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Free Study Guide-The Color Purple by Alice Walker-Free Online Book Notes
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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

The Color Purple is composed of a series of letters: in the first section, the letters are written by the protagonist, Celie, to God; the second section are letters from her sister, Nettie in Africa, and the third section is a correspondence between Celie and Nettie.

After Celie is raped by her stepfather, she begins writing to God because Fonso convinces her that telling her mother about what has happened would kill her. Fonso continues to abuse her from the time she is fourteen years old until she is twenty. She gets pregnant twice, and her father steals each of her children, who are named Olivia and Adam, and sells them to Samuel, the missionary minister. After the first child is stolen, Celie's mother dies, suspecting that the children were her husband's. When Celie realizes her father is becoming interested in her younger sister, Nettie, she tries to keep her father from committing incest against her.

Albert, a man from town usually known as Mr.___, is interested in getting married. Celie's father essentially sells her off to Albert, a cruel and vicious man. Nettie remains in school, trying to study to be a teacher. She also tries to teach Celie what she learns in school, but since Celie is distracted by work and abuse and she cannot learn easily. Married to Albert and living at his small farm, Celie is responsible for his four motherless children, who have been severely neglected. Celie's life is hard, and she is regularly beaten by her husband. One day in town, Celie sees her daughter, Olivia, with Corrine, the minister's wife.

Nettie runs away from home when her stepfather begins to threaten her with incest. She joins Celie at the farm, where Albert pursues her relentlessly. Finally after a confrontation with Celie's husband, Nettie is banished from the farm. Celie suggests that Nettie seek work from the minister's wife. The sisters sadly separate, with Nettie promising to often write Celie letters. Unfortunately, Albert silently vows that he will never let her letters through to Celie.


When Shug Avery, a blues singer, comes to town, Albert stops working and makes Celie and his son Harpo do all the farm chores. Harpo is not much of help, for he is interested in a girl from his church named Sofia Butler, who becomes pregnant. Harpo marries Sofia after the baby is born, and the three of them live on the farm. When Sofia begins to boss her husband, Albert tells Harpo that he must be the one in charge and advises his son to beat Sofia to make her obey him. When Harpo asks Celie's advice, she even agrees that he should beat Sofia. Celie feels that a beating may change Sofia's dominating nature. As it is, the two of them are always fighting, and Harpo always loses the war of words. When Sofia leaves Harpo, taking the children, Celie feels guilty about the advice she has given and apologizes to Sofia. She also confesses to Sofia that she does not feel anger when Albert abuses her. She remembers that the Bible says that wives must obey their husbands. Sofia and Celie become friends again and take up quilting together.

Shug Avery becomes very ill and Albert brings her home to care for her. Celie is very attracted to Shug Avery and nurtures her back to health. Avery's father, however, threatens to disown his son for having Shug Avery in his house. Celie and her husband are at least united in spirit against Old Mr.___. She even spits in the old man's drink in retaliation against his denigrating Shug.

Before long, Sofia comes back to Harpo. He begins to eat excessively in an attempt to get bigger than Sofia so he can dominate her. In spite of his efforts, when Harpo tries to beat Sofia, he continues to get beaten himself. Celie advises him to give up trying to dominate her. Sofia again tires of her married life and leaves Harpo to live with her sister. She claims that Harpo has been treating her as nothing but a sexual object

Shug continues to stay at the farm and sleep with Albert, which upsets Celie. When Harpo builds a juke joint, Shug sings there. One night she sings a song for Celie, which makes her feel close to Shug. Celie then tells the singer about how she is physically abused by Albert. Shug tells Celie she is still a virgin since she has never really experienced sexual pleasure. When Shug leaves the farm, Celie is sad.

Harpo finds a new girlfriend, Mary Agnes, whom he calls Squeak. Since Shug has left, Squeak sings at his juke joint. One night Sofia shows up at Harpo's. In a confrontation, she hits Harpo's new lover, Mary Agnes. Months later, Celie hears that Sofia is in jail for "sassing" the mayor's wife and hitting the mayor. Celie is also told that Sofia is severely beaten by the authorities. Celie goes to the jail and dresses her wounds. When life in jail becomes unbearable for Sofia, the family sends Squeak to speak to the warden, her white uncle. Squeak cleverly tells him that she hates Sofia and knows that a better punishment for her would be to have her work for the mayor's wife as a maid. Sofia is released and lives a hellish existence at Miz Millie's, taking care of her two children as well as cleaning house. One day, Miz Millie lets Sofia visit her children, but only for fifteen minutes, for she needs Sofia to drive her car.

Shug Avery marries a man named Grady. When she comes back for a visit, Shug tells Celie of her early love of Albert, who was unable to defy his father to be with her. Albert was pushed into marrying a woman named Annie Julia, even though he and Shug continued to have a love affair. To retaliate, Annie Julia took a lover, and he eventually killed her. Shug confesses her regret at treating Annie Julia so badly. She also confesses that there has never been anything but sex between Albert and her. Celie also tells of her past. She explains to Shug how she has survived her father's incestuous torments, her mother's distance from her and eventual death, her separation from Nettie, and her mistreatment by Albert. Shug tells Celie that she really remains a virgin, in spite of her marriage, since she has still never known true sexual pleasure. Shug then kisses Celie, and the two of them make love.

Celie is shocked when she finally receives a letter from Nettie from Africa. She realizes that Albert has been stealing the letters written by her sister and hiding them away from her. She is so angry at Albert that she has murderous thoughts about him. She determines, however, that she will manage to continue receiving Nettie's letters at any cost. In one letter, Nettie explains how she went to the minister's house to find work, just as Celie had suggested. During her first visit, she realized that the minister's adopted daughter, Olivia, looked just like Celie. Nettie wanted to be close to the child.

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