Celie is 14 years old. Her father, Alphonso, raped her and told her,
\"You better not never tell nobody but God. It\'d kill your mammy.\" Celie
begins keeping a journal of letters to God. She asks God to give her guidance
because she does not understand what has happened to her. Her mother
recently gave birth to a boy, but Alphonso began pestering her for sex. She
refused because it was too soon, and she is worn out from having so many
When Celie\'s mother dies, Celie is well advanced into her second
pregnancy. She curses Celie with her dying breath. Celie is not angry with
her mother. She pities her because she was sick, tired, and worn out from
trying to believe Alphonso\'s lies. Alphonso took her children away from her,
and she does not know where they are. He constantly tells Celie that she is
\"evil an always up to no good.\" Celie notices that he has taken an interest in
her younger sister, Nettie. She vows to protect Nettie.
Alphonso marries a new wife, Mary Ellen, who is the same age as
Celie. A man to whom Celie refers only as Mr. _____ shows interest in
Nettie. His wife, Annie Julia, was murdered by her lover, and he wants a
mother for his children. Alphonso beats Celie for \"winking\" at a boy in
church, but Celie is innocent. She only looks at women because they do not
scare her. His interest in Nettie begins to worry her more, so she urges
Nettie to marry Mr. _____, but she does not say why. Celie stops
Mr. _____ asks Alphonso if he can marry Nettie. Alphonso refuses,
stating that she is too young and inexperienced to marry a man with children
already. He states that he also wants her to continue her schooling. Alphonso
mentions the scandal of his wife\'s death and asks about Shug Avery. Mary
Ellen snatches a photo of Shug that falls out of Mr. _____\'s wallet. The
photo captivates Celie. She thinks Shug is the most beautiful, classy woman
she has ever seen. She takes the picture and stares at it all night. Alphonso
offers Celie to Mr. _____. He tells Mr. _____ that she is ugly, and she is
not a virgin because she had two children. However, she works hard and she
has a cow she raised herself.
Alphonso made Celie quit school when she was pregnant with her
first child, so Nettie shares her schooling with Celie. Mr. _____ decides to
take Celie. His oldest boy, Harpo, hits her in the head with a rock on her
wedding day. His mother died in his arms, and he is not happy to have a new
one. Mr. _____\'s two girls have not brushed their hair since their mother
died. Celie untangles the knots while they scream and cry.
Celie sees her daughter in town with a well-dressed woman. The little
girl is six, and she looks like Celie and Alphonso. Celie follows them into a
store and starts a conversation. The woman is there to buy cloth to make
new dresses. Celie asks who the girl\'s father is, and the woman replies, \"The
Reverend Mr. _____.\" The white store clerk treats her rudely. Celie offers
to let the woman and her child sit in Mr. _____\'s wagon while she waits for
her husband to come for them. They talk about Celie\'s husband. The woman
says that Mr. _____ is one of the best looking men in the area. Celie thinks
most men look the same. Celie learns that the little girl\'s name is Olivia, the
name she gave her daughter and embroidered on her diapers before she was
We learn quickly that Celie is a poor, Southern black girl. Celie is one
of the most oppressed, silenced members of society. Her stepfather\'s
statement, \"You better not never tell nobody but God. It\'d kill your mammy,\"
therefore, takes on a new significance. He abuses Celie and demands her
silence. However, Celie\'s narrative is a testimony to the struggles of black
women, a disadvantaged segment of a disadvantaged race. She is too afraid
to share her story with other people, but her need to share her experiences is
evident. She does not keep a diary addressed implicitly to some anonymous,
non-existent reader. She explicitly addresses God, not \"Dear diary.\"
Celie\'s letters to God are eerily reminiscent of the slave narratives
collected in the late 1930s. Many of the slave narratives were far from direct
in their meaning and intent. The questions the journalists asked ex-slaves
touched on sensitive issues, especially the slave\'s relationship to the master.
The ideology of white supremacy was institutionalized in the Jim Crow south.
Slaves often learned to disguise their reactions and their feelings in their
speech and their stories. The slave narratives often reflect these measures of
self-defense. Although the slave narratives represented the opportunity for an
oppressed class of people to speak where they had otherwise been silenced,
they also reflect the fact that many American blacks did not have an
opportunity to speak openly.
Celie\'s letters reflect the same kind of reticence. She reports her
experiences, but she does not directly express judgment through rage, anger,
or criticism. She does not interpret her life. Her letters reflect that she has
not yet found her voice. Her sense of self is so beaten and battered that she
cannot take a position of the judge of those who abuse her. Instead, she
describes her experiences in letters to God, the ultimate judge of all moral
Alphonso takes control of both judgment and interpretation of Celie\'s
experiences. He takes her children and gives them away, and he takes her
out of school when her first pregnancy begins to show. He abuses her,
silences her, and then removes the evidence of their secret relationship by
getting rid of the children who may come to resemble him too much. By
cutting off Celie\'s access to education, he silences her all the more
effectively. Moreover, he displaces his own guilt onto Celie. He beats her for
\"winking\" at a boy in church. When she dresses up for him to keep him from
going after Nettie, he beats her and calls her a tramp before having sex with
her again. He interprets Celie as the lascivious temptress, so that the guilt for
their sexual relationship lies with her and not him. Moreover, because Celie
tells no one who the father of her children is, she bears public judgment for
her pregnancies alone.
Considering Alphonso\'s treatment of Celie, we can then distrust his
explanation to Mr. _____ for his refusal to allow him to marry Nettie. He
states that he wants her continue with her education. However, he really only
wants to get rid of Celie so he can sexually abuse her younger sister without
interference. Celie may remain silent about what he has done to her, but he
cannot be sure of her silence if she sees him do the same to Nettie.
Mr. _____ and Alphonso discuss the marriage prospects of Nettie
and Celie, but the girls themselves are silent on the matter of a major life
decision. Alphonso bargains with his stepdaughters as though they were
common livestock. He even hands Celie over with a cow as though he was
sealing a business deal. Mr. _____\'s only interest in Celie is having a woman
to clean his house and care for his children. It seems that he wanted Nettie,
but he marries Celie because his mother refuses to help with his children and
his hired maid quit. Mr. _____ treats her much the same as Alphonso. He
has sex with her as though she were an object, not a person. Therefore, it is
not insignificant that Celie never refers to him by his first name. To her, her
husband is an authority figure to obey and nothing else.
