The Color Purple

The Color Purple Summary and Analysis of Section 4

Harpo, worried that Sofia is not obedient enough, asks his father for advice. Mr. ______ tells him to hit her. When Harpo asks Celie for advice about the same thing, Celie wonders why Harpo even needs to ask since the two of them seem so happy. Then she thinks of her own situation by comparison, remembering how Sofia pities her when Mr. ______ calls and makes her jump. The memory of this triggers her response to Harpo, and she tells him to beat Sofia too. The next time Celie sees Harpo, his face is covered with bruises. He says it was the mule. When she next visits Harpo and Sofia, she hears a crash. She can see that all the furniture is turned over and that they are fighting like two men.

For over a month, Celie has not been sleeping well; her conscience is bothering her. She realizes that she has sinned against Sofia. Sofia finds out and confronts Celie about the bad advice. Celie tells Sofia that Celie is just a fool, and she is jealous of Sofia because Sofia can fight. Sofia responds that she has had to fight all her life—her father, her brothers, her cousins, her uncles—but she never thought she would have to fight in her own home. She would rather kill Harpo than “let him beat me.” Sofia adds that in her family, the girls stick together. Celie’s perspective has been different; she used to feel angry but no longer does; after all, the Bible says to respect your husband and your father. They laugh and make quilt pieces out of the ruined curtain.

News comes that Shug Avery is sick but no one will take her in; she may be dying. The preacher speaks badly of her, and Celie wants Mr. ______ to stand up for her but he stays silent. When he gets home, though, he drives off, and five days later he returns with her. The first thing Celie wants to do when she sees the wagon is change her dress, but she does not have enough time. Harpo asks his father who Shug is, and Mr. ______ responds that she is “the woman who should have been your mammy.” Shug is wearing a red wool dress and looks very unwell. When she passes Celie, she cackles and says, “you sure is ugly.” Mr. ______ stays with her all night. Celie concludes that Shug’s evilness is keeping her alive.

Shug calls Mr. _____ by the name of Albert. When Celie asks Mr. ______ what is wrong with Shug, he just looks sad. With tears in his eyes, he tells Celie that no one fights for Shug.

Even though they have had three children together, Mr. ______ is squeamish about giving Shug a bath, so the task falls to Celie. When she sees Shug’s naked body, she cannot stop staring. She is breathless and trembling as she washes her. Shug winks at her, lays a hand on her own hip, and laughs. Celie brings Shug breakfast (cigarettes and coffee) and persuades Shug by example to eat some tasty food. When Celie leaves her plate in the room, Shug finishes the food. The more she eats, the better she begins to feel. One day as Celie is combing out Shug’s hair, Shug starts singing. Shug says that Celie helped scratch the tune out of her head.

Mr. ______’s father arrives at the house and condemns his son for accommodating Shug, but Mr. ______ tells his father that he loves her. Old Mr. ______ tells Celie that she has his sympathy, for that not many wives would let their husband’s whore into their home. At that point Mr. ______’s and Celie’s eyes meet, and it is the closest they have ever felt. Sitting on the porch later between Shug Avery and Mr. ______, Celie feels just right.

Sofia and Celie are still working on the quilt. Shug has donated her yellow dress to the project, and Celie works the material in. Sofia asks Celie what makes people eat, for Harpo will not stop eating, even when he is not hungry. When Harpo visits Celie, all he does is eat while Sofia works on the house in an old pair of Harpo’s pants.

One day when Harpo is staying at Celie’s, Celie hears him crying on the steps. His face is swollen because of his fights with Sofia. Sofia does what she wants and does not obey him like Celie does with Mr. ______. Celie now advises Harpo to leave Sofia alone because they love each other. She adds that Mr. ______ takes all kinds of things from Shug because he loves her. Harpo cries more, and Celie puts him to bed.

Celie visits Sofia and asks her about Harpo. Sofia replies that he has stopped eating so much but is still difficult. She is thinking of taking the kids away with her to her sister’s. Celie thinks of her sister Nettie and feels a sharp pain running through her—she wants someone to escape to. Sofia says lovemaking with Harpo is no longer pleasurable, but he does not even seem to notice how she feels. Celie thinks of her own situation and realizes that she has never gotten pleasure from Mr. ______. But this might be because the only person she thinks of in that way is Shug.


The first part of this section begins and ends with the theme of fighting between men and women: Harpo fights against Sofia, but Albert has tears in his eyes because nobody fights on behalf of Shug. Earlier in the novel Celie was told by Nettie and Kate to fight Mr. ______’s dominant rule, but Celie is jealous that Sofia can fight while Celie cannot. Being able to fight is a way of asserting one’s power and refusing to be oppressed. Sofia fought all her male relatives, and the girls stick together in her family. Perhaps this solidarity is required for the female characters in order to fight successfully against male oppression. The men similarly see the basic relationship between men and women as antagonism; Harpo feels he must fight Sofia so that he has the masculine control that his father does over Celie. Physical fighting, however, leads to discord in Harpo’s otherwise happy home, which is basically turned upside down by the fighting. Harpo seems to have a happy life with Sofia, but he still feels that something must be wrong, and he even accepts the advice to physically fight his wife.

The fight that the novel advocates, however, is a spiritual fight, which begins with determination and loyalty to what one believes in. Mr. _____ has tears in his eyes at the end of this section because he was too much of a coward to fight for Shug when he should have; he did not marry her and did not stand up for her in church. Only later does he bring her to the house. Mr. ______ is a coward for not marrying Shug Avery because of her reputation, knowing that the community would not approve. By not doing so, he gave up his fight for their love, and it may now be too late. Similarly, Harpo is influenced by the world around him and is not courageous enough to live a peaceful life with Sofia.

