to accept that Tashi should not be educated; therefore, she teaches her all the lessons that she learns at school, much like Nettie used to teach Celie. Additionally, Tashi rejects the traditional role of Olinkan women and seeks to modernize her life and beliefs.
Nettie has been in Africa for five years, becoming part of the fabric of the Olinkan society. This letter gives an update of the activities of her and the children. Adam and Olivia have grown; both of them are almost as tall as Nettie. Adam has done well in his studies, learning everything the local school can teach him; he now needs to go somewhere else for his education. Corrine continues to be suspicious of Nettie and has requested that she never be alone in the hut with Samuel. Nettie misses his company and their discussions. She continues to feel isolated from the villagers, who do not acknowledge her as an entity since she is an unmarried female. Nettie writes that she always looks forward to visits from Olivia and Adam, who eagerly tell her stories.
Nettie also gives information about the village. The big news is that a road is encroaching upon them. It will bring changes to the people from the outside world; unfortunately, the villagers do not want to learn new things or change. They refuse to listen to Nettie’s explanations about American slavery and the Africans’ role in it. Tashi, however, is now allowed more freedom. Her father did not survive the rainy season, which is ironic since he predicted the missionaries would not survive. After his funeral, Tashi’s mother insisted that Tashi continue her education.
Nettie describes how an Olinkan man may have many wives, with life and death power over them all; “if he accuses one of his wives of witchcraft or infidelity, she can be killed.” Amazingly, the wives of a common husband do not seem to be jealous of each other; instead they work together and become good friends. They also indulge the husband, treating him like an overgrown child. Samuel is very distressed by the practice of polygamy in the village since it is his job to teach the Christian ethic of monogamy.
Celie’s letter indicates that there are signs of future change in the air for the Olinkan village. Since a road is being built close by, the villagers will soon receive many outside influences. Even though they resist change, it will surely come. The change has already started with Tashi, who has no desire to be a traditional Olinkan woman, subjugated to the patriarchal family system. When her father dies,Tashi is encouraged by her mother to continue her education, in direct conflict to Olinkan belief. As for Celie’s children, they have done well and grown tall. Adams has learned everything the village school can teach him and need to go elsewhere for his education.
Some things in the village do not change. Polygamy is still practiced, and Nettie is still ignored because she is an unmarried female. Corrine still continues to be suspicious of her and has asked that she never be alone with Samuel. In Olinkan society, men are never friends with women, who are still relegated to doing all the labor. Even though they do not do the work, the men wield all the power, including the right to have a wife put to death; as a result, husbands are indulged by their many wives and never reach an adult level of maturity,
Nettie’s letter explains how the Olinkas threw a huge feast when the road finally arrives at their village. They naively think that the road has been built exclusively for them and will not go out of the village. They raise uproar when they discover that the road will continue past them. The chief of the Olinkan tribe even goes to the city to seek reparations and explanations. He finds out that a rubber company in England really owns their land, and if they want to stay in the village, they will have to pay rent. When the chief returns to the village, he finds the Olinkas assisting the road builders in planting rubber trees.
Nettie explains that the boys in the school are beginning to accept Olivia and Tashi’s presence amongst them. Mothers, other than Tashi’s, are also thinking of sending their daughters to school. The men still oppose female education and ask, “Who wants a wife who knows everything her husband knows?”Nettie also tells Celie that Corrine is very sick with African fever.
With imperialism comes the destruction of the tribe’s traditional ways of life and ability for self-determination. After the road is first complete, the Olinka people celebrate and welcome the road builders, providing them with food and drink. It is obvious that they do not understand anything about imperialistic ways. The villagers soon learn, however, that they no longer own their land, but must pay rent to the rubber company who does own it. They are also expected to work for the rubber company, and will certainly be paid low wages. They suddenly feel betrayed by their own brothers,’ recalling how previous Africans must have felt when they were sold into slavery.
Now that their way of life is changing in the village, the power structure also begins to shift. Although the influence of the West brings environmental destruction and destroys the village’s structure, it also brings hope for women. Olinkan men no longer maintain omnipotent control; as a result, the women begin to assert their ideas, even letting their daughters is educated for the first time.
Since Corrine is very sick, she must allow Nettie to care for her, but she is still full of distrust. One day she calls Nettie over and asks her to swear on a Bible that she did not know Samuel before she showed up at their house. She also asks Samuel to swear the same thing on the Bible. Samuel is embarrassed by his wife’s insinuations and apologizes to Nettie. Later, Corrine tells Nettie to lift her dress so that she might examine Nettie’s stomach for signs of childbirth; not surprisingly, Nettie is totally humiliated. Nettie also feels terrible for Olivia and Adam, for Corrine now ignores them, and they have no idea that she is their adoptive mother, rather than their birth mother.
The suspicions that have known at Corrine for years now surface while she is sick and dying. She recognizes the similar features between her adopted children and Nettie and becomes convinced that Nettie is the birthmother and Samuel is the father of Olivia and Adam. She makes both Nettie and Samuel. swears on the Bible that they had not known one another prior to Nettie’s arrival at their home. Still not convinced, she makes Nettie show her stomach so that Corrine can check it for signs of childbirth. The tension between Corrine and Nettie is in sharp contrast to the Olinka wives who share a husband; unlike Corrine, they are not suspicious, jealous, or possessive.
Samuel has also believed that Nettie is the birthmother of Olivia and Adam. He thought she had followed her children to his home, which is why he took pity on her and hired her. He also asked her to come along to Africa because he could not bear to take her children from her. Samuel finally asks Nettie who the birthmother is; she responds by asking where he got the children.
