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

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Nettie has been in Africa for five years, becoming part of the fabric of the Olinkan society. This letter gives an update of the activities of herself and the children. Adam and Olivia have grown; both of them are almost as tall as Nettie. Adam has done well in his studies, learning everything the local school can teach him; he now needs to go somewhere else for his education. Corrine continues to be suspicious of Nettie and has requested that she never be alone in the hut with Samuel. Nettie misses his company and their discussions. She continues to feel isolated from the villagers, who do not acknowledge her as an entity since she is an unmarried female. Nettie writes that she always looks forward to visits from Olivia and Adam, who eagerly tell her stories.

Nettie also gives information about the village. The big news is that a road is encroaching upon them. It will bring changes to the people from the outside world; unfortunately, the villagers do not want to learn new things or change. They refuse to listen to Nettie's explanations about American slavery and the Africans' role in it. Tashi, however, is now allowed more freedom. Her father did not survive the rainy season, which is ironic since he predicted the missionaries would not survive. After his funeral, Tashi's mother insisted that Tashi continue her education.

Nettie describes how an Olinkan man may have many wives, with life and death power over them all; "if he accuses one of his wives of witchcraft or infidelity, she can be killed." Amazingly, the wives of a common husband do not seem to be jealous of each other; instead they work together and become good friends. They also indulge the husband, treating him like an overgrown child. Samuel is very distressed by the practice of polygamy in the village since it is his job to teach the Christian ethic of monogamy.


Celie's letter indicates that there are signs of future change in the air for the Olinkan village. Since a road is being built close by, the villagers will soon receive many outside influences. Even though they resist change, it will surely come. The change has already started with Tashi, who has no desire to be a traditional Olinkan woman, subjugated to the patriarchal family system. When her father dies, Tashi is encouraged by her mother to continue her education, in direct conflict to Olinkan belief. As for Celie's children, they have done well and grown tall. Adams has learned everything the village school can teach him and need to go elsewhere for his education.

Some things in the village do not change. Polygamy is still practiced, and Nettie is still ignored because she is an unmarried female. Corrine still continues to be suspicious of her and has asked that she never be alone with Samuel. In Olinkan society, men are never friends with women, who are still relegated to doing all the labor. Even though they do not do the work, the men wield all the power, including the right to have a wife put to death; as a result, husbands are indulged by their many wives and never reach an adult level of maturity.



Nettie's letter explains how the Olinkas threw a huge feast when the road finally arrives at their village. They naively think that the road has been built exclusively for them and will not go out of the village. They raise an uproar when they discover that the road will continue past them. The chief of the Olinkan tribe even goes to the city to seek reparations and explanations. He finds out that a rubber company in England really owns their land, and if they want to stay in the village, they will have to pay rent. When the chief returns to the village, he finds the Olinkas assisting the road builders in planting rubber trees.

Nettie explains that the boys in the school are beginning to accept Olivia and Tashi's presence amongst them. Mothers, other than Tashi's, are also thinking of sending their daughters to school. The men still oppose female education and ask, "Who wants a wife who knows everything her husband knows?" Nettie also tells Celie that Corrine is very sick with African fever.


With imperialism comes the destruction of the tribe's traditional ways of life and ability for self-determination. After the road is first complete, the Olinka people celebrate and welcome the road builders, providing them with food and drink. It is obvious that they do not understand anything about imperialistic ways. The villagers soon learn, however, that they no longer own their land, but must pay rent to the rubber company who does own it. They are also expected to work for the rubber company, and will certainly be paid low wages. They suddenly feel betrayed by their own 'brothers,' recalling how previous Africans must have felt when they were sold into slavery.

Now that their way of life is changing in the village, the power structure also begins to shift. Although the influence of the West brings environmental destruction and destroys the village's structure, it also brings hope for women. Olinkan men no longer maintain omnipotent control; as a result, the women begin to assert their ideas, even letting their daughters be educated for the first time.



Since Corrine is very sick, she must allow Nettie to care for her, but she is still full of distrust. One day she calls Nettie over and asks her to swear on a Bible that she did not know Samuel before she showed up at their house. She also asks Samuel to swear the same thing on the Bible. Samuel is embarrassed by his wife's insinuations and apologizes to Nettie. Later, Corrine tells Nettie to lift her dress so that she might examine Nettie's stomach for signs of childbirth; not surprisingly, Nettie is totally humiliated. Nettie also feels terrible for Olivia and Adam, for Corrine now ignores them, and they have no idea that she is their adoptive mother, rather than their birth mother.


The suspicions that have been knawing at Corrine for years now surface while she is sick and dying. She recognizes the similar features between her adopted children and Nettie and becomes convinced that Nettie is the birthmother and Samuel is the father of Olivia and Adam. She makes both Nettie and Samuel swear on the Bible that they had not known one another prior to Nettie's arrival at their home. Still not convinced, she makes Nettie show her stomach so that Corrine can check it for signs of childbirth. The tension between Corrine and Nettie is in sharp contrast to the Olinka wives who share a husband; unlike Corrine, they are not suspicious, jealous, or possessive.



Samuel has also believed that Nettie is the birthmother of Olivia and Adam. He thought she had followed her children to his home, which is why he took pity on her and hired her. He also asked her to come along to Africa because he could not bear to take her children from her. Samuel finally asks Nettie who the birthmother is; she responds by asking where he got the children.

The minister tells his story, which is a mixture of the truth and of lies told by Fonso. According to Samuel, there was a woman with two children whose husband died at the hands of white townspeople. Though she was mentally unstable, she later met a man (Fonso) who took care of her and the children. They had more children; then two years before the woman died, she had two last children, Olivia and Adam. The husband felt he was unable to care for the little ones and brought them to Samuel, who took both the young girl and boy into his home. He felt that the two children were an answer to his prayers, for he and his wife had never had children of their own.

Nettie could not tell Samuel the truth about the children belonging to her sister Celie; but she can tell Celie the truth about Fonso. She writes that "Pa is not our Pa." Samuel's story has clearly indicated that Fonso was the stepfather of Celie and Nettie, not the birthfather. Although the news does not take away the shame of Fonso raping Celie, it does, at least, mean that Fonso is not really both the father and the grandfather of Olivia and Adam; they are not the products of true incest, a fact that must be a relief to Celie.


A new side of Samuel is seen in this letter. For years, he has believed that Nettie is the mother of Olivia and Adam, for he sees how much they look like her. He is certain that Nettie has come to his house looking for work in order to be near her children. Samuel pities her plight and takes her in to help raise the children. He also takes Nettie to Africa, for he cannot bear the thought of separating her from Olivia and Adam. He is obviously a deeply kind and generous man.

From Samuel's story about Fonso and the children, Nettie deduces what is fact and what is fiction. Obviously, it is a lie that Olivia and Adam are children of his first wife. It does seem factual, however, that Fonso is really a stepfather to her and Celie; knowing it will be a relief to her sister, Nettie writes Celie this letter. Now Celie no longer has to live with the horror that her children were offspring of her own father. Also, knowing that Fonso, who has abused and denigrated women his whole life, is not directly related to either of them frees both sisters from at least the biological tyranny of patriarchy. The demise of their real father, however, is another indication of how the white power structure destroys blacks through racism.

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