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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
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."
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.
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.
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.