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

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Shug and Albert are good friends again, spending a lot of time together. Now it is Grady and Celie who are upset; to forget their sadness, Grady smokes marijuana and Celie prays.

Before long, Shug drops another letter from Nettie in Celie's lap. She confirms that Albert has been hiding all the letters through the years. Celie cannot believe he could be so cruel, knowing how much Nettie means to her. Celie feels murderous for the rest of the day. That evening, Shug tells Albert that Celie has a fever which might be catching. She suggests he sleep somewhere else. Shug then sleeps with Celie and talks to her; Celie lies on the bed, trying to think of nothing.

Shug tells Celie about her past. Her mother did not like anything that involved touching. When she tried to give her a kiss, her mother would push her away. In contrast, her father wanted to touch her too much. She explains how she met Albert, fell in love, and had his children. Then his family would not let him marry her because she had children, even though they were his. They pushed him to marry Annie Julia, a beautiful woman Shug knew from school. While Shug and Albert were having an affair, Annie had to take care of the children physically and financially. Annie finally got fed up and found herself a boyfriend; unfortunately, he got mad at her and killed her.

Shug then explains how jealous she was of Celie when she first realized Albert was married to her. As a result, she treated Celie badly. Shug admits she never wanted Albert for a husband, but she wanted him to want her above all other women. She also says that "what was good tween us must have been nothin but bodies." Shug says she is shocked at the changes in Albert; she cannot believe he has beaten Celie and hidden Nettie's letters.


In this chapter, Shug Avery reveals her past history, which echoes the life of Celie. Shug's mother rejected any physical contact with her daughter, and her father abused her. Instead of turning her into a submissive woman like Celie, Shug's past turned her into an independent woman. It also caused her to seek assurance that she was loved and to sexualize her relationships.

Shug also reveals that she is full of remorse for previously treating women poorly. She was cruel to Annie Julia, Albert's first wife, and she was also cruel to Celie. She admits it was out of jealousy. Although she did not want to be Albert's wife, she wanted to be the most important woman in his life. His being married threatened that position for her, and she took it out on the two women, rather than on Albert. Now she realizes that her relationship with Albert has never been anything other than sexual and she is ready to break away from him.

It is important to note that Shug's release from her ties to Albert coincides with Celie's reuniting, at least in spirit, with her sister. Shug has ingratiated herself to Albert in order to steal the letters from him. She is now working fully with Celie to break Albert's control over her. Celie's growing sense of identity and independence can be seen in her uncontrollable anger towards Albert after discovering his deceitful actions concerning her sister's letters. She is almost Sofia-like in her rage, but Shug manages to calm her down by explaining what she will lose if her temper gets the best of her.

Albert's attempt to obstruct communication between Celie and Nettie speaks to the larger theme of how patriarchy attempts to disarm any solidarity between women; if women find power in numbers, the men know their power will be diminished. As a result, they try to set women against each other. This is seen in the relationships between Shug and Annie Julie, between Sofia and Mary Agnes, and even between Shug and Celie.



Celie realizes that Albert is keeping Nettie's letters in a locked trunk where he stores his private items. Shug is able to sneak the key from Albert, and the two women open the trunk together. Inside they find some of Shug's underwear, nude photos, tobacco, and Nettie's letters, some of them opened. They steam open the envelopes in order to take all the letters out. They then replace the envelopes in the trunk so Albert will not realize the contents are missing. After Shug puts the letters in order, she and Celie sit in Shug's room and read them.


Celie realizes that Albert is hiding Nettie's letters in a locked trunk, which becomes a symbol of the knowledge that men attempt to hide from women. It is also symbolic of the fact that Celie has been locked out of Albert's life. Appropriately, it is Shug who steals the key to the trunk from Albert and opens it for Celie. Now Shug has opened the door of communication for Celie with herself and with her sister. It is also important to realize that reading, a skill taught to Celie by Nettie, now becomes the conduit for their re-connection with each other.



The first letter from Nettie explains what happened after Nettie left Celie behind at Albert's farm. Albert tried to rape Nettie, but she injured him enough to get away. He promised that he would never allow Celie to hear from her sister again as punishment for Nettie having hurt him. With no family other than Celie, Nettie followed her sister's advice and called upon the reverend. When the minister's door is opened to her, Nettie is surprised to see a little girl standing there with eyes and a face just like Celie's.


This is the second in a series of letters from Nettie that will act as a counter-narrative to Celie's story of suffering and injustice. Nettie's voice will reveal a powerful and positive experience as she comes to terms with being an African American. In this letter, she tells how it all begins. Following Celie's advice, Nettie has gone to the minister to seek help. The door is opened to her, and she discovers that Celie's daughter is living inside.

Nettie's letters will enlarge Celie's world. Never traveling outside of the provincial South, Celie will learn for the first time about a foreign place as her sister tells of her experiences in Africa.



In the next letter, Nettie tells Celie how much she misses her, thinking of her constantly. She explains that she is living with the minister and his family; the reverend's name is Samuel, his wife is Corrine, the little girl is Olivia, and the little boy is Adam. They treat her well and include her in many activities, mostly church related. Before she closes the letter, Nettie tells Celie how she thinks "about the time you laid yourself down for me."


In this chapter, a new set of characters is introduced. Nettie confirms that Celie's children, Olivia and Adam, are in the custody of the minister and his wife and are treated well. Celie is living with the four of them and is also treated well, even being included in the family activities. For Nettie, life begins to form a wholeness, for she is delighted to be in a position where she is not abused and where she can help to care for Celie's children. She knows that her positive position in life is due to Celie's sacrifices for her. Nettie is very appreciative and constantly thinks about her sister.

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