The Color Purple

The Color Purple Summary and Analysis of Section 3

Harpo asks his father why he beats Celie. Mr. ______ answers that it is because she is a woman and is stubborn, which leads Harpo to ask Celie why she is stubborn. Celie has learned not to disagree, so she says that she guesses she was just born that way. She writes with disdain, however, that nobody ever asks her why she is his wife. Harpo tells Celie that he is in love with and planning to marry someone. He is seventeen and she is fifteen, he says. They have never spoken, but he did wink at her once in church.

The next diary entry reads, “Dear God, Shug Avery is coming to town!” Shug is in town with her orchestra, and Mr. ______ immediately decides to meet her. Under instruction, Celie washes and irons all his clothes for him. There are dozens of announcements in his car, and Celie carries one around with her, for she desperately wants to go and to watch Shug perform. Mr. ______ disappears on Saturday night and is gone until late on Monday. When he gets back he is tired and sad, and he cries.

Meanwhile, Celie has been working hard. When he wakes up Celie has already been working in the field for three hours. All Celie wants is to ask him about Shug. Just about to go out and start work, Mr. ______ drops his hoe, sits on the porch, and tells Celie not to wait for him. He stays on the porch all day and does not move. Harpo complains about the plowing he has to do, but Mr. ______ forces him to continue. Harpo does not resist but asks his father why he does not work anymore. His father responds that he does not need to work because Harpo is there.

Harpo is still in love with the girl, but her father does not think Harpo is good enough for her because Harpo’s mother was murdered. Harpo has nightmares about his mother trying to run across a pasture away from her boyfriend, Mr. ______. In the dream she has Harpo by the hand. The man says, “You mine,” but she says, no, her place is with her children. He shoots her in the stomach. Harpo wakes up crying, saying that it was not her fault that somebody shot her.

Even though Celie wakes up with his cries and pats his back to comfort him, she admits she feels no more for him than for a dog. Harpo talks to Celie about Sofia, the girl he loves. He wants to marry Sofia despite her father and thinks that if he gets her pregnant, Sofia’s family will have to accept him. Celie tells him she does not agree with his reasoning. Harpo brings Sofia to meet his father. She is a strong-looking girl, and it is clear that she has become pregnant. Mr. ______ asks whose baby it is, which insults Harpo, but Sofia appears unaffected. Then Mr. ______ tells her that Harpo is limited and that a pretty girl like her could put anything over on him. Sofia leaves without Harpo but tells him that when he is ready to leave, she and the baby will be waiting for him. Harpo and his father keep sitting on the porch.

Harpo goes after Sofia and the baby, and they get married in Sofia’s sister’s house. Harpo starts fixing the creek house for his family. It was once a shed. He makes windows, a porch, and a back door. Harpo’s father also starts giving him wages for working now.


Celie lets us into her real feelings in a significant way when she writes, “Harpo ast me, How come you stubborn? He don’t ast How come you his wife? Nobody ast that.” She demonstrates her recognition here that she was not given a choice in the matter of marriage; she shows that she understands the agency that she has been denied. This knowledge is the important kernel of resistance that might one day enable her to take back the rights and privileges she has been denied. This knowledge, like the knowledge that Nettie acquires from school and reading, is the knowledge that she will one day use to gain freedom.

Celie’s conversation with Harpo is a typical example of her use of dialogue not quoted as direct speech. Their conversation, which is predominantly made up of monosyllables, glides rhythmically from one voice to the other, portraying the sort of chatty, free and easy relationship that we have not seen between Celie and a man before. The constant repetition of “I say,” “He say” maintains the eagerness of Celie’s story, lifting it off the page so that the conversation that took place in the past feels like it is happening now. Harpo has a lot of potential in terms of his relationships with women, for he obviously feels very deeply about his mother and how she died, he is in love with Sofia and is determined to marry her, and he speaks fairly openly to Celie about how he feels. But this does not seem enough to make Celie empathize with him–she says that when she pats Harpo after his bad dream, she feels nothing more for him than if she were patting a dog (another simile). He is perhaps too young and immature to be considered a man like the others. He is not where he needs to be.

Celie actually says that patting Harpo is worse than patting a dog; he is like wood. This is the second time Celie has used wood as a symbol of deadness, a person without feeling. Earlier, she used it about herself, claiming that when she was whipped she deadened to it, thinking of herself as a tree. This time, Harpo seems like the dead one.

Color is important again in this section. Because of all the work Celie does in the field, she is “roasted coffee bean color.” In another simile that uses color, Harpo is as black “as the inside of a chimney.” The pairing here suggests that Celie has become something flavorful and worthwhile, like a coffee bean, but also something that is consumed, while Harpo is like something dirty and smoky and hollow. Harpo also notes that Sofia is “bright,” not meaning “smart” but meaning “bright skin.”

The divide between Celie and men is deeply rooted after years of trouble. Recall that she was given to Mr. ______ along with a cow. Now, the way she feels about Harpo is similar; each sex is dehumanized in the eyes of the other. Besides, there is a worrying sign that Harpo might not fulfill his potential and maintain his comparatively healthy feelings about women as he gets older. When he remains seated on the porch with his father, he literally and metaphorically takes the side of his father, putting a gap between himself and Sofia when she sets off home after her visit.

Indeed, throughout this section we see Harpo growing into a man. He is curious about the world in which he lives and about why people say certain things and behave in certain ways: he asks Celie why she is stubborn, he asks his father why he does not work anymore, and he talks to Celie about how to make Sofia’s family accept him. He is taking steps to learn about the world. By the end of the section, he has a child and a wife, he has built a house for the family, and his father is paying him for his labor. So far, so good: Harpo’s success in building a family—he has a strong relationship with Sofia—makes him happy and comfortable in his roles as a man. He is humanizing. His financial success is a kind of additional payoff for this maturity, and it ensures that he is able to support his family, which in turn supports him. But will taking up an adult male role in his society lead him to become more like his father and Celie’s father in their treatment of women?

Among the development of Harpo and Celie in this section, we find news of the arrival of Shug Avery. Shug has come to town with her orchestra. Celie has only seen a photograph of her so far (given to her by her father’s new wife), but she has absolute admiration for the beautiful woman. In this section of the novel, Celie and the reader do not yet have direct access to Shug; she remains a mystery and thus an object of idealistic desire. Mr. ______ goes out to meet her but does not bring her back to us. Although she has traveled to town, she is not yet allowed to travel into our lives. The immediate difference between Celie and Shug is clear: Celie’s speech has been repressed while Shug sings for an audience and people even pay to hear her sing. Nobody creates handbills about Celie.

Note that Mr. ______, as dominant master of the house, treats the two women differently in just this way. He still tries to deny Celie the opportunity to make her voice heard to him. He sits on the porch and will not tell Celie anything about Shug, thus isolating her even more. Celie is not able to ask about Shug, and he refuses to tell her more, so back to the fields she goes, like the animal he bartered for when he married her. Thus, Celie is still denied the female company that she senses Shug can provide. Mr. ______’s favorable view of Shug, in all her glamor, adds to her desirability. The hope to see her brings hope to Celie that she will one day enjoy something of Shug’s success, or at least some of Shug’s basic rights. While Celie’s creative medium, her series of letters, is limited to herself, Shug has access to the world through the creative medium of song.