The minister tells his story, which is a mixture of the truth and of lies told by Fonso. According to Samuel, there was a woman with two children whose husband died at the hands of white townspeople. Though she was mentally unstable, she later met a man who took care of her and the children. They had more children; then two years before the woman died, she had two last children, Olivia and Adam. The husband felt he was unable to care for the little ones and brought them to Samuel, who took both the young girl and boy into his home. He felt that the two children were an answer to his prayers, for he and his wife had never had children of their own.
Nettie could not tell Samuel the truth about the children belonging to her sister Celie; but she can tell Celie the truth about Fonso. She writes that “Pa is not our Pa.” Samuel’s story has clearly indicated that Fonso was the stepfather of Celie and Nettie, not the birthfather. Although the news does not take away the shame of Fonso raping Celie, it does, at least, mean that Fonso is not really both the father and the grandfather of Olivia and Adam; they are not the products of true incest, a fact that must be a relief to Celie.
A new side of Samuel is seen in this letter. For years, he has believed that Nettie is the mother of Olivia and Adam, for he sees how much they look like her. He is certain that Nettie has come to his house looking for work in order to be near her children. Samuel pities her plight and takes her in to help raise the children. He also takes Nettie to Africa, for he cannot bear the thought of separating her from Olivia and Adam. He is obviously a deeply kind and generous man.
From Samuel’s story about Fonso and the children, Nettie deduces what is fact and what is fiction. Obviously, it is a lie that Olivia and Adam are children of his first wife. It does seem factual, however, that Fonso is really a stepfather to her and Celie; knowing it will be a relief to her sister, Nettie writes Celie this letter. Now Celie no longer has to live with the horror that her children were offspring of her own father. Also, knowing that Fonso, who has abused and denigrated women his whole life, is not directly related to either of them frees both sisters from at least the biological tyranny of patriarchy. The demise of their real father, however, is another indication of how the white power structure destroys blacks through racism.
In this letter, Celie again writes to God. She thinks that God must be asleep now that she has finally found out the truth: “My daddy lynch. My mama crazy. All my little half-brothers and sisters no kin to me. My children not my sister and brother. Pa not pa.”.
At the revolutionary news that Fonso is not her father, the narrative returns to Celie. In this brief letter, she states that God must be asleep, changing her previously mild tone from confessional to accusatory. Celie is upset because all these years she has written to God, revealing that she suffers under the delusion of her own identity and her children’s biological father. She cannot understand why God has waited so long to reveal the truth to her.
Although Celie is released from the guilt she has felt over her children being the product of an incestuous situation, she is shaken by the heinous news of her real father’s lynching at the hands of the white townspeople, as well as her mother’s mental illness. Celie wonders if God may be part of her problem, rather than the solution to her ills. Celie must now begin from the bottom up to reconstruct her concept of family and God.
Celie writes to Nettie and tells her that this is the first time she has wanted to see Fonso. She and Shug dress in their matching floral pants and drive to see her stepfather. They arrive at a fancy two-story house, and Celie thinks it is the wrong address until she sees a particular fig tree. Then, a motorcar pulls up behind them, and Fonso and Daisy,Fonso’s fifteen-year-old girlfriend, get out of the car and invite them to the porch.
Daisy’s parents work for Fonso, who is now running the store in town that Celie’s real father used to own. He talks about how he must pay off the “white folks” to keep what he has. Celie tells him that Nettie is in Africa and has found out that Fonso is not their real Pa. A conversation ensues which reveals how differently Daisy sees the situation from Celie and Shug. Daisy thinks highly of Fonso for raising two girls that were not his own. He tries to be modest before Daisy and says that “any man would have done what I done.” Shug says, “Maybe not,” indicating to him that she knows the whole story. Celie asks about May Ellen’s children, and he says that she left and took the children with her.
Celie says that the only thing she wants from Fonso is to know where her real Pa is buried. He tells her that he is next to her mother, but neither have markers. Shug and Celie go to the cemetery and cannot find the graves. They pick up a horseshoe and both hold onto it as they spin in circles. Where they stop, they plant the horseshoe. Shug tells Celie, “Us each other’s peoples now.” Then she kisses her.
Celie now addresses her letter to Nettie instead of God, with whom she is disillusioned. She also shows a newfound strength when she confronts Fonso, her stepfather, about the truth; it is a positive sign that she is beyond her submissive, passive state. It is also significant that this new Celie comes to life in the spring; the flowers and trees are blossoming, just as Celie is. In keeping with the spring and Celie’s new sense of self, Shug and Celie have dressed in flowery pants, similar in style but different colors. The similarity represents the bond between the two women, which they now feel comfortable displaying; the wearing of pants indicate that they are independent.
In most ways, Fonso has changed little. He is still interested in young women, using them and then abandoning them; it is obvious that he still operates under the patriarchal system. Additionally, he still has no sensitivity. He is not the least bit remorseful about Celie’s parents, about what he has done to Celie, or that he is never told either of his daughters the truth about being their stepfather.
There are some new things revealed about Fonso. He has successfully run the store that belonged to Celie’s father; he has literally seized the store, which rightfully belongs to Nettie and Celie. Because of the business, he now lives in a nice two-story house and drives a motorcar. He is, however, seen almost as an “Uncle Tom” figure, a black who panders to Whites. In order to have a profitable business, he will do anything for them. He even denounces Celie’s father for not previously catering to white people in the store.
With Nettie in Africa and her parents buried in unmarked graves that she cannot find, Celie feels abandoned by her family. Shug, however, provides a new type of relationship for her, being a friend, confidante, teacher, encourager, and lover. They become symbolic family in a playful ceremony with the horseshoe, staking their claim in each other.
