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Free Study Guide for The Color Purple by Alice Walker Free Book Summary

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The novel is set in the first half of the twentieth century in Macon County, Georgia. The novel covers the span of a woman's life -- from adolescence to old age. It is set primarily in the African-American community of a small town, though minor parts of it are set within penal system of the town, which is dominated by white people.


Major Characters

The main character and protagonist of the novel. She is an African-American 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.

Shug Avery
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.

Albert (usually referred to as Mr. ____)
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.

Sofia Butler
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.

Minor Characters

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.

May Ellen
Fonso's very young second wife whom he marries after Celie's mother dies.

Fonso's last wife. He marries her after May Ellen deserts him.

Daisy and Fonso's cook.

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.

Reverend Samuel
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.

A musician. He helps his friend Harpo build his juke joint.

Mary Agnes
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.

Old Mr.___
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.

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.

Bubber Hodges
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.

The Mayor
An arrogant, power-hungry white man. He puts Sofia in jail for talking rudely to his wife and for knocking him down.

Miz Millie
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 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

Reynolds Stanley
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.

Corrine's aunt, a missionary.

Edward Duboyce
A man 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.

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