The Color Purple

The Color Purple Summary and Analysis of Section 2

Nettie and Alfonso’s new wife both come to realize what he is doing to Celie. Nettie is terrified and goes outside to vomit. Celie and the new wife cry indoors while Nettie tends to them. Mr. ______ comes again to ask for Nettie’s hand, but Alfonso still refuses to let her go, saying that he can have Celie instead. Even though she is ugly, Alfonso says, she will make the better wife. He also tells Mr. ______ that Celie tells lies. Mr. ______ spends three months from March to June making up his mind. Eventually he agrees to marry Celie on the condition that he can have the cow he was promised as well.

Nettie now understands that the only way she is going to escape is by working hard at her schoolwork. She teaches Celie while she can since Celie was taken out of school by her father when she first got pregnant. Newly married, however, Celie will have to start domestic work at Mr. ______’s home. On her wedding day, Celie is chased by Mr. ______’s eldest son, Harpo, who is twelve. He has been disturbed after his mother died in his arms. He pelts his father’s new wife with rocks, and Celie bleeds. Celie’s new husband actually has four children. Celie spends hours detangling the girls’ matted hair, and they cry and curse her. That night as the marriage is consummated, Celie thinks of Nettie, hoping that she is safe. She then imagines Shug Avery, knowing that Shug has had sex with Mr. ______ as well.

As she is going into town on the wagon, Celie spots a girl who she knows is her own little girl; she knows because the child looks just like her and her father. She remembers that she called the child Olivia. She talks to the girl’s new mother in the store. Olivia’s new mother is waiting for her husband, The Reverend Mr. ______, to pick them up, but he is not showing up, so Celie offers them a lift. The two women talk, and Celie asks how old the child is and what the lady and her husband call her. The child will turn seven in December. The girl has been officially named Pauline by the Reverend and his wife, but because she looks so much like an Olivia, they call her Olivia.

Nettie runs away from home and stays with Celie. Nettie spends her time helping Celie with the chores and teaching Celie and the kids. Mr. ______ still likes Nettie and compliments her often, but she just passes the compliments toward Celie. Whatever he says about Nettie, she repeats to Celie: “Your hair. Your teefs. Everyday it something else to make miration over.” After her rejection of him, Mr. ______ decides that Nettie should leave. Celie gives her good advice—to seek out the Reverend Mr. ______’s wife—because Corrine has money. Nettie is worried about leaving Celie, but Celie assures her that as long as she can spell G-o-d she will be OK. Celie asks Nettie to write, and Nettie promises that only death would stop her. But it seems that Nettie never writes.

Following Nettie’s departure, two of Mr. ______’s sisters, Carrie and Kate, come to visit. They say that his previous wife, Annie Julia, was a bad housekeeper but Celie is doing a really good job. They gossip that he used to leave Annie Julia for days and run off with Shug, so he is lucky to be with Celie now. Celie also appears to them to be good with children, as well as being a good cook. Kate visits by herself the next time and berates her brother for not getting Celie any clothes. Kate takes her shopping. They discuss what color Shug Avery would wear, and Celie thinks that purple, maybe with some red, would be appropriate because Shug seems like a queen. Kate tells Harpo that he must start bringing in the water. As she packs, she tells Celie that she must fight Mr. ______ and his children.


Once again, Alfonso tries to strip Celie of her right to speak by telling Mr. ______ that she lies. Alfonso thus tries to void any personal communication she may have attempted. This reinforces her need to write to God. He has also tried to restrict her speech and her development by taking her out of school. Marriage might be an escape for Celie, and her father seems ready for that, apparently because he now has his eye on Celie’s younger sister—who he says is the more beautiful one. Alfonso seems to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Mr. ______’s household is certainly much better than the one she left. The situation is still far from ideal, however. Mr. ______ has been content to make the marriage decision on his own or, at best, in negotiation with her father. When he is deciding whether or not to marry her, he asks her to turn around so that he can look at her, not so that he can hear her. Mr. ______ sees the negotiation as incomplete until the cow is included in the deal. One of his possessions will keep the house, and the other will produce food. His sisters also remember how poorly Mr. ______ treated his first wife. He will beat his second wife.

