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

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Nettie runs away from home and comes to stay with Celie on the farm. Celie tells her sister that Albert's children are smart, but 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 take from her. She misses Nettie's kindness and companionship greatly and longs to receive a letter from her; however, no letters arrive.



Two of Albert'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 Albert'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 she 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 (his property) 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 not 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.

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