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

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CONFLICT


Protagonist

Celie is the protagonist and main character of the novel. She is a poor African-American woman who is the victim of domestic violence and low self-esteem. The novel centers on Celie's development from a struggling and unaware adolescent to a mature, emotionally sound and politically aware woman who has discovered how to love herself and to let others love her.


Antagonists

Celie's antagonists are all the hardships that she must overcome in order to gain self-esteem. First she must overcome the interracial conflict, specifically sexist oppression, within her family. Celie is victimized first by her father, who rapes and impregnates her, and then by her husband, to whom her father virtually sells her. Her husband, Albert, beats her and forces her to have sex with him. Both men impress upon her that she is a lowly human being. Their abuse is supported by the entire community. In addition to physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, she is denied contact with other women, specifically with her sister who writes her letters that Celie never receives.


Climax

After finding out that her husband has stolen the letters that her sister has been writing her, Celie decides to join Shug Avery on the road, leaving her husband behind. In a dramatic voice, she tells him and his family of all the pain they have caused her in her life. She curses her husband with impotence and loneliness.


Outcome

The outcome of the conflict is a tragic comedy. Celie must endure many hardships before she finds happiness. In the end, however, she is reunited with her sister Nettie and her children, Olivia and Adam. She lives with Shug Avery in her childhood home and runs a successful business. She even becomes friends with her ex-husband.


SHORT PLOT / CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

The Color Purple is composed of a series of letters: in the first section, the letters are written by the protagonist, Celie, to God; the second section are letters from her sister, Nettie in Africa, and the third section is a correspondence between Celie and Nettie.

After Celie is raped by her stepfather, she begins writing to God because Fonso convinces her that telling her mother about what has happened would kill her. Fonso continues to abuse her from the time she is fourteen years old until she is twenty. She gets pregnant twice, and her father steals each of her children, who are named Olivia and Adam, and sells them to Samuel, the missionary minister. After the first child is stolen, Celie's mother dies, suspecting that the children were her husband's. When Celie realizes her father is becoming interested in her younger sister, Nettie, she tries to keep her father from committing incest against her.

Albert, a man from town usually known as Mr.___, is interested in getting married. Celie's father essentially sells her off to Albert, a cruel and vicious man. Nettie remains in school, trying to study to be a teacher. She also tries to teach Celie what she learns in school, but since Celie is distracted by work and abuse and she cannot learn easily. Married to Albert and living at his small farm, Celie is responsible for his four motherless children, who have been severely neglected. Celie's life is hard, and she is regularly beaten by her husband. One day in town, Celie sees her daughter, Olivia, with Corrine, the minister's wife.


Nettie runs away from home when her stepfather begins to threaten her with incest. She joins Celie at the farm, where Albert pursues her relentlessly. Finally after a confrontation with Celie's husband, Nettie is banished from the farm. Celie suggests that Nettie seek work from the minister's wife. The sisters sadly separate, with Nettie promising to often write Celie letters. Unfortunately, Albert silently vows that he will never let her letters through to Celie.

When Shug Avery, a blues singer, comes to town, Albert stops working and makes Celie and his son Harpo do all the farm chores. Harpo is not much of help, for he is interested in a girl from his church named Sofia Butler, who becomes pregnant. Harpo marries Sofia after the baby is born, and the three of them live on the farm. When Sofia begins to boss her husband, Albert tells Harpo that he must be the one in charge and advises his son to beat Sofia to make her obey him. When Harpo asks Celie's advice, she even agrees that he should beat Sofia. Celie feels that a beating may change Sofia's dominating nature. As it is, the two of them are always fighting, and Harpo always loses the war of words. When Sofia leaves Harpo, taking the children, Celie feels guilty about the advice she has given and apologizes to Sofia. She also confesses to Sofia that she does not feel anger when Albert abuses her. She remembers that the Bible says that wives must obey their husbands. Sofia and Celie become friends again and take up quilting together.

Shug Avery becomes very ill and Albert brings her home to care for her. Celie is very attracted to Shug Avery and nurtures her back to health. Avery's father, however, threatens to disown his son for having Shug Avery in his house. Celie and her husband are at least united in spirit against Old Mr.___. She even spits in the old man's drink in retaliation against his denigrating Shug.

Before long, Sofia comes back to Harpo. He begins to eat excessively in an attempt to get bigger than Sofia so he can dominate her. In spite of his efforts, when Harpo tries to beat Sofia, he continues to get beaten himself. Celie advises him to give up trying to dominate her. Sofia again tires of her married life and leaves Harpo to live with her sister. She claims that Harpo has been treating her as nothing but a sexual object

Shug continues to stay at the farm and sleep with Albert, which upsets Celie. When Harpo builds a juke joint, Shug sings there. One night she sings a song for Celie, which makes her feel close to Shug. Celie then tells the singer about how she is physically abused by Albert. Shug tells Celie she is still a virgin since she has never really experienced sexual pleasure. When Shug leaves the farm, Celie is sad.

Harpo finds a new girlfriend, Mary Agnes, whom he calls Squeak. Since Shug has left, Squeak sings at his juke joint. One night Sofia shows up at Harpo's. In a confrontation, she hits Harpo's new lover, Mary Agnes. Months later, Celie hears that Sofia is in jail for "sassing" the mayor's wife and hitting the mayor. Celie is also told that Sofia is severely beaten by the authorities. Celie goes to the jail and dresses her wounds. When life in jail becomes unbearable for Sofia, the family sends Squeak to speak to the warden, her white uncle. Squeak cleverly tells him that she hates Sofia and knows that a better punishment for her would be to have her work for the mayor's wife as a maid. Sofia is released and lives a hellish existence at Miz Millie's, taking care of her two children as well as cleaning house. One day, Miz Millie lets Sofia visit her children, but only for fifteen minutes, for she needs Sofia to drive her car.

