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

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES


CHAPTER 4


Summary

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 learn instead of looking after someone else's children.


Notes

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 courted 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.


CHAPTER 5


Summary

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. (Celie refers to him only as Mr.___.) 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.

Notes

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.

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.


CHAPTER 6


Summary

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.


Notes

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 the novel, Shug will become a role model for Celie, providing her with an image of a woman who has a strong sense of her self-worth and who can function independently outside the black patriarchal lifestyle.


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