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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The book begins with a threat: "You better not never tell nobody but God. It'd kill your mammy." The threat is not immediately explained.
In Celie's first letter to God, appearing in this first chapter, the reader learns that the main character is a fourteen-year-old girl. She explains to God how she has always been good and, therefore, does not understand why she is being sexually abused. Her mother has refused to engage in sexual activity after bearing another baby; as a result, Celie's father (Fonso) has begun to rape her habitually. When she cries, he chokes her and tells her to get used to it.
In addition to the cruel treatment she receives at the hands of her father, Celie is also expected to be the housekeeper, performing all the domestic chores. Celie relates that she feels sick when she does the cooking.
Chapter one shocks the reader with its graphic description of Celie's being raped by her father. Black and uneducated, she can only detail the abuse with words such as "titties" and "pussy;" although the words are crude, they are the only ones that Celie knows for her anatomy. Almost as disturbing as the description of the rape is Celie's inability to speak about it to her mother. In fact, Celie seems to be protecting her mother. As long as her father abuses her, Celie knows that her mother will be freed from her father's relentless brutality.
Celie is almost voiceless at this point in the novel. When she expresses herself through tears, she is told to be quiet. When she writes the letter to God, she expresses total hopelessness, feeling she has no power to change her situation. She asks God for a sign to let her know what is happening to her. Then she does not even sign her letter, indicating she does not see herself as a valuable human being. In fact, the reader does not know Celie's name until her sister addresses her in the eighth letter.
Little detail is really given about Celie in this first chapter. The reader is not told that she is Black, but her language makes it clear that she comes from an African American family. Neither is the reader told that Celie is pregnant, but the fact that she feels sick when she cooks indicates that she probably is.
In this second chapter, Celie writes her second letter to God. She begins by explaining that her mother has died and describing the days before her death. Celie was responsible for handling everyone and everything in the household; she had to care for the other children, her sick and dying mother, and her abusive father. Her mother was demanding, yelling and cursing at Celie while the idle Fonso sat beside her bed crying that he did not want to be left alone.
The reader discovers that months have passed since the first letter. In the meantime, Celie has given birth to a baby. When her mother asked whose child it was, Celie responded that it was God's child, for she did not know any other man besides her father, who had raped and impregnated her. One day the mother finally asked Celie what happened to the child; not fully knowing the answer herself, Celie tells her mother that God took the baby and killed it in the woods while she was sleeping. She then tells her mother that she is pregnant again and that God will probably take this second child and kill it as well.
The second letter reinforces the sense of Celie's own powerlessness, as well as her mother's powerlessness to help her. On her deathbed, Celie's mother makes a weak attempt to find out who is responsible for Celie's pregnancy. She probably suspects incest, but since she feels helpless to change the situation, she does not ask her daughter many questions. Celie refuses to tell her mother who fathered her child - out of fear of her father's revenge and wanting to spare her mother from the truth. Since Celie does not know any males she can blame for the pregnancy other than Fonso, she tells her mother that her child belonged to God.
The chapter also reveals that Celie has been robbed not only of her bodily integrity, but also of the child she bore. She does not know what has happened to her baby; she only knows that Fonso took it away. Suspecting that the infant is dead, she tells her mother that God took the baby away and killed it in the woods. Once again Celie is covering up the truth of her father's brutality.
It is obvious that Celie has changed since the first letter. She is no longer a girl; instead, she has been forced into premature adulthood, carrying and delivering her father's child at the age of fourteen. Now, at fifteen, she is pregnant again. It is no wonder that Celie has a sense of hopelessness, especially since she has no one to turn to except God. Obviously, she does have religious faith, but she even questions if God can help her out of her desperate situation.