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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 38


Summary

Twice a month for half an hour, the family goes to visit Sofia in prison, where she has been assigned to the laundry room for day labor. Sofia asks about her children. She is told that Odessa and Squeak are working together to take care of them. Sofia then describes her deplorable living conditions, which include infestations of roaches, mice, lice, flies, and snakes. People who do not obey are stripped and made to sleep naked on a cement floor. When Celie asks Sofia how she is handling it all, she says she pretends like she is Celie, holding in her anger. Later, she admits she dreams of murder day and night.


Notes

Sofia's living conditions in the prison are beyond belief. As earlier evidenced by the cleanliness of her children, Sofia is a meticulous housekeeper. Now she is forced to live with roaches, mice, lice, and snakes. For the simple infraction of hitting a white man after he has slapped her, Sofia has been physically brutalized and forced into the role of a cleaning woman, a position she has fought valiantly all her life to avoid. Ironically, she must now act submissive, like the earlier Celie or the current Squeak, in order to survive. Even though she must spend twelve years in jail, Sofia refuses to be broken, even though she bears the signs of trauma, as Celie did years ago when she had been ritually abused.


CHAPTER 39


Summary

The family fears Sofia will not last long under her horrible conditions in jail. They discuss ways to get her out. Harpo wants to break her out of jail, but Albert tells him to shut up. Celie thinks about God and angels and imagines a bunch of white albinos coming down to save Sofia. When everyone finds out that Squeak is the warden's niece, they decide that she can be instrumental in saving Sofia.


Notes

This chapter is important, for it shows how the family has been galvanized by Sofia's tribulations. All of them are now working together, rather than at odds; they have become solidified by the white power structure that would like to destroy them. It is ironic that the meek Squeak may be the one who is able to save Sofia.


Celie again shows her religious devotion in the chapter. Unable to come up with any realistic plan to help Sofia escape from jail, she imagines God sending down angels to rescue her friend. She believes in God's omnipotence and turns to him when her resources fail her. Her tragi-comic image of God and the angels, however, shows that the white power structure has convinced her that God and his heavenly abode are all white.


CHAPTER 40


Summary

The family dresses Squeak like a white woman, cleaning the grease from her hair and making her smell good. Not surprisingly, she is very scared and cannot imagine what she will tell her uncle, the warden. They instruct her to say she is living with Sofia's husband and wants revenge on her. Then she is to suggest that the real punishment for Sofia would be making her the maid of a white woman instead of leaving her in prison.


Notes

The family's plan seems unrealistic, even a little dangerous; but it is the only hope they have to free Sofia from jail. It is surprising that meek-minded Squeak consents to such a daring role; perhaps she is not as submissive as Harpo pictures her to be. It is also amazing that Squeak is willing to help Sofia, the wife of Harpo and her previous adversary. The black family unit, however, is united in trying to save a fellow family member and is eager to outwit the white establishment. It is sadly humorous that they feel that Squeak must be "whitened" before she goes to see the warden. They rid her hair of grease and doll her up in clothes, like the kind worn by white women; it is an effort to make her appear more genteel. Squeak, in fact, is a mulatto, half-black and half-white; she is, therefore, a symbolic link between the black world she lives in and the white world she is going to meet.


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