Nettie writes to Celie about Corrine’s failing condition. She also reveals that she has finally told her and Samuel the truth about Olivia and Adam. Corrine does not believe the story. Nettie tries to get Corrine to remember the day she met Celie at the store when buying fabric for dresses, but Corrine cannot remember. Nettie closes the letter by asking Celie to pray for them.
When Nettie finally brings herself to tell the truth about Adam and Olivia, Corrine refuses to believe her. Instead, she still believes that Nettie is a cunning woman who is trying to hide her relationship with Samuel. Nettie pities the poor woman and attributes Corrine’s failing health to her lack of trust in the ones who have loved her. It is obvious that Corinne is a weak, paranoid character.
Nettie writes to Celie that she has persisted in trying to get Corrine to remember the encounter at the store that day. Finally, she goes through Corrine’s quilts, looking for old fabric that Corrine might have purchased in the store. Corrine sees the correct fabric, recalls Celie, and begins to cry. She remembers how much Olivia looked like the women in the store, which scared her; she was afraid Celie would want her daughter back.
Nettie assures Corrine that Celie was happy to see that Olivia was being well cared for; she had thought her children were dead. Nettie also tells Samuel that Fonso is the father of Olivia and Adam; he is shocked by the news.
In the middle of the night, Corinne wakes up and tells Samuel, “I believe.” Then, she dies. Nettie persists in trying to make Corrine see the truth about Olivia and Adam; with Christian concern, Nettie wants her to die in peace, knowing that Samuel has been faithful to her. Finally, it is a quilt that Nettie finds that makes Corrine remember her encounter with Celie. She admits that she had been afraid of the woman in the fabric store, for she knew Olivia looked just like her. She feared Celie would want her children back. Once again the quilt is used as a symbol for tying together disparate lives and uniting women.
Nettie writes about how she cannot get used to the heat, especially when she has cramps during her period. Unfortunately, she must go on as if nothing is ailing her, because the Olinkas believe that a menstruating woman should not be seen by others. Olivia has also begun her period, and Nettie does not know what to say to her. She does, however, forbid Olivia from participating in the Olinkas’ ritual for entering womanhood, the mutilation of a woman’s genitals.
Corrine is buried in the Olinkan tradition. Samuel and the children feel a great loss. Nettie is glad that she can again have her conversations with Samuel. He asks about Celie, and Nettie tries to tell him everything.
Two white men visit the village to survey the land. The Olinkas prepare food for them, but they eat as if they do not appreciate it. One of them has an interest in learning the Olinkan language before “it dies out.”
This letter is full of change. Corrine has been buried, Olivia has entered womanhood, and non-missionary white men are visiting the village. Nettie, however, continues to be caught between two cultures, which constantly clash. She is forbidden by Olinkan tradition to discuss female matters and fails to talk to Olivia about her changing body. She does, however, warn her about the disturbing Olinkan practice of female genital mutilation, where the clitoris is removed and the vagina is sewed shut. On the woman’s wedding night, her husband cuts open the vagina in order to have sex with her. If an Olinkan girl refuses to participate in the practice, she is considered unsuitable for marriage; therefore, Tashi will face this terrible tradition when she reaches womanhood in the near future.
Walker does not make it clear who the white men are, but since one of them wants to learn the Olinkan language, it suggests that they are anthropologists. They are significant, but they are proof that the Olinkas are now vulnerable to the outside world because of the road that runs through their village.
Celie, still angry with God, no longer writes letters to Him. She tells Shug, “The God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all the other men’s I know. Trifling, forgetful and lowdown.” Celie-admits that her image of God is an old white man; Shug tells her it is because white people wrote the Bible and drew the “white” pictures in it. Shug further says that God is not a sheor a he, but an it. She also tells Celie that she does not have to go to church to please God; God just wants people to enjoy life and the world He has provided. Shug concludes that “it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” After her discussion with Shug about God, Celie writes to Nettie that she is trying to chase the old white man out of her head.
In this chapter, Celie, for the first time in the novel, shows true resentment and bitterness at the way she has been treated by men. She even feels betrayed by God, who seems to her to have condoned much of the strife in her life. She admits that she sees God as a white male and judges him to be trifling and lowdown, just like all the other men she I knows. Shug cautions her about being blasphemous and suggests that God is neither male nor female, but genderless and raceless. Shug also suggests that God is a deity who is within a person rather than exterior to the person and whose ultimate goal for people is life-giving rather than life-denying. In this vision, worship is not sitting respectably in church, but relishing the beauty of creation, like the color purple. It is ironic that the meek, gentle Celie is criticizing God while the wild Shug defends Him.
It is important to notice the reference to the title of the book in the chapter. Shug says that she believes that it angers God if a person walks by the color of purple in a field without stopping to notice and admire it. In this statement, Shug summarizes her religious philosophy; to her, God is not some distant deity living on high, but a genderless, raceless being that wants people to appreciate and enjoy life. It is also significant that she chose the color of purple, for it is the color of royalty; and yet a really deep purple seems almost to be black.
Celie writes back to Nettie and tells her that the maid she saw with the mayor’s wife many years before was her friend, Sofia. Now Sofia has been away from home for more than eleven years, and her children no longer know her. They refer to Odessa and Squeak as “mama” in front of Sofia and call her “miss.”
Since Sofia is out on parole, everyone comes over to have dinner with her. During dinner, Shug announces that she and Grady are leaving for Memphis, and Celie is going with them. Albert looks at Celie and asks her why, for he honestly thought she was finally happy. Everyone is shocked when Celie tells him, “You a lowdown dog is what’s wrong, I say. It’s time to leave you and enter into the Creation. And you’re dead body just the welcome mat I need.” Albert is too shocked to speak; but everyone else begins to argue about the sexes. Celie continues by stating it has been very hard to raise Albert’s unappreciative children; she then adds that their father wain’t dead horse’s shit.” Albert tries to slap her, but she stabs his hand with a knife.
