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

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This letter from Nettie to Celie is filled with happiness and wonder. She first tells Celie how big and gentle Samuel is and how lucky Corrine is to be his wife. Nettie then writes about her two-week voyage across the Atlantic in a large ship; she and the minister's family first went to England, before departing for Africa. During their stay in Great Britain, they visited missionary societies; Nettie also visited a museum that had many amazing artifacts from countries in Africa.

On the long journey to Africa, the ship stopped at several ports, including Senegal and Monrovia. Nettie thought about how Africans were sold into slavery and shipped to America from such ports. She wonders how most African-American people feel in relation to Africans, their ancestors.


In this letter, Nettie is exposed to new wonders. She travels across the Atlantic in a ship, arriving in London, England after a two-week voyage. It must have seemed like a miracle for this small-town Southern black woman from Georgia. When Nettie visits the British Museum in London, she is overwhelmed. Within its walls are treasures from cultures the British have either colonized, conquered, or helped to enslave for several hundred years. Nettie is amazed to find that many of the artifacts are from Africa. She also naively accepts the English people's assurance that the artifacts were taken from cultures now dead and gone; such an explanation is obviously an imperialist justification of their taking advantage of African cultures.

Walker seems to have chosen the idea of making Nettie a missionary as a plausible way to get her to Africa. Before her arrival there, she is totally naive about the role missionaries played in the colonization of Africa. During her stay and her interactions with Africans, she will come to realize the nature of European imperialism and the missionaries' role in it. In order to take over the land and control the people of Africa, European countries convinced themselves that they were actually conferring the gift of civilization and salvation, saving a whole continent of heathen peoples. After Nettie stays in Africa for awhile, her unthinking acceptance of the Judeo-Christian religion will change significantly. Her understanding of black slavery will also shift.

The main emphasis in this letter is Nettie's sense of security, happiness, and wonder. She praises the family for her opportunity to travel with them and says that Samuel is a big, but gentle, man. This is the first foreshadowing of Nettie's later attraction and marriage to Samuel.



This letter describes Nettie's emotions when she first sees Africa. She and her fellow travelers all kneel and pray to God, thanking Him for the opportunity to see the home of their ancestors. She then explains that their first stop in Africa is in Senegal, where the people are so "black" that they seem "blueblack." During their next stop in Monrovia, she notices many European people in the city. Corrine tells her that the Dutch own much of the land, which is organized into plantations; many of the people with darker skin do hard labor on the plantations. Also while in Monrovia, Nettie and her adopted family dine with the president and other officials, all dressed in silks and pearls. The president, a light colored African like his cabinet members, talks about the local people, whom he calls "natives." Nettie does not think it is a very positive picture.


Nettie is amazed when she spies Africa, the home of her ancestors. Like her fellow black travelers, she gives thanks to God for the opportunity. She is further amazed to find out that even in Africa, a color hierarchy reigns; lighter skinned Africans sit in power while their darker-skinned compatriots are described as "natives" and are made to work in the fields. "Native" has always been a term of denigration used by the colonizer to place the colonized in a position which is less than human. Nettie finds that colonialism results in a stratified society similar to the culture she has left in the South.



This is another letter to God from Celie. She explains to Him that it takes a long time to read just a few of Nettie's letters, for she and Shug are unfamiliar with many of the words that her sister writes. As they read, Celie finds herself crying, for she misses her sister and she is angry with Albert for having kept the letters from her. Celie and Shug are interrupted when Grady and Albert come home. They carefully put the letters aside.

Celie tells Shug she does not know how she will keep from killing Albert. Shug says she must remember that Nettie will be coming home and will want to see the gentle Celie she knows and loves. If Celie murders Albert, she may never see Nettie again. Celie agrees to hold her anger in, but she asks Shug to sleep with her that night. Shug arranges not to sleep with Albert in order to accommodate Celie.


Celie's long pent-up anger is now barely contained. The fact that Albert has kept Nettie's letters from her is almost more than she can tolerate. She tells Shug she does not know how she will keep from murdering Albert. Shug warns her of what the consequences would be, including never being able to see Nettie again.

This chapter presents a very different Celie than was seen at the beginning of the novel; she is no longer willing to be submissive and abused. However, she has not lost her intelligence and will keep her anger in check and not do anything rash. In reality, Celie gains power and authority through her anger. She has a new view of her relationship with her husband, and for the first time in the book, she calls Albert by his real name instead of Mr. __ .



That night Celie and Shug sleep together like sisters rather than lovers; they only hug to express their emotions. Celie is too angry to be sexually motivated. Shug tells her that lack of desire is a natural result of anger.

Shug suggests that they make Celie some pants. Celie thinks pants are only for men, and she says that Albert will never let her wear them. Shug points out that Celie does all the work around the place and should, therefore, wear pants while laboring in the field. They decide to get some army uniform material from Odessa's husband. Then they will sew every day while they read Nettie's letters.


Sewing, like quilting, is again pictured as an activity that unites women. Shug has wisely suggested that they sew Celie some pants. It will be a positive way to channel their anger and vindictiveness into a productive activity. The fact that Shug has suggested pants for Celie is very significant. Since Celie is already performing "man's work" by laboring in the fields, she should also wear man's clothing. At first Celie is unsure of the idea. She thinks that Albert will never permit her to dress in pants; then, however, she sees the logic of Shug's argument.

The wearing of pants has been a significant symbol in America. The term, "I wear the pants," was used by men to assert their dominance over family decisions and sexual matters. Since Celie is now making decisions about her life and sexual preference, it is doubly meaningful that she begins to literally wear some pants. Celie's break with the traditional feminine dress code is her symbolic throwing off of roles which no longer fit and which literally stifle her growth and development.

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