Shug Avery marries a man named Grady. When she comes back for a visit, Shug tells Celie of her early love of Albert, who was unable to defy his father to be with her. Albert was pushed into marrying a woman named Annie Julia, even though he and Shug continued to have a love affair. To retaliate, Annie Julia took a lover, and he eventually killed her. Shug confesses her regret at treating Annie Julia so badly. She also confesses that there has never been anything but sex between Albert and her. Celie also tells of her past. She explains to Shug how she has survived her father's incestuous torments, her mother's distance from her and eventual death, her separation from Nettie, and her mistreatment by Albert. Shug tells Celie that she really remains a virgin, in spite of her marriage, since she has still never known true sexual pleasure. Shug then kisses Celie, and the two of them make love.

Celie is shocked when she finally receives a letter from Nettie from Africa. She realizes that Albert has been stealing the letters written by her sister and hiding them away from her. She is so angry at Albert that she has murderous thoughts about him. She determines, however, that she will manage to continue receiving Nettie's letters at any cost. In one letter, Nettie explains how she went to the minister's house to find work, just as Celie had suggested. During her first visit, she realized that the minister's adopted daughter, Olivia, looked just like Celie. Nettie wanted to be close to the child.

Nettie began to work for Corrine, the minister's wife, and moved into their house. Eventually, she traveled to Africa with the family when they went to be missionaries. . Nettie writes Celie how surprised she was to find that Christ was dark skinned and that Africa was a colonized country. She also writes that she lives among the Olinka tribe, who worships the roofleaf as a god. She explains that their village is set up on a patriarchal model and that none of the Olinka girls are permitted an education. Olivia, however, is being taught. She, in turn, teaches her lessons to her Olinka friend named Tashi. When Tashi's parents find out that she is being taught, they forbid her from learning.

After Nettie has been in Africa for five years, a road is built through the Olinka village, and the tribe is forced to go to work for an English rubber company. Life begins to change for everyone. Tashi's father dies, and Tashi's mother lets her go to school, as do other Olinka mothers. Corrine becomes sick and reveals her suspicions that Nettie is Olivia and Adam's mother. Nettie explains that the children belong to her sister, Celie. Corrine dies in peace knowing that her husband and Nettie had not betrayed her.

Samuel tells Nettie the history of Olivia and Adam, explaining that Fonso had brought the children to him and offered to sell them. Pitying the two young children, he took them in and raised them as his own. Samuel also tells Nettie that Fonso is her stepfather, not her real father. Nettie shares all this information with her sister through the letters that she writes. When Celie hears that Fonso, her supposed father, was not her real father, Celie doubts God's existence and ceases to write him letters. Instead, all her correspondence is addressed to Nettie.

Shug announces that she is leaving for another road trip and is taking Celie with her. When Albert protests, Celie tells him how he has caused her years of pain. Sofia, who is out of prison on parole, speaks up for Celie. Albert becomes enraged and tries to hit his wife, but Celie stabs his hand. Celie leaves the farm forever, living with Shug and starting a successful business that makes pants. Celie's departure forces Albert to change dramatically. He begins to work both inside and outside the home and even takes care of his children.

Celie continues to receive letters from Nellie. She learns that her sister has married Samuel, the minister, after the death of his wife, Corrine. The two of them travel to England to fight for the Olinka against the rubber company that mistreats them. When she returns to Africa, Nettie finds that her good friend Tashi has gone through the ceremonies of genital mutilation and facial scarification. She is determined to bring Tashi to America to get her away from her barbaric African existence. Nettie writes Celie that she will soon be coming home to Georgia.

Celie learns that Fonso, her cruel stepfather, has died and that he has been stealing what rightfully belongs to Nettie and her, including the house and the land. Shug and Celie go to see the house, and Celie begins cleaning it up in preparation for Nettie's return. When Shug has an affair with a young man, Celie leaves her, takes up residence in her own house, and continues to devote herself to the pants business. When all of her letters to Nettie are returned to her, Celie thinks that Nettie's ship has been lost at sea.

In Africa, Tashi and her mother, Catherine, leave the tribe to join a rebel group living in the jungle. Adam goes after them and brings Tashi back. He then has his face scarified so she will not feel strange and isolated when she goes to America. The two of them depart Africa with Nettie, Samuel, and Olivia. Nettie can hardly wait to see Celie.

In Georgia, Sofia begins to work in Celie's store while Harpo stays at home to take care of their daughter, who has a strange blood clotting disease. Celie enjoys the company of her friend at the store. She also learns that Albert, her ex-husband, has really changed and becomes friends with him now that he is much kinder. Shug also returns to Celie after tiring of her young male lover.

Celie's last letter is a letter of celebration; it is addressed to God, the stars, the sky, the people, and everything else. She writes about the homecoming of Nettie, Olivia, and Adam. It is wonderful to see her beloved sister again and to get to know her own children for the first time. They have a big family reunion on the Fourth of July. She ends her last letter as if it were a prayer and closes it by saying "Amen."


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