Celie\'s self-knowledge is limited. At this point, she has little sense of
herself other than her position as a degraded, beaten woman who is treated
like a thing rather than a person. She does not understand her fascination
with Shug\'s photograph as an inkling of her lesbian sexuality. However, her
reaction to the photo is very much like a crush. However, Celie\'s only
experiences with sexuality have been brutal rapes or indifferent encounters
with her husband. She stops menstruating, and it is implied that she is sterile,
although no explanation is given. However, her physical sterility symbolizes
the sterility of her emotional life with men.
Nettie runs away from home. She stays with Celie and Mr. _____.
She continues to help Celie with her reading and writing and urges her to
fight back against Mr. _____\'s children. Mr. _____ constantly compliments
Nettie on her appearance. She feels uneasy, so she ignores him. Mr. _____
tells Celie that Nettie has to leave. Nettie is glad to escape Mr. ____\'s
attentions, but she hates leaving Celie with him and his \"rotten children.\" Celie
suggests that she go to Reverend Mr. _____ and his wife for help. Nettie
promises to write Celie, but Celie never receives any letters. She thinks
Nettie must be dead.
Mr. _____\'s two sisters, Kate and Carrie, visit. Carrie admires
Celie\'s housekeeping. She considers her a distinct improvement over Annie
Julia. Kate and Carrie disapprove of Mr. _____\'s decision to continue his
affair with Shug after he married Annie Julia. They wonder why Shug
attracts him because she is so dark. Celie eagerly listens to them talk about
Shug. Kate and Mr. _____ argue about the way he and his children treat
Celie. He orders her to leave. Fighting back tears, Kate urges Celie to fight
for herself. Celie thinks it is best to just concentrate on survival.
When Mr. _____ beats Celie, she concentrates on \"making herself
wood\" to combat the humiliation. Harpo falls in love at the age of 17 with
Sofia Butler. Celie learns that Shug Avery is coming to perform in a local
jukejoint. Mr. _____ fusses endlessly over his appearance. Celie simply
wishes she could see Shug in person. Mr. _____ does not come home for
the entire weekend. He returns home in a state of depression. Celie is eager
to ask him all about Shug, but she remains quiet. Mr. _____ ceases to work
in the fields, leaving the burden of labor to Celie and Harpo. Harpo
complains, but he does not fight back even though he is as big as Mr. _____.
Sofia\'s father refuses to allow Harpo to marry her because of Annie
Julia\'s scandalous death. Harpo suffers nightmares about his mother\'s death.
Celie comforts him although she has no feeling for Mr. _____ and his
children. Bub drinks excessively with older boys. The girls seem eager to
leave. Harpo continues to see Sofia, and she soon becomes pregnant. Harpo
hopes that the pregnancy will solidify their right to marry.
Sofia comes to meet Mr. _____. Celie is astonished at how strong
and robust she is. Mr. _____ implies that Harpo is not the father of her child.
He states that he will not let Harpo marry her. Harpo is embarrassed, but he
says nothing. Sofia laughs at Mr. _____\'s comments. She also plans to live
with her sister and brother-in-law. She tells Harpo that she and the baby will
wait for him to settle his affairs.
Harpo marries Sofia after the baby is born. They live in a small house
on Mr. _____\'s land. Mr. _____ pays Harpo a wage, and Harpo seems
happy for a while. Later, he wants Sofia to obey him like Celie obeys Mr.
_____. Sofia\'s strength and confidence astound Celie. Sofia obeys no one
but herself. Harpo asks Celie\'s advice, and Celie tells him to beat her. When
she sees Harpo next, he is covered with bruises. Sofia and Harpo begin to
fight regularly, and Celie feels guilty.
Sofia discovers that Celie told Harpo to beat her. She confronts Celie
and asks why. Celie replies that she was jealous because she cannot fight
like Sofia. Sofia has always had to fight because her family is full of men.
She loves Harpo, but she will defend herself even if it means killing him.
Celie is ashamed to realize that Sofia pities her. Sofia\'s mother is like Celie.
However, Sofia and her five sisters are all strong, independent women. Two
of their six brothers stand up for them, too. Celie never feels anger anymore.
After Alphonso raped her, she just felt sick instead of mad. Now, she feels
nothing at all.
When Kate takes her to buy cloth to have a dress made, Celie tries to
explain her reaction, but she is utterly speechless. She cannot even express
her own emotions to a sympathetic ear. Not only having a new dress but also
having one made specifically for her is a symbolic acknowledgment of her
unique individuality. Such recognition is alien to Celie\'s present situation.
Through Kate\'s recognition of her as someone who \"deserves more,\"
Celie begins to actively interpret her situation and offers nascent critical
judgment of Mr. _____\'s attitude toward her. He asks Kate, \"She need
clothes?\" Celie reads the underlying implication in his words, \"It need
somethin?\" She captures the essence of his attitude toward her: \"You are less
than a person.\" When Kate says that she deserves more, Celie writes,
\"Maybe so. I think.\" This is her first hesitant recognition of her right to
respect. It is a distinct change from her first letter to God. She started to
write, \"I am a good girl.\" However, she crossed out the phrase \"I am\" and
substituted \"I have always been\" in its place. Her letters began as a testimony
to Celie\'s loss of her self worth, but they are now beginning to function as a
way to regain it.
Carrie praises Celie for her good housekeeping. She states that Mr.
_____\'s abuse and neglect of Annie Julia were no excuse for neglecting the
children and the house- keeping. Her views of a woman\'s worth are
extremely conventional, and she tacitly condones Mr. _____\'s ill treatment of
his first wife. She is also critical of Shug Avery\'s lifestyle. Shug\'s clothing is
too revealing, and her attempts to start a singing career make her \"sick.\" In
other words, Shug is not a \"nice\" woman. Moreover, Carrie states that Annie
Julia was too \"black\" to be pretty. Her remarks reveal the cultural standards
of beauty in a society in which whites have most of the power. Dark skin is
ugly whereas light skin is attractive in Carrie\'s opinion.