All the men band together, each offering what the consequences will be if Celie leaves Albert. Shug and Celie look at each other and giggle, then laugh outright; Mary Agnes and Sofia laugh too. Harpo says that it is bad luck for a woman to laugh at a man, looks him in the face and tells him she has already had her bad luck. Albert then tells Celie that she will not get any of his money; Celie responds she does not want anything from him. Next Shug announces that Mary Agnes is going north with them to sing. Harpo protests, but it is futile. He calls her Squeak, but she tells him that her name is Mary Agnes.
The dinner party is interrupted by Miss Eleanor Jane, the mayor’s daughter; she asks Sofia to return to the mayor’s house for a little while. As she leaves with Eleanor Jane, Sofia promises to be back soon.
This letter contains the climax of the novel, with Celie finally telling Albert how she feels about him and announcing that she is leaving with Shug and Grady to go north. Everyone is amazed at the depth of her resentment. Her vocalization of her anger causes a battle of the sexes amongst the dinner guests. The women complain of how they have been abused, and the men blindly deny the charges. Ironically, the women seem to wield more power than the abusive husbands who have tried to keep their wives in place.
Since the climax comes in a letter written to Nettie, the reader is somewhat surprised to see the determination of Celie. There has been no indication that she has even thought about leaving Albert nor has been making travel preparations. The reader, however, is pleased to learn that Celie has finally stood up for herself with dramatic dignity and that Mary Agnes also insists on finding her voice, both literally as a singer and figuratively.
Back at home on parole, Sofia quickly regains a sense of her old self and shows her independence, demanding her rightful place. When Eleanor Jane interrupts and asks Sofia to come to the mayor’s house, she obliges, for she has emotional ties to this young woman whom she has raised.
In the developing relationships between Shug and Celie and Mary Agnes, Walker appears to be making a parallel between these Southern women and the African women who also bond together with solidarity.
While they are driving to Memphis, Grady tries to sit next to Mary Agnes. When Shug and Celie sleep, he talks to her incessantly about the north. Celie comments that all men are the same.
Albert appears as if he does not care if Celie is leaving. Then he tells her that she will soon be back because no one else in the world would have her. In contrast to Shug who has talent and spunk, he claims that she has nothing to offer. He lists her failings by telling her, “You ugly. You skinny: You shape funny. You too scared to open your mouth to people … you black, you pore, you a woman … you nothing at all.” He adds that she isn’t even a good cook and that his house has not been cleaned properly since his first wife died. After his tirade, Celie is brave enough to ask Albert if any more letters for her have come. He is shocked into silence by her question; when he recovers, he says if any letters did come, he would not give them to her.
Albert tells Celie that he just did not whip her enough. He adds that he should have locked her up and let her out only to work. Celie tells him that the jail he plans for her is really the one in which he will rot. Before Celie leaves, she tells Albert, “I’m pore, I’m black, I may be ugly, and can’t cook … But I’m here.” Shug says, “Amen” several times.
This letter reinforces the climax of the novel given in the previous chapter; it also adds an almost mystical element. Walker implies that in coming into her own, Celie has tapped into a larger power, that of the universe. She feels that she has gained her voice not out of some individual sense of self; instead, she becomes a medium, speaking the truth of the world. In fact, Celie admits that her words even surprise her.
In anger over the pending loss of his wife, Albert names all the characteristics by which Celie has been oppressed: her poverty, her color, her gender, and her looks. He even criticizes her years of hard labor, saying her work was inferior. Celie is not affected by his harsh criticism; she is now beyond Albert’s world and its cruelty. She answers her husband by simply asserting her being – “I’m here.” Celie knows that Albert is incapable of taking her existence away from her. With newfound confidence, she curses him to the kin of existence he has forced her to lead, as the lowliest, least loved, and lone lest .
Celie writes to Nettie about the good time she is having while living at Shug’s house. When Shug leaves for a two-week singing tour, Celie wants to accompany and help her, but Shug tells Celie she is not her maid. She encourages Celie to sew while she is gone. Celie makes pants, for Shug, for Odessa, and for Jack; she also sends Nettie a pair of them. Everyone who sees the pants wants Celie to make them a pair. Shug suggests that Celie turn the dining room into a pants-making factory, and Celie agrees.
Celie’s life has been spent in servitude to male figures; as a result, she wants to serve Shug. But Shug reminds Celie that she is not a maid; she also helps Celie channel her talents into sewing. Before long, Celie is attracting a lot of interest in the pants that she designs and creates; part of their uniqueness is that they are suitable for either men or women to wear. With Shug’s encouragement, Celie sets up shop in the dining room. Shug also lets Celie reflect herself and her interests in the house and yard.
Having been “imprisoned” by a patriarchal system all of her life, Celie is stunned by her new freedom and the lack of fear and anger that she feels. She loves having her very own room, which she can decorate as she wants. She loves being able to work at something meaningful. It is a positive and beautiful environment, and Celie knows that Shug has made it possible for her. Now both she and Nettie feel they have a value in life; both have left their cruel past behind to become whole people.
Celie tells Nettie that she has hired two women to work for her; they are twins, named Jerene and Darlene. Darlene is trying to teach Celie how to speak Standard English, but Celie does not think it is important since she has never been happier in her life. She loves her new life, and her business is making a profit. Shug adds that she does not care how Celie talks.
Celie’s pants-making business is meeting with success. She even hires two workers, twins. One of them, Darlene, feels that Celie should learn to speak better, with less dialect. Many blacks have faced similar language issues after moving into a middle-class existence where it is expected that everyone will speak Standard American English. The unpretentious Celie, however, sees nothing wrong with the way that she talks, for she has come into herself by speaking her native dialect. She b:lieves that by throwing it away, she might jeopardize her present happiness.
