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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 72


Summary

Nettie writes about how she cannot get used to the heat, especially when she has cramps during her period. Unfortunately, she must go on as if nothing is ailing her, because the Olinkas believe that a menstruating woman should not be seen by others. Olivia has also begun her period, and Nettie does not know what to say to her. She does, however, forbid Olivia from participating in the Olinkas' ritual for entering womanhood, the mutilation of a woman's genitals.

Corrine is buried in the Olinkan tradition. Samuel and the children feel a great loss. Nettie is glad that she can again have her conversations with Samuel. He asks about Celie, and Nettie tries to tell him everything.

Two white men visit the village to survey the land. The Olinkas prepare food for them, but they eat as if they do not appreciate it. One of them has an interest in learning the Olinkan language before "it dies out."


Notes

This letter is full of change. Corrine has been buried, Olivia has entered womanhood, and non-missionary white men are visiting the village. Nettie, however, continues to be caught between two cultures, which constantly clash. She is forbidden by Olinkan tradition to discuss female matters and fails to talk to Olivia about her changing body. She does, however, warn her about the disturbing Olinkan practice of female genital mutilation, where the clitoris is removed and the vagina is sewed shut. On the woman's wedding night, her husband cuts open the vagina in order to have sex with her. If an Olinkan girl refuses to participate in the practice, she is considered unsuitable for marriage; therefore, Tashi will face this terrible tradition when she reaches womanhood in the near future.

Walker does not make it clear who the white men are, but since one of them wants to learn the Olinkan language, it suggests that they are anthropologists. They are significant, but they are proof that the Olinkas are now vulnerable to the outside world because of the road that runs through their village.


CHAPTER 73


Summary

Celie, still angry with God, no longer writes letters to Him. She tells Shug, "The God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all the other mens I know. Trifling, forgitful and lowdown." Celie admits that her image of God is an old white man; Shug tells her it is because white people wrote the Bible and drew the "white" pictures in it. Shug further says that God is not a she or a he, but an it. She also tells Celie that she does not have to go to church to please God; God just wants people to enjoy life and the world He has provided. Shug concludes that "it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it." After her discussion with Shug about God, Celie writes to Nettie that she is trying to chase the old white man out of her head.



Notes

In this chapter, Celie, for the first time in the novel, shows true resentment and bitterness at the way she has been treated by men. She even feels betrayed by God, who seems to her to have condoned much of the strife in her life. She admits that she sees God as a white male and judges him to be trifling and lowdown, just like all the other men she knows. Shug cautions her about being blasphemous and suggests that God is neither male nor female, but genderless and raceless. Shug also suggests that God is a deity who is within a person rather than exterior to the person and whose ultimate goal for people is life-giving rather than life-denying. In this vision, worship is not sitting respectably in church, but relishing the beauty of creation, like the color purple. It is ironic that the meek, gentle Celie is criticizing God while the wild Shug defends Him.

It is important to notice the reference to the title of the book in the chapter. Shug says that she believes that it angers God if a person walks by the color of purple in a field without stopping to notice and admire it. In this statement, Shug summarizes her religious philosophy; to her, God is not some distant deity living on high, but a genderless, raceless being that wants people to appreciate and enjoy life. It is also significant that she chose the color of purple, for it is the color of royalty; and yet a really deep purple seems almost to be black.


CHAPTER 74


Summary

Celie writes back to Nettie and tells her that the maid she saw with the mayor's wife many years before was her friend, Sofia. Now Sofia has been away from home for more than eleven years, and her children no longer know her. They refer to Odessa and Squeak as "mama" in front of Sofia and call her "miss."

Since Sofia is out on parole, everyone comes over to have dinner with her. During dinner, Shug announces that she and Grady are leaving for Memphis, and Celie is going with them. Albert looks at Celie and asks her why, for he honestly thought she was finally happy. Every one is shocked when Celie tells him, "You a lowdown dog is what's wrong, I say. It's time to leave you and enter into the Creation. And your dead body just the welcome mat I need." Albert is too shocked to speak; but everyone else begins to argue about the sexes. Celie continues by stating it has been very hard to raise Albert's unappreciative children; she then adds that their father "ain't dead horse's shit." Albert tries to slap her, but she stabs his hand with a knife.

All the men band together, each offering what the consequences will be if Celie leaves Albert. Shug and Celie look at each other and giggle, then laugh outright; Mary Agnes and Sofia laugh too. Harpo says that it is bad luck for a woman to laugh at a man, but Sofia looks him in the face and tells him she has already had her bad luck. Albert then tells Celie that she will not get any of his money; Celie responds she does not want anything from him. Next Shug announces that Mary Agnes is going north with them to sing. Harpo protests, but it is futile. He calls her Squeak, but she tells him that her name is Mary Agnes.

The dinner party is interrupted by Miss Eleanor Jane, the mayor's daughter; she asks Sofia to return to the mayor's house for a little while. As she leaves with Eleanor Jane, Sofia promises to be back soon.


Notes

This letter contains the climax of the novel, with Celie finally telling Albert how she feels about him and announcing that she is leaving with Shug and Grady to go north. Everyone is amazed at the depth of her resentment. Her vocalization of her anger causes a battle of the sexes amongst the dinner guests. The women complain of how they have been abused, and the men blindly deny the charges. Ironically, the women seem to wield more power than the abusive husbands who have tried to keep their wives in place.

Since the climax comes in a letter written to Nettie, the reader is somewhat surprised to see the determination of Celie. There has been no indication that she has even thought about leaving Albert nor has been making travel preparations. The reader, however, is pleased to learn that Celie has finally stood up for herself with dramatic dignity and that Mary Agnes also insists on finding her voice, both literally as a singer and figuratively

Back at home on parole, Sofia quickly regains a sense of her old self and shows her independence, demanding her rightful place. When Eleanor Jane interrupts and asks Sofia to come to the mayor's house, she obliges, for she has emotional ties to this young woman whom she has raised.

In the developing relationships between Shug and Celie and Mary Agnes, Walker appears to be making a parallel between these Southern women and the African women who also bond together with solidarity.


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