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

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Celie begins to "strut a little" now that she knows Nettie is alive. She dreams about her sister coming home and bringing Olivia and Adam. She worries about the children being conceived from incest, but she loves them anyway.

The next letter from Nettie describes her arriving at the African village where she will live. The village is in the middle of the jungle and isolated from other villages. The only contact with the outside world will be from white missionaries. Nettie also describes the people of the village. One significant physical attribute she notices is the difference between the teeth of the English, which were decayed and crooked, and those of the villagers, which are healthy and strong "like horses." Also the skin color of people of the village is brown, rather than black.

When Nettie and the missionaries arrived, the villagers crowded around them in curiosity. It was obvious they were awed to see missionaries who were not of European descent. They held a welcoming ceremony for them, singing songs and dancing. It centered around the roofleaf, a deity which the Olinka worship, and told the legend about the origin of their village. At the end of the ceremony, the missionaries were given a roofleaf to use as the roof of their dwelling place.


The form of the novel shifts again; now Celie's letters to God are intertwined with Nettie's letters from Africa. The two letters, which form each chapter, are in concert with each other. Before she reads Nettie's next letter, Celie tells God that she is worried about her children being products of incest; but she dreams of the day that Nettie will bring them home to her. It never crosses her mind to wonder how she will be able to take Olivia and Adam away from their adoptive parents, Samuel and Corrine.

Nettie's letter is filled with information about Africa. The village where she lives is patriarchal. The women are used for labor, yet they are later referred to as being lazy. During the welcoming ceremony that she describes, Nettie notes that the men sit in the front, while the women and children sit in the back. It is clear that Walker is drawing parallels between African customs and African-American customs.

Nettie also writes about the Olinka religion. They honor the roofleaf as the symbol of an omnipresent deity; they believe the leaf protects the Olinka people from terrible weather that often ravages their village. They are not, however, primitive people and have been exposed to Christian teachings. They declare that "we know a roofleaf is not Jesus Christ, but in its own humble way, is it not God?"



Nettie writes to Celie describing her daily routine, saying how she likes to imagine Celie reading her letters. She explains that she spends much of her time teaching at the children's school, where Olivia is the only female student; Olinkas do not believe girls should receive an education, for a daughter's only value is what she will be able to do for her husband. Olivia, who recognizes the African discrimination against females, astutely compares it to the white discrimination against black people in America. Olivia secretly shares her lessons from school with her friend, a village girl named Tashi.

Nettie explains that Corrine is bothered that the villagers regard her as Samuel's second wife. She asks Nettie to refer to Samuel as "brother" and insists that the children stop calling her "Mama Nettie." Nettie then describes her small hut, which is round rather than square. She has hung up native fabrics and village items, rather than photos of Jesus or other "white" men's pictures. She wishes she had a photo of Celie to put in the hut.


Through Nettie, Celie is now experiencing vicariously the lives of her children and her sister's activities in Africa. She is also learning about the African patriarchal culture, which she compares to the oppression she has felt in America. This knowledge raises Celie's consciousness about her own position, a necessary step in her liberation. Ironically, her daughter Olivia is also learning about gender discrimination, something she has never really felt before. As the only girl in the Olinka school, she is ostracized by the boys.

Nettie reveals to her sister that Corrine now feels uncomfortable with Nettie's role in the family. Up until they arrived in Africa, the family situation has been idyllic for Nettie; she had been accepted as a family member and an equal. Now, in reaction to the villagers' misperceptions about Nettie being Samuel's second wife, Corrine begins to exclude her from family activities and asks that she refer to Samuel only as "brother."

It is obvious that Nettie is maturing through her African experience. Although she does not agree with Olinka ways, she does not judge them or impose her own views. Instead, she respects their feelings and only decorates her hut with African fabrics and images. She does not even hang a picture of Jesus, for it would picture him as white.



Tashi's mother and father come to speak with Nettie about Olivia's influence on their daughter. They think that under Olivia's guidance, Tashi is changing; she seems unconcerned about becoming a traditional Olinkan woman. Nettie tries to tell them that Tashi can be a teacher or a nurse for the village, but her father says that they have no need for women like that. He further explains that Olinkan men take care of their wives and do not allow them to do as they please. The conversation ends by his declaring that Tashi cannot come over to visit Olivia anymore; Olivia, however, will be allowed to come to their hut "to learn what women are for." Nettie tells Celie how similar the Olinkan men are to their Pa. They never pay attention to what women have to say; they only "listen long enough to issue instructions."


This chapter explores the rigid gender roles prescribed in Olinkan culture, comparing it to the patriarchy found in the Southern United States. Tashi's parents are upset that their daughter is being modernized under Olivia's influence. When Nettie explains that Tashi could be educated to become a teacher or a nurse for the village, her father will not even think of such a thing. He says that Tashi is not free to do what she wants; she must be directed and cared for by her future husband. To Nettie, the family structure sounds just like what she has experienced in the South. She understands that what the Olinkas consider protection of their women is actually control.

Nettie also finds that she is pitied in the Olinkan culture, for she has no husband; therefore, she has no value. This thought is similar to Fonso's earlier statement about Ms. Beasley, the teacher who had no value to him since she could not find a husband. Nettie does not feel threatened by this evaluation of her, but it does make her feel isolated and lonely.

It is important to notice that the younger generation, represented by Olivia (American) and Tashi (African), does not easily accept traditions that violate their sense of self; they will never be as submissive as their parents. Olivia refuses to accept that Tashi should not be educated; therefore, she teaches her all the lessons that she learns at school, much like Nettie used to teach Celie. Additionally, Tashi rejects the traditional role of Olinkan women and seeks to modernize her life and beliefs.

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