Celie\'s one close, loving relationship is with Nettie. We have seen
numerous clues to Celie\'s low self-worth. She has internalized the idea that
she is ugly, stupid, and worthless. Nettie tells her that she is intelligent and
that she can and should try to improve her education. Nettie offers a
valorizing statement about Celie\'s worth that opposes Carrie\'s statement.
Carrie offers Celie validation through her submission to conventional feminine
duties. To her, Celie\'s worth derives from her ability to keep a clean house,
not from her intelligence. Mr. _____ throws Nettie out of his house just as
he threw Kate out. Celie\'s world becomes one of isolation after he separates
her from the two women who offered Celie validation of her self-worth.
Celie copes with his continual abuse by making herself \"wood.\" In order to
survive, she comes to think of herself as a silent object. Her world becomes
one of emotional deadness again. She feels nothing for Mr. _____ or for his
Sofia offers a distinct contrast to Celie. Unlike Celie, Sofia denies Mr.
_____\'s attempts to gain interpretive control over her situation. He states
that she got herself in trouble and that she will be living on the streets. He
says he will not let Harpo marry her. Sofia denies that she\'s in trouble, but
she affirms that she is indeed pregnant. She also states that she will stay with
her sister and her brother-in-law, rather than wandering the streets.
Moreover, she laughs at Mr. _____\'s implication that he has a say in
whether she marries Harpo or not. Sofia tells Harpo in so many words that
she wants to marry him, but he will have to learn to assert his right to make
his own decisions.
For the first part of their marriage, Harpo is almost proud of Sofia\'s
independent spirit. However, his father implies that he is not man enough to
control his wife. Harpo feels that his masculinity is threatened. Celie is
amazed at Sofia\'s defiance of masculine control. She does not stop talking
when Harpo and Mr. ____ enter the room because she does not construct
her identity as a woman in terms of subservience to men. Celie has
submerged her individuality so deeply that she does not even understand her
motivations for telling Harpo to beat Sofia until Sofia confronts her. Only then
does she know that she was jealous of Sofia\'s strength and fighting spirit.
Moreover, Celie\'s sense of self is so restricted that she does not feel that she
deserves the right to emotions of anger and outrage like Sofia. She has not
felt angry in a long time.
With the support of her five sisters, Sofia grew up with a healthy
sense of her rights. Strong ties between women as a means to fight sexism
and male violence is an important theme in the The Color Purple. Sofia\'s
strong family ties contrast with Celie\'s isolation. Celie\'s children and sisters
are gone, and her mother is dead.
Shug Avery is very sick, but not even her parents will take care of
her. Celie overhears some women in her church say that she might have
tuberculosis or \"some nasty woman disease.\" The preacher delivers a sermon
about wild, sinful women, and it is obvious that he is talking about Shug. After
church, Mr. _____ drives away in the wagon without telling anyone where
he is going. Five days later, he returns with Shug Avery. Overjoyed to have
Shug Avery in her house, Celie is frozen where she stands. Shug, very sick
and in a bad mood, tells Celie, \"You sure is ugly.\"
Mr. _____ sits with Shug night and day despite her terrible mood.
She calls him weak because he would not stand up to his father. She calls
him by his name Albert, unlike Celie, and they have three children together.
When Celie helps Shug bathe, she thinks she \"turned into a man.\" Shug learns
that Celie has two kids, but she does not know where they are. Shug\'s
children are with her mother. Over time, Shug loses her mean edge around
Celie and composes a new song while Celie washes and combs her matted,
Mr. _____\'s father, a small, shrunken man, visits to berate Mr.
_____ for taking Shug into his house. When he says that Shug is ugly, Celie
spits in the glass of water she gives him to drink. Mr. _____ loved Shug, but
his father opposed their marriage plans. His father thinks she is from a bad
family because there are some doubts about the identity of Shug\'s father, and
there are rumors that Shug\'s children have different fathers. Mr. _____
insists that all Shug\'s children are his. His father reminds him that he still
owns the land and the house.
Sofia mentions to Celie that Harpo has begun eating far more than
usual. Sofia does not think he has a tapeworm. Celie also notices Harpo\'s
new appetite when he visits. Celie asks a few questions, but he says nothing
and continues eating. His belly grows bigger, but the rest of him stays the
same. He spends a weekend in Mr. _____\'s house and wakes Celie by
crying. He is still upset that he cannot make Sofia obey him like Celie obeys
Mr. _____. He tried again, and Sofia blacked both his eyes. Celie tells him to
be happy that he has a good, capable wife who loves him.
Celie visits Sofia and finds her fixing a leak in her house. Sofia only
has a bruise on her wrist. Harpo stops eating so much. Sofia and Celie realize
that he wanted to become as large and robust as Sofia. Sofia is tiring of
Harpo\'s behavior. She no longer takes pleasure in sex with him. Celie does
not mention that she only feels a stirring of pleasure if she thinks about Shug
Sofia decides to leave Harpo and move in with her sister, Odessa, and
her brother-in-law. Harpo tries to pretend he does not care, but tears come to
his eyes when his children say good-bye. Six months after Sofia leaves,
Harpo builds a jukejoint on his land with the help of his friend, Swain. Three
weeks after he opens, Harpo realizes that Swain\'s music is not enough of an
attraction to draw customers. Harpo asks Shug to sing, and she agrees.
Harpo and Swain distribute flyers, and the customers pack the house. Mr.
_____ does not want Celie to go, but Shug\'s acerbic tongue keeps in him
check. When Celie sees the looks that pass between Shug and Mr. _____,
she begins to cry with a hurt she does not understand. When Shug sings a
song she composed and named for Celie, she begins to feel happy again.
Mr. _____\'s father forbade his marriage to Shug. Mr. _____
forbade Harpo to marry Sofia. The relationship between fathers and sons
conforms to a patriarchal structure. The patriarch owns the land and
possesses the authority. He demands the submission of his sons to his
authority. In return, they inherit their fathers\' property and the right to extract
the same submission from their sons.
When everyone learns that Shug is seriously ill, the self-righteous
churchwomen speculate that Shug has some \"nasty woman disease,\" alluding
to a sexually transmitted disease. It is not insignificant that an STD is
specifically defined as a woman\'s disease. Sexual freedom is a woman\'s sin
but a man\'s prerogative. The same women flirt with Mr. _____. His
well-known relationship with Shug during his first marriage has not lowered
their opinion of him. Moreover, they stared judgmentally at Celie when she
was pregnant with her two children. Although she works hard for the
preacher, they are still lukewarm toward her. The preacher praises Celie for
being \"faithful as the day is long,\" but he pays little attention to her otherwise,
preferring to converse with other wives and their husbands.
