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

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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.

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