Celie leaves Memphis to visit Sofia, whose mother has just died. When she arrives, she finds Sofia and Harpo in their new house, arguing over her sisters being pallbearers. Harpo is very distressed by such a crossing of genders and claims, “Women weaker … people think they weaker … Women spoke to take it easy … Not try to take over.” Sofia responds, “I can cry and take it easy and lift the coffin too.”
When Celie enters, Sofia and Harpo welcome her and ask about Mary Agnes. Celie says that she and Grady are smoking too much marijuana. When they reveal they do not know what it is, Celie explains how it works and says that Grady grows it in the back yard. She says that after she smokes it, she finds it easier to talk 10 God. Celie suggests that they should all smoke some together.
At the funeral, Celie notices that no one stares at Sofia and her sisters for carrying their mother’s coffin. In fact, they act as if it were normal. This tickles Celie.
Celie goes back home for the funeral of Sofia’s mother. When she arrives, she finds that some things never change. Harpo and Sofia are fighting – this time about whether women can be pallbearers; Sofia, still the stronger of the two, is winning, but at least the fighting is no longer physical. At the funeral, Celie is pleased to notice that no one seems to mind that Sofia and her sisters are carrying the casket.
Walker also shows that the people in small Southern towns are isolated from what is going on in the world. When Celie speaks about marijuana, neither Sofia nor Harpo know what it is. It is significant to notice that Walker treats smoking marijuana, a social taboo, with the same kind of light offhandedness she used in talking about lesbianism. She acts like it is a normal part of living, especially in the life of a
blues singer. Celie, however, warns against its overuse, criticizing Mary Agnes and Grady for smoking too much.
Tuis important to notice that Albert does not recognize Celie as she walks by him. He is only able to see her in one light, as a submissive, unsophisticated girl, and cannot accept her complete metamorphosis,
Celie watches Albert walk up to the coffin. His hair is smoothed down, and his skin is clean. Sofia tells her that he now has a job and does housework; Celie can hardly believe her ears. Sofia tells Celie that after she left, Albert at first acted crazy, locking himself up in his house and not bathing or eating; eventually, Harpo forced his way into the house and took care of him. He also made Albert send all of Nettie’s letters to Celie because “meanness kills.”
Albert has risen above Celie’s curse and improved in several ways. He now has a job, stays clean, and does housework. Harpo is also painted in a favorable light. When Albert was at first miserable after Celie’s departure, he forced his way into the house and took care of his father, even sleeping beside him in order to watch over him. Such intimacy between men, even if they are father and son, is very rare in the patriarchal society.
Nettie responds to Celie’s letters. She and Samuel have married and sailed to England to file a grievance on behalf of the Olinkas. She writes how they dined each evening on the ship with the famous woman missionary they had heard about before going to Africa. She was an older English woman accompanied by her African grandson. She told stories about her disinterest in saving the souls of Africans. She only became a missionary to avoid compulsory marriage back home. She wanted to write and that is what she has been doing all these years in Africa. She has many successful books out in America and England. Samuel and Nettie have a hard time dealing with the Africans’ rejection
of them. They have no interest in the Bible; instead, they quiz Samuel about the African Americans. They wonder why they have not maintained their native language and why they are not happy in America with so many automobiles. Now that their Olinkan God, the roof leaf, has been destroyed, they turn to God for help; when help does not come, the Olinkas decide to return to the jungle to live with the Mbeles people.
Nettie tells Celie about Corrine and Samuel’s aunts who influenced their decision to become missionaries. One aunt in particular liked to tell wild stories from her days abroad. One of the stories included a special medal she was awarded for her work in Africa. Once, upon hearing her tell this story, a particular guest became highly agitated and told her she should be ashamed of the medal. He explained how it tags her as an accomplice to the terrible crimes committed against the African peoples by colonists.
Nettie writes that she truly loves Samuel and says that she, Samuel, Olivia, and Adam are a true family now. The children are fine, but they miss Africa, especially their friend Tashi. Nettie also explains that she has told the children the truth about Celie. Nettie and Samuel are now happily married and have become a true family with Olivia and Adam. Nettie has even told the children about Celie and their background.
Nettie and Samuel are disappointed about not being accepted by the Africans. They are especially torn since they are of African descent yet do not belong there. They cannot believe that the Africans refuse to take any of the responsibility for the crime of slavery in America. The Africans, however, cannot understand how the blacks in the United States can be so unhappy in a land of plenty filled with automobiles. Nettie and Samuel are dealing with a wide chasm that exists between two black cultures,
The Olinkas totally reject Samuel’s God. They view Him as lacking power, since He did not save the roof leaf for them. Olinkas will only honor a god who will keep bad things from happening to them. In spite of the fact that the Olinkas reject the teachings of Samuel and Nettie, the two of them, along with Olivia and Adam, travel to England to fight for the Olinkas.
When Nettie and her family return home to Africa from England, Adam and Olivia go in search of Tashi. They cannot find her for days and realize she is hiding because she has undergone the initiation ceremony and scarification. When they finally find her, Tashi is listless and cannot hold her head up; her scarred face now has twelve incisions on each cheek. Adam totally rejects her, but Olivia stays to console Tashi. While Tashi is beginning to realize the magnitude of her mistake, Adam is in conflict between the modern and the Olinkan cultures.
The clash of cultures plays itself out most intensely among the younger generation. Tashi is in a very difficult position because, as an Olinkan, she has been raised to believe that the ceremony of initiation into womanhood is natural; however, she has also been educated by Westerners, who regard genital mutilation and the scarification of her face as barbaric. This ritualistic African violence is, in truth, a reflection of the violence in the American South where women, such as Celie, are subjectea to constant abuse because of tradition.