Celie still does not recognize her lesbian sexuality, although she is
strongly attracted to Shug. She feels as if she \"turned into a man\" when she
gives Shug a bath. Her hands tremble, and her breath is short. Her
description of her feelings is easily recognized as sexual arousal. She only
feels an inkling of pleasure during sex if she thinks about Shug. However,
Celie\'s experiences with sex have all been with men. Many readers make the
mistake of connecting Celie\'s lesbianism with the sexually and physically
abusive character of her relationships with men. However, there are
indications throughout The Color Purple that Celie is a lesbian because she
is, not because she never had the \"right\" man.
Shug provides a contrast to Celie in her relationship with Mr. _____.
Shug criticizes, berates, and orders him around. She even challenges his
masculinity by calling him a \"weak little boy\" for not standing up to his father.
Celie\'s contact with Shug\'s brusque, no nonsense manner awakens something
in her. She becomes rebellious, even spitting in the glass of water she serves
to Mr. _____\'s father. She experiences anger when she sees the sexism
around her. Her writing takes on a new force. Harpo comes to stay in Mr.
_____\'s house because he started anther fight with Sofia, trying to force her
submission yet again. Sofia blacked both his eyes. Celie injects some sarcasm
into her description of Harpo\'s reaction. \"Oh boo-hoo, he cry. Boo-hoo-hoo.\"
He is crying because Sofia blacks his eyes every time he tries to beat her.
Harpo still seeks confirmation of his manhood through patriarchal
structures. He wants his father to approve his masculinity, so he tries to
emulate his abusive behavior with Sofia. Ironically, he seems less suited to
conventionally masculine activities than Sofia. She fixes the leak in their roof,
and he is the one who puts the children to bed and changes the baby\'s diaper.
He even likes to cook. Sofia leaves him because she refuses to be dominated
and treated like an object of possession. Harpo has even begun to act like
Mr. _____ during sex. She wants to negotiate her part in the relationship on
her terms, not his.
When Celie asks Harpo if he is going to let Sofia leave, he
misinterprets her question. He asks how he can stop her and looks at her
sister\'s wagons. Her sisters are strong, independent women, and he believes
Celie is asking whether he will forcibly restrain her. He cannot because her
sisters will beat him worse than Sofia ever did. Again, we see the theme of
the importance of strong ties between women. Women\'s relationships with
one another can combat male violence and control. Shug\'s relationship with
Celie weakens Mr. _____\'s control over Celie. With Shug to stand behind
her, Celie can go see her perform in Harpo\'s jukejoint over Mr. _____\'s
Harpo\'s jukejoint is packed when Shug gives her first performance.
Although she has a crowd of admiring fans, it is important to remember that
none of these people wanted anything to do with her when she was sick.
Celie still does not recognize that she is falling in love with Shug. When Shug
sings to Mr. _____, Celie feels hurt without knowing why. Her hurt
disappears when Shug sings a song composed and named in her honor.
Shug\'s song is a validation of Celie\'s worth, and this is what pleases Celie
most. However, she does not receive the imbedded message in the song,
which is about a man \"doing her wrong again.\" Celie thinks the song is about
Shug because she does not recognize the veiled reference to Mr. _____\'s
abuse toward her. Celie has yet to achieve the necessary self-love to demand
respect for herself. At this point, her validation comes from an external
Shug sings every weekend in Harpo\'s jukejoint. When she regains her
health, she tells Celie that she will leave soon. Saddened, Celie informs Shug
that Mr. _____ will start beating her again. Shocked, Shug promises not to
leave until she is sure that he will not think of beating her again.
Shug and Mr. _____ start sleeping together again. Shug asks Celie if
she cares. Celie asks if she loves Mr. _____. Shug does not think what she
feels is love. He was too weak to oppose his father, and now she knows that
he is a bully with Celie. Celie asks if she likes having sex with him. Shug is
surprised to discover that Celie gets no pleasure from sex. Shug tells Celie
about the clitoris. While Shug guards the door, Celie really looks at her own
body for the first time. A slight shiver of pleasure runs through her when she
touches her clitoris. She tells Shug that she does not care if she sleeps with
Mr. _____. However, when Celie hears them making love, she cries with
her quilt over her head.
Sofia visits Harpo\'s jukejoint with her boyfriend, Henry Broadnax,
whom everyone calls Buster. Sofia has a child with Buster, but, even after
six children, she looks strong and radiant. Harpo and Sofia dance together,
but his girlfriend, Squeak, a small, thin woman, gets angry. Squeak demands
that Sofia back off, and Sofia assents. However, Squeak continues to press
the issue and slaps Sofia. Sofia promptly punches two of her teeth out. Harpo
hesitates before comforting Squeak, so Sofia and Buster leave.
Not long after that, Harpo becomes depressed. Squeak asks Celie
why his mood is so low. When Sofia, Buster, and Sofia\'s children were in
town, the mayor\'s wife, Miss Millie, was enthralled with Sofia\'s children. She
asked if Sofia wanted to be her maid. Sofia replied, \"Hell no.\" The mayor
slapped her, and Sofia punched him. The police arrested her and took her to
jail. Mr. _____ persuades the sheriff to let them see her. Sofia is blind in one
eye and beaten beyond recognition.
Sofia receives a sentence of 12 years in jail. She works in the prison
laundry from five in the morning until eight at night. She can receive visitors
twice a month for half an hour. She endures the abuse by acting like Celie
does. Squeak and Odessa care for Sofia\'s children. Everyone holds a meeting
to plan for some way to help Sofia. Mr. _____ does not think Sofia will last
12 years in prison. They discover that the white warden is actually Squeak\'s
uncle. His brother fathered three illegitimate children with Squeak\'s mother.