Having been isolated from any female companions since her sister left, Celie was used to being alone until Sofia arrived. When she now pushes Sofia away by betraying her, we see with dismay that Celie has alienated a potential female friend. She knows that strife is not supposed to be the way the sexes relate, but she all too easily falls into that pattern. Still, the thought of it weighs heavily on her conscience. Sofia’s response, after the fact, is helpful for Celie. She demonstrates how women can stick together successfully against men by telling her the story of her own family. Although this defensive move continues the theme of strife between the sexes, it is hard to see how the women have a better choice under the circumstances.

Once the women’s relationship is healed, we see the two women making a quilt together, a symbolic act of creativity and of a new union of women in support and trust. Soon afterward, Shug herself will contribute her own clothing to the quilt. Celie will be pleased to include Shug in solidarity with them.

When Celie sees the wagon approaching, she wants to change her clothes; she desperately wants to seek out a layer of clothing which will hide her ugliness from Shug. She is still a queen, although others in the town think of her as “Queen Honeybee,” one who is beautiful yet also stings and who requires much, like a queen. This is why it is especially hurtful that Shug, “black as Harpo,” tells her that she is ugly the moment she lays eyes on her. She speaks in a way that sounds (yet another simile) “like a death rattle,” like a rattlesnake. Shug is figured, at least briefly here, as a sly and sinister animal.

Celie always feels unattractive and never has clothes that she is happy wearing (in her third letter, Celie’s father tells her to change her clothes, but she writes, “but what I’m spose to put on? I don’t have nothing”). When she dresses up for her father to take attention away from Nettie, she puts on horsehair, feathers, and high-heeled shoes. She instinctively knows that she will be more attractive to him if she hides herself behind clothing accessories. She constantly feels that her ugliness is on show and that she is exposed without the resources to hide behind the clothes she would prefer to have. Even when Mr _______’s sister takes her shopping, she is only allowed to consider clothes in dull, conservative colors.

When Celie bathes Shug, Shug is beautiful without any clothes, flaunting her naked body for admiring eyes. She finds herself and her naked black skin attractive, and when Celie washes her, gasping over the confident Shug, we see the vast difference between the two women. One but not the other is comfortable in her own skin.

When Shug comes to stay, she calls Mr. ______ by his first name. Albert’s surname is never mentioned in the novel, and Celie always writes a blank instead of the name: Mr. ______. She never calls him Albert because that would be too personal (or perhaps we could look at this choice as the one thing that is changed, for the sake of propriety, between the handwritten letters and the published book). This choice also suggests that Celie does not think of him as an individual. To her he is just another man who abuses her. By never mentioning his surname, Celie also cuts out the possibility of their union through name, for she ought to be Mrs. ______, but she never acknowledges the name that they share. Shug, however, is able to call him Albert because she is not scared of him, and she talks to him on a more intimate level. Shug even can take the upper hand, commanding him not to smoke near her in his own house!

Speech is again important in this community. Most of the news is heard at the church or elsewhere by word of mouth. Celie is connected to the world through the news and gossip at church. Without this fundamental human communication, she would be even further shut off from the world. Celie is slowly starting to gain the power of communication as the novel progresses, both in her conversations with Harpo and in a heart-to-heart conversation with Sofia. She is beginning to break free.

Soon, we see Celie at her happiest so far, for she herself admits that between Shug and Mr. ______, she feels just right. The presence of Shug makes all the difference. When Old Mr. ______ arrives, we understand more about Mr. ______, and we feel some sympathy for his pathetic pledge of love for Shug. Even Celie feels it, for she sees Mr. ______ defending Shug in a way he never has done for a woman before. They now share something in common: they both love Shug. That love unites all three of them. Now that she is happy, she works more and more on the quilt, focusing most of all on Shug’s sunny material. The yellow brightens the quilt and symbolically warms and brightens her own life. Shug, with so much attention, is on the mend and also happier as well.

The first song Shug has thought of in a long while is almost literally drawn out of her head by Celie. It is an intertextual reference; a reader might remember the way that Athena springs out of the head of Zeus, fully grown, in Greek mythology.

Unfortunately for Sofia, her work does not focus just on quilt-making, which provides contentment and creative freedom. Once Harpo begins eating (perhaps, subconsciously, to do better in their fights), Sofia has taken over the role of building in their home. Harpo used to work on the house, but he now is less of a man (another reason why he might be eating). Sofia has taken over his role and even wears his old trousers and does the work he used to do. Clearly this is a symbol of her power in the household. She still loves the Harpo she married and happily wears his clothes, but the new Harpo has stepped out of his old clothes and is a different man. This new situation is still not right for their relationship; it is not right for the balance of power simply to shift from the man to the woman while they continue to fight. They need to come into balance, weaving a life together like the women do symbolically in their quilt.

This is the second time that we see Harpo crying—first about his mother and now about Sofia. Celie is ready to see Harpo as a sympathetic partner for Sofia now, so in her second chance to give advice, she now can advise him to work on getting along with her by putting up with the ways that she troubles him. Shug can wield some power over Mr. ______, so Harpo can follow that example. Harpo is no longer like an animal to be petted or like a piece of wood, and he is no longer a brutal male like too many in his parents’ generation. Celie’s advice to Harpo is to be conciliatory, to let Sofia be her own person and to remember that he loves her for who she is.

Celie thus has become much more thoughtful over the course of this section. In addition to her confrontation with Sofia, her growing relationship with Shug is strengthening her. The women flourish in one another’s company. In Celie’s case, this is not only because of a general female solidarity but also because of her growing realization of her sexual interest in Shug.