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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 35


Summary

Shug and Albert sleep together almost every night. Shug asks Celie if this upsets her, but Celie does not seem to care. Shug explains that she would have married Albert, but he was too weak and acts like a bully. Celie asks her if she likes sleeping with Albert, and Shug confesses she does, laughing. Celie says that with her Albert just does his business and rolls over. Shug again tells Celie that she is still a virgin since she has not experienced sexual pleasure. She explains to Celie that she has a clitoris that can be stimulated to create great enjoyment. She gives Celie a mirror and tells her to go look at herself. When Celie touches herself, she feels a spurt of pleasure, "enough to tell me this is the right button to push." Celie, however, feels like she has been doing something wrong. Although Celie has told Shug she does not care if she and Albert sleep together, it often makes Celie cry. That night in bed, Celie touches her "button" and cries as she thinks about Shug and Albert.


Notes

Celie's love for Shug begins to take on a tragic tone. Wanting Shug to remain at the farm, she assures her that she does not mind her sleeping with Albert. In truth, Celie does not want to sleep with Albert, for he just uses her and rolls over. There is never a concern about Celie's feelings. Still Celie often cries at the thought that Shug sleeps with her husband, for she knows she would like to be the one sleeping with Shug.

Shug's teaching Celie how to enjoy her body is an important part of Celie's path to claiming ownership of herself. Shug teaches Celie the pleasures of autoeroticism, the ability to make herself feel sexual enjoyment without being dependent on anyone else. This clitoris-centered sex frees Celie from the phallic-centered sex of the patriarchal world in which she lives. Nevertheless, Celie still longs for Shug as a partner.


CHAPTER 36


Summary

Sofia shows up at one of Shug's performances and is happy to see Celie. She even shakes Albert's hand, noting that "his handshake is a little weak." He asks Sofia where her children are, insinuating she should not be at the juke joint, and she responds by asking him where his children are. Sofia has come with a muscular man she introduces as Henry Broadnax or Buster. Albert offers them a seat, and the "prizefighter" boyfriend straddles his chair and wraps his arms around Sofia. Harpo is across the bar with Mary Agnes, his "yellowskin" girlfriend, but he watches Sofia.

Celie tells Sofia how good she looks for a woman who has had five children. Sofia informs her that she now has six, explaining that life does not stop. Celie thinks about her own life stopping in the past. Now she thinks it is beginning again because of Shug. Shug comes to the table and hugs Sofia. Celie notices her breasts and feels stimulated.


Harpo comes over and asks Sofia why she is at a juke joint instead of with her children. Sofia says a woman needs to have a little fun. Buster tells Harpo that it is his "job to love her and take her where she want to go." When Buster and Sofia are on the dance floor, Harpo's girlfriend watches intently. Mary Agnes is so eager to please and mind Harpo that he has re-named her Squeak.

Harpo wants to talk to Sofia and keeps grabbing her arm, telling her that this is her house. Squeak gets involved and tells them both that Harpo should not talk to Sofia. She slaps Sofia, who then knocks Squeak to the floor, taking out two of her teeth. Harpo comforts Squeak while Sofia and Buster leave.


Notes

This chapter shows that the juke joint has become a space of freedom for women, even for Celie. When she comes here, she sees how other women have control over their lives and destinies; she also observes how they act and talk. The usual patriarchal dividing line between the sexes is blurred in the juke joint.

Squeak is introduced for the first time. She seems to be almost a younger version of Celie, timid and submissive. When she does attempt to speak up for herself, she is knocked down forcefully by Sofia.

Physical violence still dominates in this society, for most of the women have learned to fight violence with violence. Ironically, Sofia's new "prizefighter" boyfriend is a gentleman and allows Sofia plenty of space to express her feelings. Although huge, he is a hands-off guy who respects Sofia's ability to stand up for herself.

Celie is again reminded of her attraction to Shug. When Sofia talks about life not stopping because of circumstances, Celie thinks that her life is beginning again because of her love for Shug. When the singer comes up to the table to greet Sofia, Celie notices her breasts and feels stimulated. She physically longs for Shug.


CHAPTER 37


Summary

Harpo is moping around, treating Squeak as if she were invisible. Squeak tries to ease his tension but cannot. Celie advises Squeak to ask Harpo to call her by her real name of Mary Agnes if she wants him to acknowledge her. Squeak does not understand, and Celie does not push the issue. Celie knows that Harpo is upset because Sofia is in jail. She is worried about Harpo and finds herself crying for him.

Celie then explains what has happened to Sofia. Out one night, she and Buster and the children crossed paths with the mayor and his wife. The mayor's wife remarked how clean the children were. She then asked Sofia if she would like to come and clean her house. Sofia flatly told her, "Hell no!" The mayor slapped Sofia for her impudence, and Sofia knocked him to the ground. The police arrived. When they began throwing Sofia's children around, she began to hit the police. They then beat her up and took her to jail. Before she left, Sofia asked Buster to take the children home. Celie cannot finish the story because she is all choked up. Her husband completes the tale.

Albert had gone to see Sofia, ingratiating himself to the sheriff in order to get in the jail. He told the sheriff all women were crazy, and the sheriff agreed with him, laughing. Albert found Sofia in bad shape. They had cracked her skull, broken her ribs, ripped away part of her nose, and blinded one of her eyes. She was swollen, purple, and unable to speak. When Celie went to see her she tried to cleanse her wounds.


Notes

This chapter is an ugly scene of violence. Sofia, the born fighter, is confronted by the white power structure. When the mayor's wife insults her, asking her to clean her house, she shouts "hell, no." The mayor reacts in a racist and sexist manner, slapping Sofia. Not surprisingly, she knocks the mayor down, for she only knows how to answer violence with violence. Although she beats the mayor physically, she cannot beat his system. The mayor has the police, the justice system, and the penal system on his side; Sofia's toughness cannot overcome such institutions. When the police arrive on the scene, they beat her unmercifully and take her to jail. Even Buster, the most physically powerful man in the book, cannot save Sofia; he stands aside to protect the children.

Albert's actions in the tragedy are commendable, yet ironic and reprehensible. In order to see Sofia, he jokes with the sheriff through a sexist discourse. It is only by using his patriarchal privileges that he can manipulate the white power structure, which ironically oppresses both black women and black men. Albert recognizes, however, the imperative of solidarity when it comes to taking care of each other against the brutality of the white power structure.

Celie is seen in a dual role in this chapter. She advises Squeak to stand up to Harpo, telling him to call her Mary Agnes. Celie knows that the name Squeak is a negative term meant to keep the girlfriend in her place; the timid Squeak, however, does not give any importance to her nickname. Celie, on the other hand, is beginning to understand how the patriarchal establishment tries to keep black women in their "place." Next, Celie is seen in her role as caretaker. When she goes to the jail to see Sofia, she is horrified at her condition and frightened by what the white establishment can do to a black woman. She tenderly tries to care for Sofia's wounds. In both instances, Celie is showing a solidarity with other black women. She is eager to help those who are physically or emotionally worn down by outside power systems.


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