They dress Squeak in the best clothing they can find. They tell her to visit the
warden and remind him in some subtle way that she is his niece. Squeak is
supposed to play the role of the jealous girlfriend. She is supposed to say that
Sofia is happy to be in jail as long as she does not have to be some white
When Squeak returns, her clothing is ripped, and she has a limp. She
did everything according to plan, but the warden raped her even though he
knew she was his niece. Six months later, Squeak begins to sing. Her voice is
unusual, but everyone comes to like it a lot.
Sofia is placed as a maid in Miss Millie\'s home to serve out the rest of
her sentence. When Celie visits, she says that it\'s a wonder that black people
have not killed all the white people. The mayor\'s six-year-old son, Billy,
orders her around to no avail. He tries to kick Sofia, but she moves out of his
way, and he stabs his foot on a rusty nail. Miss Millie rushes to comfort him
when she hears him crying. Miss Millie\'s daughter. Eleanor Jane, covers for
Sofia, but Sofia takes no notice of her affectionate attachment.
Celie\'s relationship with Shug continues to be her primary shield
against Mr. _____\'s violence. Moreover, it provides the conditions for Celie
to learn about her sexuality and her body. Celie\'s self-knowledge grows
through her friendship with Shug. Celie cries at night when she hears Shug
and Mr. _____ having sex. She is becoming more aware of the nature of her
attraction to Shug.
Celie portrays a community full of numerous internal conflicts
between men and women, between men, and between women. However,
Sofia\'s clash with white authority is an adversity that touches them all. They
put aside their internal conflicts to combine their energies to get her out of jail
before it kills her. Sofia\'s defiant independence has rubbed a number of them
the wrong way, but everyone feels a stab of anger and hurt to see her proud
spirit be beaten out of her by brutal, racist whites. Squeak herself is the
primary player in their plan, and Sofia punched out two of her teeth.
Miss Millie and the mayor exhibit the sinister paternalism behind white
racism in the Jim Crow South. Miss Millie even thinks she is being polite.
However, she fusses over Sofia\'s children as though they were prize
livestock. She praises their \"strong, white teeth\" and \"fingers\" them, putting
her hand on one of the children\'s head. She assumes that her invasion of their
physical space is welcome. Moreover, she marvels at \"All these children...
Cute as little buttons though.\" Her statement reveals an implicit stereotype of
black women. On one level she marvels at the black woman\'s \"excessive
fertility.\" \"All these children\" is an implicit criticism because her following
phrase implicitly states, \"You have too may children, but because they are so
cute it is okay.\" Her examination of Sofia\'s children recalls the image of the
white plantation owner sizing up prospective slaves on the auction block.
Miss Millie also eyes Sofia\'s wristwatch and Buster\'s car. She
marvels at how \"clean\" Sofia\'s children are. She reproduces the stereotype
that black people are inherently dirty because she expresses surprise at the
children\'s cleanliness. Moreover, she appears to be uncomfortable with Sofia
and Buster\'s economic success. She digs into her pocketbook when she sees
the children, positioning Sofia\'s family in a symbolic relationship of economic
inequality. Moreover, digging into her pocketbook again recalls the slave
auction block. It is almost as though she unconsciously wishes to buy the
children and Sofia. Asking Sofia to be her maid reveals an implicit desire to
establish a position of authority over black people who are too successful.
Therefore, Sofia\'s response, \"Hell no,\" is a rejection of more than Miss
Millie\'s job offer.
Sofia\'s friends and family immediately choose to use the kinship ties
between the white and black communities to rescue Sofia from jail. These
kinship ties are a legacy of slavery. The population of mulatto slaves is a
testimony to the constant sexual exploitation white slave owners perpetrated
on slave women. White men continued to sexually abuse black women after
slavery. Mr. _____ assumes without question that the warden has black
relatives, indicating the prevalence of this practice. A white philandering
husband could be more sure that black women would not approach his white
wife with his mulatto children to expose his affairs. He could not be as
certain of the silence of a white mistress.
However, the kinship ties across the racial divide are rife with
ambivalent emotion. Light skin within the black community is considered
more attractive than dark skin, yet Squeak is ashamed to confess that the
warden\'s brother is her father. The white warden recognizes Squeak as his
niece, but he rapes her anyway. Perhaps he rapes her because she is his
niece. His actions are simultaneously a recognition of their ties of kinship and
a rejection of their legitimacy. The divided nature of white men\'s relationship
to their black kin is a necessary component to their attempts to maintain their
belief in white supremacy. Afterward, Squeak asks Harpo if he loves her for
the light color of her skin, reflecting the ambivalent status of kinship between
whites and blacks in the black community itself. After her rape, the value that
Harpo places on her light skin is tantamount to valuing the sexual exploitation
white men have perpetrated against her and other black women.
Sofia is rescued from prison, but her new situation is explicitly similar
to the conditions of slavery. She is forced to work as a maid in a white
household. She is separated from her own children and forced to care for
white children. Slave women often saw their children sold away from them,
as well as their spouses. She cannot openly defy a six-year-old white child\'s
orders. She can only resist covertly. Even though little Eleanor Jane covers
for her, it is impossible to read their relationship in a positive light because she
symbolizes Sofia\'s enforced separation from her own children. She
symbolizes the loss of Sofia\'s right to stand up for herself. The white little girl
has more authority over Sofia\'s situation than Sofia does.
Miss Millie pesters her husband into buying her a car. He refuses to
teach her to drive, so she asks Sofia. As a reward, she drives Sofia to see
her family during Christmas. Miss Millie realizes that she does not know how
to operate the car in reverse. Sofia tries to explain how to do it, but Miss
Millie strips the gears so much that the engine goes dead. She refuses to
allow Odessa and Jack to drive her home in their truck. Sofia had fifteen
minutes with her children, and Miss Millie thinks she is ungrateful.
Shug visits Celie and Mr. _____ during the Christmas holidays with
her new husband, Grady. Celie and Mr. _____ are both upset that she got
married. Grady and Mr. _____ go out together, so Shug sleeps in Celie\'s bed
because she is cold. She asks about the father of Celie\'s children. Celie tells
her that her father asked her to cut his hair and that he raped her when she
was fourteen. He made her finish his haircut afterward. She cries while Shug
holds her and kisses her. Before long, they are making love.