Celie writes to Nettie to tell her that their stepfather, Fonso, is dead. Daisy, Fonso’s teenage bride, has called to inform her that the house, store, and land belong to Nettie and Celie. The property originally belonged to their real father, but Fonso kept it for himself without informing Nettie and Celie it belonged to them.
At first Celie does not want to live where Fonso has lived; but with Shug’s encouragement she finally realizes the value of having a place of her own as well as her own business. When she and Shug drive down to see the house, they stop at the cemetery to see Fonso’s gravestone, which states he was a great father and great man. Shug yawns and says, “The son of a bitch.” Inside the house, Celie runs from room to room excited about the possibilities it offers. Shug takes out some cedar sticks and lights them, smoking out all the bad spirits. Celie writes that the house is big enough to house Nettie, Samuel, Olivia, Adam, Celie and Shug.
When Fonso dies, Celie learns for the first time that her stepfather’s house, land, and store really belong to Nettie and her, for they were the property of their real father. Fonso has simply “stolen” them from the girls; fortunately Daisy, Fonso’s teenage wife, tells Celie the truth. At first Celie does not want to move into the house where Fonso has lived, but Shug convinces her to do it. Once she sees the place, she grows excited with the possibilities it offers. She writes to Nettie that there is plenty of room in the house for all of them, including Olivia and Adam. Walker is foreshadowing the resolution of the plot, when Celie will finally be united with her family. The place that had been the scene of abuse and heartbreak will become a scene of harmony and love.
In the early part of the novel, Celie suffered unbelievably with the sexual and emotional abuse that Fonso, her stepfather, imposed. Now she learns that he has also kept the house, land, and store for himself, even though they rightfully belong to Nettie and her. Ironically, the gravestone of this evil man states that he is a great father and businessman. Celie, however, is gaining her poetic justice. During the novel, she has escaped her horrible past and experienced emotional and spiritual growth; now she has the opportunity for real economic growth as well. The fact that it will come in Fonso’s house and store forms a neat circle in the structure of the novel. The end of the story will take place where it began.
Celie tells Nettie that Shug has fallen in love with Germaine, a young fellow of nineteen that is in her band. Celie’s heart is broken. Shug claims that she only wants one last fling and then intends to spend the rest of her life with Celie. She asks Celie for six months. Celie is hurting worse than she thinks she can endure, but tells Shug that she will love her no matter what; however, she is leaving
Before the novel reaches its final conclusion, Celie endures one more unhappiness. Shug falls in love with a nineteen-year-old man in her band. It breaks Celie’s heart, but it motivates her to make the final move to Fonso’s house. She plans to leave Shug, demonstrating her newfound self-respect and strength.
Albert’s daughter, Henrietta, has a disease that keeps her blood from clotting. Celie remembers that Nettie has said that they eat yams in Africa to help that condition. Unfortunately, Henrietta hates yams. Everyone tries to make recipes to hide the yam taste. Even Albert is concerned about Henrietta and hides some yams in the peanut butter he gives her.
One evening Celie stops by Albert’s house, where he lives alone, to see his shell collection. He talks about the past, saying that Celie reminded him of a little bird when she first came to live with him. He then reminds her that they are still husband and wife, but she tells him they were never husband and wife. It is obvious that Celie has no interest in Albert or any other man.
Part of the reconciliation in the novel involves Celie making her peace with Albert. As she helps to care for the sick Henrietta, she gets to know the changed Albert, who has even taken up the collecting of shells, symbols of femininity. In many ways, he is a much softer person. He now works and keeps house; he also is helping to care for Henrietta. When Celie stops by to see his shell collection, Albert talks about the past, saying he could not appreciate her when they first married. Then he reminds her that they are still husband and wife; he seems to hope that they might get back together. Celie, however, has no interest in men.
Celie receives a telegram from the State Department informing her that the ship that Nettie and her family were on has sunk. Celie is devastated. She is also saddened by the fact that most of the letters that she has sent to Nettie are returned to her, undelivered.
The devastating news of the shipwreck serves to test Celie’s newfound stability and sense of self. Although it seems she will now be physically separated from her sister throughout her life, she knows that Nettie will always live in her mind. She is at least thankful that they were re-united through the mail. When Celie finds out that Nettie has not received her letters, she is crushed, for she wanted her sister to know her. Celie’s undelivered letters to Nettie have become similar to the many letters she wrote to God, which could not be delivered either.
Celie receives another letter from Nettie, stating her eagerness and anxiety about returning to America. She writes that she can hardly believe she and Celie have not had personal contact for nearly thirty years. She wonders if Celie will be the same gentle soul she once knew. The children have asked about their real mother, and Nettie has told them that Tashi reminds her of Celie. Unfortunately, Tashi and her mother have gone to the forest to join the Mbeles.
Nettie reveals that her idea of God has shifted in ways parallel to Celie’s idea of God. For her, God is “more spirit than ever before and more internal.” She adds that most people think God has to look like something, a roof leaf or Christ, but that for her and Samuel, “not being tied to what God looks like frees us.”
Nettie also writes of her concern over money. She assumes that it will be years before she and Samuel will have the money to buy a house after they return to America. She also worries about how Olivia and Adam will handle racism when they have grown up in Africa, free of any feelings of animosity towards them because of their color. Nettie cuts off the letter, for she has learned that Adam is missing.
Even after Celie receives the news of the shipwreck, letters continue to arrive from Nettie, sent before her departure. Their poignancy is more acute because of what has happened. For Celie, there is a strangely spiritual undertone in this letter, as if Nettie is speaking to her from the great beyond.