Celie never gives us her husband’s last name. She writes his name in her letters as Mr. ______. We know his first name is Albert, but Celie never uses that name for him and is only reminded of this name later on when Shug addresses him. This consistent elision or blanking out of his name denies the written report of their union; we are never told what name Celie and Albert share, their marital surname. Not only that, but where Celie’s candid personal language usually illuminates her characters and her story, Albert is hidden behind a fog of blank space, reinforcing how alien he is to Celie and thus how alien he is to the reader through Celie’s narrative. In this novel, Celie’s language is dominant. When she disempowers, another in her text, she does so through language, such as literally denying Mr. ______ a name. Similarly, the Reverend is The Reverend Mr. ______ until Nettie forges her own relationship with him and his family, when he becomes Samuel. Where Celie might be wary of a dominant male figure whom she has no confidence to communicate with, Nettie is able to personalize the Reverend in our eyes as Samuel. Using a blank line to signify a name is not unique to this novel, but Walker does so in a unique way.

When Mr. ______ is on top of her as they consummate their marriage, Celie has little reason to be interested, for there seems to be no love in the relationship. He still prefers Nettie. Besides, Celie does not inherently have sexual interest in him. Instead, she imagines Shug Avery in the same sexual position—all but acknowledging her sexual curiosity for women and for Shug in particular.

From the beginning of her marriage it is clear that Harpo, the eldest son, is the most difficult and abusive of the children. At this point he is too young to make much trouble, but he has been troubled ever since he witnessed his mother’s death. He is not necessarily a misogynist, for he wants to push Celie out of the house more out of jealousy for his mother than because Celie is a female. Nevertheless, even though the girls squeal when Celie combs their hair out, they are manageable—the main interpersonal struggle for Celie in the novel is between herself and males. At first she has no female companion to help her in her struggle, only the occasional and interrupted advice from caring women who tell her to stand up for herself.

Note that Celie has been paying attention to the physical side of being human, such as in the imagery regarding liquids. In the first section, she referred to being full of milk and to the question of whether she was bleeding. Here, after she is hit by a rock in the head, she bleeds again down the front of her body, between her breasts, in an extremely non-sexual way.

When Celie sees her daughter in town, the stark difference between their opportunities as children is made clear. Olivia has been brought up with a person Celie describes as the richest woman she has ever known. More importantly, though, Olivia has been brought up by a woman who calls her Olivia because she looks like an Olivia. This woman appreciates the child’s individuality and will not stamp a new mark, a new name, on the child without considering who the girl is in her own right. Celie’s experience as a child under Alfonso was, as we have seen, quite different. Nobody except Nettie has really taken the time to see what Celie is like. It is a very positive and hopeful moment in the novel to see Celie’s daughter, a female, in a family that seems happy, healthy, and rich, free from the tyranny that has dominated Celie’s own life. The next generation has hope after all, and maybe even Celie now can hope for a better future.

When Nettie is forced to leave Celie, Nettie must move on to a third home. As for Celie, she claims she will be OK so long as she can spell the name of God. God is the one on whom Celie talks to and trusts, the one to whom she writes her diary entries. It is interesting that in a sequence of letters riddled with grammatical eccentricities and mistakes, Celie should be concerned with spelling out the name of God correctly. It is a mark of reverence. She might also be concerned that she may not be heard if she does not address God properly and sincerely. What Celie actually achieves in her letters is a much more gripping and personal account than what she could have written with perfect grammar. It is Celie’s voice, not simply the presentation of that voice, that is important.

Celie continues to put Shug Avery on a pedestal. She uses a simile to say that Avery is “like a queen.” Significantly, this means that she imagines Avery in a traditionally regal color, the color purple, which is of course the title of the novel. Celie has her eyes on an ideal, on God as King and Avery as Queen.

Color is also important in this context. Carrie thinks Avery is too black, too dark to be pretty. But Celie likes her and says, using a simile, that Avery is as black as Celie's shoe.

Without realizing it, Celie has begun to take ownership of her personal conception of God as an entity with whom she has a particular relationship. As a kind of release from her negative experiences, Celie’s writing is a positive force in her life. It is a medium by which she can freely and safely express herself; the paper she writes on does not judge but accepts whatever she puts on the page. This pattern helps her form her view of the God to whom she is writing. Her life in the few entries of Section 2 is markedly better than it was in Section 1. She has renewed hope, and she is already on her way to finding her freedom. (Note that the novel does not identify distinct sections; this guide divides the book into sections in order to emphasize themes and developments of plot and character from one part of the novel to another.)