Shug asks Celie about Nettie because Nettie is the only other person
that Celie has ever loved. Celie explains that she never heard from Nettie
again after Mr. _____ made her leave. Shug mentions that she often saw
Mr. _____ pocket letters with \"funny stamps\" from the mailbox. Shug starts
being friendly and flirtatious with Mr. _____, angering Grady and Celie. A
week later, Shug gives Celie a letter from Africa, written by Nettie. Nettie
says that she only writes during Easter and Christmas, hoping that her letters
will get lost in the holiday mail where Celie will find them. She is returning
home in a year with Celie\'s son and daughter. Shug and Celie re-seal the
letter and return it to Mr. _____\'s pocket.
Celie is furious when she realizes that Mr. _____ has no intention of
telling her about the letter. When Shug sees her standing behind Mr. _____
with his razor, she diffuses the oncoming explosion with a lie and takes the
razor away. She puts Celie to bed and tells everyone that she is sick, telling
Mr. _____ to sleep somewhere else. Shug talks about anything and
everything to keep Celie from killing Mr. _____. Shug\'s parents disowned
her after she gave birth to her third child by Mr. _____. Mr. _____ could
not stand up to his father, so he married Annie Julia instead. Shug was angry
and mean in those days, so she openly carried on her affair with Mr. _____.
She asks what happened to the happy, fun-loving, dancing man she loved
once. Celie lies in bed, saying nothing.
Celie and Shug find all of Nettie\'s letters in Mr. _____\'s trunk. When
he and Grady are out, they steam them open and leave the envelopes in the
trunk. Celie learns that Mr. _____ followed Nettie after she left and tried to
rape her. She fought back, so he promised she would never hear from Celie
again. She went to Reverend Samuel\'s house. His children, Olivia and Adam,
bore a remarkable resemblance to Celie. Samuel and his wife, Corrine, took
Nettie into their home. After a while, Nettie realized that Mr. _____ was not
giving Celie her letters. Samuel did not want to interfere. Samuel and Corrine
planned to go to Africa with their children as missionaries. Their assistant
backed out, so they took Nettie with them. She had become part of their
family, and she could not find a job in town. Nettie read about the great
civilizations in Africa\'s past. She was astonished to learn that she read about
Ethiopia in the Bible without realizing it was talking about black people. She
also learned that Africans sold other Africans into slavery.
Sofia marvels that whites blame the failure of slavery on the bumbling
clumsiness of slaves. However, Miss Millie appears to be far more bumbling
than Sofia. She has to ask her help in learning to drive. She is also
uncomfortable with the temporary transference of authority to her black
maid. She re-establishes her symbolic authority by \"generously\" offering to
drive Sofia to spend Christmas day with her family. She insists that Sofia sit
in the back seat. Her \"favor\" is partly a means to parade her authority over
Sofia in public as well as in front of Sofia\'s family.
Miss Millie\'s endeavor backfires, however, because she cannot
manage to back her own car out of Odessa\'s driveway. Sofia tries to show
her how by leaning through the window because Miss Millie requested earlier
that she not sit in the front seat. Miss Millie ruins the car\'s transmission, as
well as makes a fool out of herself. Moreover, she leaves the responsibility of
having the car repaired and driven home to Sofia. Her attempt to re-establish
her authority after her flustered embarrassment in front of Sofia\'s family only
further makes her look incompetent. She only appears to depend on Sofia all
the more. She transfers the blame to Sofia by calling her ungrateful for the
fifteen minutes she had with her family although she broke her promise to
Sofia in the first place.
Celie\'s revelation to Shug of her rape by her stepfather signals a
major change. The rape prompted her to begin her diary of letters to God.
Alphonso\'s threats and Celie\'s own shame prevented her from sharing her
experiences with others. For the first time since she began her diary, Celie
narrates her story to another person. Her ability to speak about the
dehumanizing abuse she suffered opens the road for a healing process. After
she shares her narrative, it becomes something she can control rather than
something that controls her.
Moreover, when Celie opens the floodgates of her life history, her
love affair with Shug begins. The new aspect to Celie\'s relationship with
Shug changes Celie\'s body into a site of love and pleasure, rather than a site
of abuse. In a sense, the text of her body is rewritten. Sharing her narrative
leads to the recovery of Nettie. After Celie tells Shug about Nettie and their
separation, Shug recalls the strange letters she saw Mr. _____ taking from
the mailbox. The novel transforms into parallel, interconnected narratives
with the addition of Nettie\'s letters, so the symbolic isolation of Celie and her
narrative comes to an end.
Celie\'s diary is now placed within a much larger context. The first
letter she reads from Nettie is a symbolic marker of this larger context.
Celie\'s reading of the stamps reveals her ignorance of their symbolic
meaning. The letter has \"little fat queen of England stamps, plus stamps that
got peanuts, coconuts, rubber trees and say Africa.\" Walker\'s novel is
narrated largely through an uneducated black Southern woman\'s point of
view, but imbedded within it is a colonial narrative. Nettie\'s letter is more than
a text of Nettie\'s voice. It reflects Europe\'s colonial relationship to Africa.
The African stamps further reflect this relationship because they depict the
products of English-owned plantations in Africa. Celie says she does not
know where Africa is. The letter raises the question: Where is Africa? The
stamps reflect the English construction of Africa but not Africans\' own
perception of their homeland.
Nettie\'s letters reveal certain problematic aspects of black
American\'s relationship to Africa, as well. Nettie writes that her
schoolteacher once said that Africa was full of naked savages, a stereotype
of indigenous Africans created by white European colonists. Nettie also
learns that the origins of American slavery involved African complicity with
white European colonists.
Black missionaries to Africa also have a problematic relationship to
indigenous Africans. Samuel, Corrine, and Nettie want to re-establish contact
with the homeland of their enslaved ancestors. However, in one sense, they
are complicit with the colonial project. They are traveling to Africa with the
hopes of Christianizing indigenous African cultures. White Europeans have a
long tradition of wiping out indigenous religious beliefs and replacing them
with Christianity. White slave owners in America did the same with slaves
imported from Africa. In one sense, Samuel, Nettie, and Corrine are
complicit with the cultural genocide practiced on their enslaved ancestors.