This letter addresses Nettie’anxieties about returning to America. She worries that Celie may no longer be the same loving soul she knew when she left. She also worries about money and a place to live, for she is unaware of the fact that her financial future is secure with the house, store, and land from her real father. Finally, she is concerned about how Olivia and Adam will react to racism, which they will feel for the first time in their lives.
Even though her life has been very different from her sister’s, Nettie has reached some of the same conclusions Celie has. Her picture of God is no longer as a white person reigning on high. Instead, she has no mental picture of God, but believes Him to be an internal spirit, an image much like Celie has.
Nettie brings in another part of the African subplot at the end of this letter. Tashi has run away to join the Mbeles, and Adam has gone in search of her. The move away from Africa is obviously not easy for any of the family. The ties they have made, especially to Tashi and her mother, are strong and hard to sever.
Without Shug around to encourage her, Celie begins to question herself. She stands naked in front of a mirror and wonders why Shug ever loved her. Even though Shug writes her letters, she does not mention joining Celie in Georgia. The last letter stated that she and Germaine were in Arizona visiting one of her sons and his wife and children.
Sofia and Harpo keep trying to set Celie up with men in town, but she has no interest. She even appreciates the fact that Albert tries to save her from suitors by announcing himself as Celie’s husband. The two of them even spend time together. Celie feels close to Albert, because they both love Shug and share the heartbreak of losing her. Celie tells Albert what she has learned about Olivia and Adam. She also tells him stories about Africa that Nettie has shared with her. She explains how the Olinkas have their own version the Adam and Eve story and claim that Adam was the first “white” man, not the first man. They believe that the Africans predated Adam, whom they banished for his “whiteness,” which they call nakedness. Feeling rejected, the “whites” think of blacks as snakes that they would like to crush to death.
Celie also spends time with Sofia. She is constantly intruded upon by Eleanor Jane, the mayor’s daughter, especially now that she has a baby of her own. She wants Sofia to love and bless her little boy, but Sofia refuses. She explains that her little white boy will probably grow up and cause her problems, since Whites do not normally like blacks. Eleanor leaves feeling sad and tears are in Sofia’s eyes.
This is a long, complex letter that reveals that Celie, now living alone and without Shug, is again struggling with her old demon of low self-esteem. She does admit, however, that she still feels “young and fresh,” even though she is aging. She is glad that has been able to forgive Albert and enjoys his company from time to time. She shares many of Nettie’s stories from Africa with him.
Celie never identifies herself as a lesbian. Even when Albert presses her why she does not like men, she simply discusses her aversion to them because of the past cruel and abusive treatment she has received. Albert will never understand the relationship between Shug and Celie. Sofia and Harpo want to actually change Celie, constantly trying to set her up in a heterosexual relationship.
Walker subtly addresses racism and the reaction to it in this chapter. Eleanor Jane, Miz Millie’s grown-up daughter, still dotes upon Sofia, who had been her nanny and friend for years. Sofia, however, is too embittered by her past to make any room in her heart for this young woman. When Eleanor Jane brings her new baby boy for a visit, hoping that Sofia will love and bless it, she is crushed by the rejection they both receive. Sofia explains that she expects the boy will simply grow up to oppress blacks. The story of the relationship between Eleanor Jane and Sofia is typical of what often happened in the South between black nannies and the white charges they helped to raise.
Nettie’s next letter to Celie tells about the news of Adam and Tashi. The young man caught up with Tashi and her mother, but they refused to return. As a result, Adam accompanied them to the Mbeles encampment, which he found to be an extraordinary place, set in a huge depression in the earth, where thousands of people lived. The Mbeles now include people from dozens of tribes, who have set up farms, a school, an infirmary, a temple, and a militia that sabotages white plantations.
Finally, Adam convinced Tashi to leave the Mbeles, but she still refuses to marry him and go to America. Tashi is convinced no one in the States will like her, especially because of the scarification on her face and the extremely dark color of her skin. She also fears that Adam will eventually abandon her, attracted by a light-skinned American black, and she will be alone in America with no country and no people. Adams tries to reassure her, and Olivia tells her that she will always be her “sister.” The next day Adam has his own face scarified to make Tashi feel better. Understanding the depth of Adam’s love, Tashi agrees to marry him. Samuel performs the wedding ceremony. Immediately after the wedding, they all head to the coast to catch the ship. Nettie tells Celie that she and her family will be home in a few weeks.
Walker shows the problems of internalized racism, which occurs when people begin to believe the lies and stereotypes told about them. Tashi recognizes that in America light-skinned African Americans are valued over those of darker skin. She has seen advertisements for a cream to allow blacks to bleach their skin to a lighter color. She worries that she will be rejected because her skin is so dark. Olivia is wise enough to know that the best way to combat internalized racism and feelings of inferiority is to assert solidarity, to love one another. Adam shows his love for Tashi by having his own face scarified, so she will not feel so different in America. His plan works, for Tashi agrees to marry him. The wedding takes place just before they all depart for America.
Even though Celie has been told that Nettie has perished at sea, she refuses to accept it and continues to write her letters. Even if she has to wait until she’s ninety years old, she knows she will see Nettie’s face again. In the letter, she tells Nettie that Albert has telephoned Shug several times lately, informing her that Nettie and her family has been lost al sea. Shug, always a woman of action, goes straight to the State Department and the Department of Defense and tries unsuccessfully to find out exactly what has happened. It is obvious that in the middle of a war the government is not terribly concerned about a sunken boat filled with blacks.