They do not define the problems indigenous African face in terms of cultural
and economic domination by whites. In their minds, they \"need Christ\" as well
as \"good medical advice.\"
Celie\'s strong ties to Shug and the symbolic recovery of her sister
incite a profound change in her attitude toward Mr. _____. She feels rage
for the first time since she began writing her letters to God. Shug tries to
calm her down by telling her about her own life. She narrates the terrible way
she vented her anger at Annie Julia, keeping Mr. ______ away from home
for days, so that Annie Julia would have to come begging him for money.
This time, the relationship between Shug and Celie saves Mr. _____\'s life.
Nettie is amazed when she sees black people in Harlem who own
expensive cars and houses. The churches donate a great deal of money for
the mission to Africa. Before they leave, they visit the Missionary Society of
New York. A white woman who spent 20 years in Africa says that Africans
are a different species from Europeans.
Samuel, Corrine, and Nettie travel to England from New York. They
mingle with English missionaries and visit museums full of African artifacts.
Nettie writes that Africa is weakened spiritually and physically because
Africans sold their strongest and best people into slavery. Nettie is overjoyed
to see that Senegal is full of beautiful, very dark-skinned people. She is
bothered, however, when the Senegalese in the market dismiss them when
they are not interested in buying anything. They treat the white French people
the same way. It upsets her to see that light-skinned black people have the
most wealth and power in Liberia, a country founded by ex-slaves from
America. The president even uses the word \"native.\" Moreover, people in
Holland own the large, cocoa plantations in Liberia.
Celie and Shug struggle with the words they do not know, so they
read only a few letters before Mr. _____ and Grady return. Shug urges her
not to do anything to Mr. _____, warning her that Nettie will be disappointed.
Celie tells Shug to make sure that Mr. _____ sleeps with her from then on.
To take Celie\'s mind off her anger, Shug suggests they make pants for Celie
and read Nettie\'s letters while they sew.
Nettie, Corrine, and Samuel travel for four days through the jungle
with a guide to reach their destination, an Olinka village. The Olinka crowd
around them because they have only seen white missionaries. One of the
Olinka women asks if Adam and Olivia are Nettie\'s children because they
look so much like her. They ask if both Nettie and Corrine are Samuel\'s
wives. The villagers usher them to a hut with no walls and serve them palm
wine and dinner.
The Olinka relate the story of the roofleaf. In the past, a greedy chief
took more and more of the common land to grow surplus crops to trade with
white men. He began clearing the land used for the roofleaf plant. Eventually
the village suffered a severe shortage of roofleaf, so the villagers could not
adequately shelter themselves. The villagers re-established the roofleaf plants
over five years. Meanwhile, many villagers died. They drove the chief away
and began to worship the roofleaf. The Olinka present Nettie, Samuel, and
Corrine with their roof. The white missionaries would not allow the Olinka to
perform this ceremony.
The Olinka only send their boys to school. Nettie asks one woman
whose Christian name is Catherine why girls are not educated. Catherine
explains that a woman only becomes something to her husband when she
bears his children. Nettie learns from Catherine that the Olinka consider her
\"the missionary\'s drudge.\" Olivia befriends Catherine\'s daughter, Tashi. When
she and Tashi are alone in Nettie\'s hut, Olivia teaches her what she learns in
school. Olivia realizes that the Olinka\'s attitude toward girls\' education is like
whites\' attitude toward blacks\' education in America.
Corrine requests that Nettie refer to her and Samuel as brother and
sister because the Olinka still think Nettie is Samuel\'s second wife. She also
requests that Nettie stop allowing Adam and Olivia call her \"Mama Nettie.\"
Tashi\'s parents become upset at the amount of time she spends with Olivia.
She performs her chores at home assiduously, but her attitude has changed
subtly. Nettie intuits that Tashi knows she will not live according to traditional
Olinka customs. Tashi\'s parents want Tashi to play with Olivia only in their
home. Nettie realizes Olivia would learn something from the experience, so
The white female missionary in New York expresses a very common
racist trope. She perverts Darwin\'s theory of evolution to justify racism:
Africans are a different species from Europeans. Samuel, Nettie, and Corrine
are part of the Missionary Society, and they are complicit with a project
heavily characterized by racism. Moreover, Nettie\'s comments about their
trip to England reveal more problematic aspects to their participation in the
missionary project. Nettie marvels that the English have been sending
missionaries to Africa for over a hundred years. However, this practice went
hand in hand with British Imperialism in Africa.
Nettie marvels at the collection of African artifacts in a British
museum. The artifacts were collected and imported to Britain because the
British entered Africa and started colonies there. Moreover, the civilizations
and cultures represented in the artifacts no longer exist because European
colonization of Africa contributed to wide spread cultural genocide. This
reflects the sinister side to the missionary project because it is married to
European colonization of Africa. Samuel, Nettie, and Corrine do not
recognize or acknowledge their own place within this historical phenomenon.
Nettie\'s statement that Africans are spiritually and physically weakened
because they sold the best of their people reflects her cultural hubris.
Moreover, her statement is a subtle echo of the white woman missionary\'s
definition of Africans as a separate species.
Samuel states that they have an advantage because they are black
and they will work with Africans for the uplift of black people everywhere.
He assumes that Africans will identify with them through their race.
However, Nettie\'s description of the conditions in Liberia and Senegal
contradicts his prediction. Some American ex-slaves returned to Africa and
founded Liberia with the help of the American Colonization Society. The
project was rife with paternalistic attitudes toward indigenous Africans. Some
people saw the endeavor as a way to \"civilize\" Africa by sending American
blacks to spread Christianity.
Black American immigrants never constituted a majority of the
Liberian population, and indigenous peoples in Liberia regarded them with
hostility. Nettie notices that light- skinned Liberians monopolize the power,
another reflection of the colonial relationship that American black immigrants
have toward indigenous peoples. The immigrants and their descendants do
not identify with indigenous Africans in Liberia at all. In fact, the president of
Liberia refers to them as \"the natives,\" a phrase rife with racist connotations.
Moreover, the Senegalese merchants do not identify with Nettie, Samuel, and
Corrine because they are all black. Instead, they associate them with the
white foreign colonists. Identity is, therefore, far more nuanced than Samuel
realized. It involves a complex combination of culture, nationality, and race.