Celie informs Nettie that she has hired Sofia to work in the store as a clerk, along with a white man. Sofia waits on the blacks, to make certain they are treated with proper respect. She has proven that she is a good salesperson, always chatting pleasantly with the customers and never pressuring them to buy anything. Harpo has no problem with Sofia working since it seems to make her happy. He helps to take care of the house, and Sofia, in a touch of irony, has hired Eleanor Jane to help with Henrietta when needed. All the white people are scandalized that Eleanor Jane would work for blacks, but she retorts that it was a scandal that a woman like Sofia had worked for white trash.
Celie writes that she and Albert have continued to be friends even though she has refused his offer of re-marriage. He is even trying to design a shirt to go with Celie’s pants, one with plenty of pockets, loose sleeves, and no ties. One day when she sat on the porch with Albert, he told her that all he ever wanted in life was Shug Avery; in the past, he has felt miserable because he could not have her. Celie tells him that everyone loves Shug because she knows how to love back. Albert agrees and says that he has learned to love too. He used to wonder why people suffered, why they were black, why they were born. Now he knows the answer is to love one another. Albert admits that the more he has loved others, the more he has felt loved, by Sofia, by Harpo, and by the children
Shug writes to say that she is coming to Georgia. Celie tries to stay calın, telling herself, “If she come, I be happy. If she don’t, I be content.” She realizes it was this lesson that she needed to learn all along. When Shug steps out of the car dressed like “a movie star,” she tells Celie she missed her more than she missed her own mother. She praises Celie’s house, especially Celie’s pink room. Celie then shows Shug the room she has decorated for her – in the color purple with touches of red and yellow.
When Celie asks about Germaine, Shug says that she regards now him as a son or a grandson. Shug then asks Celie what she and Albert have been up to. Celie tells her they just sew and make idle conversation. Celie is surprised to see that Shug seems jealous. Celie reassures her that she and Albert talk about how much they love her. Shug responds by putting her head on Celie’s shoulder and sighing. This letter reveals a number of reversals from earlier in the novel. Celie is a totally changed person. Her business is successful, and she is self-sufficient. Kind and gentle as always, she is able to forgive Albert and forge a relationship with him; she feels close to him because of their mutual love for Shug. When she hears that Shug is coming to live in Georgia, Celie is excited but has no false expectations, saying she can now be content without her.
Shug does return to Georgia to live with Celie; she now regards Germaine as only a son or a grandson. When Celie explains that her life is filled with sewing and idle conversations with Albert, Celie seems to be jealous. Although Shug is as glamorous and beautiful as a movie star, Celie’s calm life seems desirable to her. She now longs for what Celie has.
The letter also shows the complete change in Albert. He is trying to help Celie, designing shirts and sewing for her, treating her with respect; he also philosophizes about life’s wonders, saying he has learned to love the little things. This is the lesson that Shug taught Celie years earlier when she said God wanted people to recognize the beauty of creation like the color purple. Because Albert has learned to love others, he also feels loved.
Sofia’s life has also changed. She is now working as a clerk in Celie’s store with Harpo’s blessing. He has obviously changed, graciously allowing her to escape the normal patriarchal role of mother and housekeeper. She has also accepted Eleanor Jane and has ironically hired her to help care for Henrietta. The white townsfolk, however, have not changed at all. They feel it is outrageous that a white woman should do work for blacks.
It is significant to note that this letter, one of the most complex in the novel, is written to Nettie. Even though she has been told that her sister is dead, the faithful Celie reuses to believe it and continues to write her letters. It is also important to note that the kind and sensitive Celie has remembered to paint Shug’s room purple.
Celie addresses this joyous letter to everyone: “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything.” It is clear that this final entry will be a celebration of life,Celie, Shug, and Albert are sitting on the porch one evening when a car comes down the road. They all wonder who it could be, and think it may be Sofia since the car is going fast. The car stops at the end of the road, and some people dressed in old people’s clothes emerge. There is a tall, white-haired man with a backward turned collar, a short woman with her hair braided across her head, a tall young man, and two young women; they are all carrying luggage. As they begin to walk towards the house, Albert announces that it is Nettie. Celie feels so scared that she does not know what to do. She cannot utter a word and almost falls when she tries to get up.
When Nettie steps onto the porch, Celie feels like she will die. She sways between Albert and Shug, while Nettie sways between Samuel and Adam. They moan and grab one another, falling down together, hugging and calling each other’s names. After a while, Nettie introduces her to Samuel, Olivia, Adam, and Tashi. Celie introduces Albert and Shug. Everyone hugs.
On the Fourth of July, there is a big reunion celebration, and all the family is invited. When Henrietta asks why they had to have their family reunion on such a hot day, Harpo tells her it was a day white folks celebrated independence from England; they let the slaves off work to celebrate as well. Mary Agnes wonders where Harpo has learned his history. She is present at the reunion, for she has come to Georgia to pick up Suzie Q. She has left Grady and moved back to Memphis to live with her sister and her mother. She has many new songs and feels good enough to sing them now that she no longer smokes marijuana.
Everyone admires Tashi and thinks she is beautiful. They ask her questions about Africa. When they question what Africans eat, Tashi smiles and says barbecue; everyone laughs. Celie fully enjoys the reunion even though she feels a little strained around her grown children. She suspects they think she and the other adults are too old, but Celie disagrees and says we “the youngest us ever felt.” She has been totally rejuvenated by the arrival of Shug and then her family. She ends the letter saying, “Amen.”
In the last letter, Celie addresses the world, all of creation, and the creator, with whom she has finally made her reconciliation; she ends it with an “amen” as if it were a prayer of thanksgiving. The novel ends with the joyous homecoming of Nettie and her children, followed by a family reunion. The theme of reconciliation and regeneration is now complete. Celie is fully reconciled with herself and her life; she also feels regenerated now that she is self-sufficient and surrounded by the love of her family and Shug. It is truly a happy ending to a book that is filled with challenges and sadness.