The Olinka react with a mixture of contempt and curiosity to Samuel,
Nettie, and Corrine. Their race incites interest and perhaps a greater
measure of ease. They perform the roofleaf ceremony whereas the white
missionaries did not permit it. However, the Olinka\'s relationship to Samuel,
Nettie, and Corrine is far from being an identification with them. Regardless
of their race, the Olinka view them as invaders who want to change their
culture, especially regarding the sensitive issue of the status of Olinka
women. However, Olivia rightly remarks that the Olinka try to enforce the
systematic ignorance of women like American whites try to enforce among
Nevertheless, black women suffer violence and sexism in America,
as well. Perhaps Walker subtly criticizes that Nettie, Samuel, and Corrine do
not try to change the conditions of black American women before they travel
to Africa. Samuel did not want to interfere between Mr. _____ and Celie,
but he engages in a project to interfere with the cultural practices of an
indigenous African tribe. He wants to work for the uplift of black people
everywhere, yet he left his own black countrymen behind in a hostile society
to take part in a project historically associated with European colonial power.
Corrine asks Nettie not to invite Samuel to her hut alone because the
Olinka interpret it the wrong way. Nettie is sad, but Adam, Olivia, and Tashi
visit her often. Tashi is the only person in the village who wants to hear about
American slavery. It angers Nettie that they do not acknowledge any
responsibility. Tashi\'s father dies of malaria in the rainy season. Tashi grieves
deeply because she was never able to please her father, but she does not
realize it is because she was not a son. Catherine wants her to get an
education. Nettie wants to work with Catherine in her fields because Olinka
women become friends through working together. The friendships between
wives of the same man make Samuel uneasy.
Nettie believes that Africans are self-centered like whites in
America. The Olinka hold feasts and celebrations when the roadbuilders
reach their village because they believe the road is for them. Then, the
roadbuilders plow through the middle of the village and crops. They have
orders to shoot anyone who opposes them. The chief travels to the coast to
settle the matter. He returns with the news that the territory, including the
Olinka village, now belongs to an English rubber manufacturer. The jungle is
being cleared for rubber trees. The Olinka are forced to begin paying rent for
the village since they do not \"own\" it any longer. Some Olinka women begin
sending their girls to the school.
Corrine falls ill with a bad fever. Corrine asks why Adam and Olivia
look so much like her. Nettie realizes that Corrine thinks Adam and Olivia are
Nettie and Samuel\'s children. Nettie denies it, but Corrine asks both Nettie
and Samuel to swear on the Bible that they had not met before Nettie came
to their home for help. She also checks Nettie\'s stomach for stretch marks.
Nevertheless, Corrine becomes distant from her children.
Samuel also thought Nettie was Adam and Olivia\'s mother. Nettie
asks how he got them. Samuel tells her about a successful farmer who
opened a store with the help of two of his brothers. The local white
businessmen became angry that the black community took their business to
the three brothers. They burned the store and lynched the brothers. The
farmer\'s wife had a baby daughter and she was pregnant with another. When
she saw her husband\'s body, she went into labor and had another daughter.
She never recovered mentally from the shock. She remarried and continued
to have one child after another. When her last two children, named Adam
and Olivia, were born, she was too ill to care for them. Her second husband
was Samuel\'s friend in his wild, sinful youth. He gave the children to Samuel
to raise. Samuel was delighted to take them because he and Corrine could
not have children. He never told Corrine where he got them. When Nettie
arrived, he just assumed his old friend had lied about some things.
Celie stops writing to God and begins writing to Nettie. Shug and
Celie travel to Tennessee to see Alphonso. He has a big, new house. His
second wife, Mary Ellen, left him with their children. His new wife, Daisy, is
only 15. Her parents work for him on his land. He confirms Samuel\'s story
about the lynching. He states that Celie and Nettie\'s father was naive. He did
not pay off the white businessmen like Alphonso does. Celie and Shug look
for the graves of Celie\'s parents, but neither one has a marker.
When Samuel and Nettie tells Corrine about Celie, she refuses to
believe them. Nettie finally gets her to remember the day she met Celie when
she was buying cloth for dresses. Corrine finally believes them, but she dies
of the fever not long after. They give her an Olinka burial. Meanwhile, the
rubber manufacturer continues to destroy Olinka crops to plant rubber trees.
Nettie tells Samuel her suspicions about Mr. _____ keeping her letters from
Celie. He regrets his reluctance to interfere in the matter.
Nettie is angry that the Olinka are indifferent to the history of
American slavery. She is angry that they refuse to acknowledge any
responsibility. There is a subtle critique of Nettie\'s own relationship to
Africans. She still does not even realize, much less acknowledge her
complicity with European structures of cultural domination. The missionary
movement goes hand in hand with the European colonization of Africa. Her
participation without critical self-reflection reveals her complicity with white
Samuel\'s uneasiness with the friendships between wives of the same
man also reveals his cultural hubris. He expected that Africans would
welcome him and his religion. He expected to challenge their beliefs and their
culture without meeting challenges from them. His religious belief system
forbids polygamy. The evidence of positive aspects to polygamy challenges
his belief in the unilateral legitimacy of his religion and culture.
Nettie has become more sophisticated in her attitudes. She wants to
establish a closer relationship to Catherine, so she plans to work with
Catherine in her field. She is willing to relate to Catherine through the terms
of Olinka women\'s culture, as well as to acknowledge that there are some
good things in it. However, Nettie is also lonely now that Corrine regards her
with suspicion and hostility. She continues to criticize Olinka men\'s sexism.
Their wives pamper them, so they often act like children. Nettie realizes that
a childish adult is dangerous, especially because an Olinka husband virtually
has total control over whether a wife lives or dies. However, neither Samuel
nor Nettie draw a direct parallel between the dangers that American black
women face and the dangers that Olinka women face. Celie still had to do
most of the work when Mr. _____ chose to stop working in the fields. She
still suffered abuse. Annie Julia was still murdered by her lover and abused
by Mr. _____.
Nettie begins to understand some of the reasons that Africans do not
identify with them on the basis of their race. She notices that the Olinka
conceive of themselves much in the same way that whites do. They are
largely isolated from contact with white colonists, except for the occasional
missionary. Therefore, they have not closely experienced the ravages of
racism. Their race is not a stigma to them as it is for American blacks.
Therefore, Samuel, Corrine, and Nettie\'s idealistic fantasies about Africans
identifying with them through their race