The Color Purple

The Color Purple Summary and Analysis of Section 8

Samuel admits that he thought the children were Nettie’s as well. When Nettie arrived looking for work from them, he thought she really had come in search of the children. Samuel then tells Nettie how he got the children. There was a prosperous black farmer who owned his own property, opened a store, and did very well. The white merchants did not like him taking their customers, so the man’s store was burned down and he was hanged. The widow, who was pregnant at the time and already had one small child, never mentally recovered from this. She married again and had more and more children. When she had the last two children, she was too sick to keep them, and these two were Olivia and Adam. The man the widow remarried was named Alfonso—which also means that Alfonso was not Celie’s and Nettie’s real father.

After reading this news from Nettie, everything becomes very confused for Celie. Shug tells her she must come back to Tennessee with her.

Celie now records her first letter to Nettie. Celie wanted to confront the man they had called Pa, so she went to visit him. Celie and Shug drive up. The flowers are all in bloom, it is very green, and the house looks gorgeous. Pa arrives but does not recognize Celie. Shug tells him who it is, and he invites them inside. Celie confronts him about not being their real father, and he simply says that now she knows. Celie asks where her real father is buried, and he answers that her father is buried next to her mother. They look but cannot find the graves.

In a letter to Celie from Nettie, Nettie relates having told Corrine the truth about Olivia and Adam. When Corinne remembers meeting Celie in the cloth shop all those years ago, she starts to cry. After Corrine’s death, Olivia starts to menstruate. They bury Corrine in the Olinka way. But the ritual for Olinka women is too bloody and painful for Nettie to allow Olivia to contemplate it. Samuel gives Nettie all of Corrine’s clothes.

In her letter to Nettie, Celie notes that she has stopped writing to God. She tells Shug she has stopped because God has never done anything for her. Shug tells her she is a sinner. Shug asks Celie what God looks like, and Celie replies that he is white with a white beard. Shug laughs, telling her that the white god with the white beard is the god in the white folks’ white Bible. Shug instead believes that God is inside everyone, and only those who search for God inside find God. God also is everywhere, she says, and loves the world. God also loves when people admire things, such as the color purple in a field. Reflecting on this conversation and its effects on her, Celie says, “Now that my eyes opening, I feels like a fool…like Shug say, You have to git man off your eyeball, before you can see anything a’tall.”

After eleven and a half years, Sofia has been let out to return home. Her children now call Odessa “Mama” and Squeak “Little Mama.” Shug declares that she is leaving with Grady and taking Celie with her. Celie accuses Mr. ______ of stealing Nettie’s letters and says all the things to Harpo and Mr. ______ that she has felt over the years. Squeak says she is leaving too so that she can sing.

Eleanor Jane arrives. She is the girl Sofia used to look after. Sofia speaks to her. Sofia finds that she has been called back to sort out the problems in the house.

Celie moves to Memphis with Shug. The house is big, they eat well, and they lie with their arms around each other. Shug is away on tour a lot, and Celie makes pants. Finally, she makes the perfect pair of pants for Shug. Then Squeak wants a pair, and then Celie makes a pair for Odessa’s husband Jack. Once Odessa asks for a pair, Celie starts selling pants for money.

Celie is happy. She has love, work, money, friends, and time. She tells Nettie of the twins who have come to help her with her business. One of them, Darlene, is trying to teach her how to speak correctly.

Celie visits Harpo’s joint. When she passes Mr. _____, he does not even recognize her. Harpo and Sofia are arguing about Sofia being a pallbearer at her mother’s funeral. Sofia gets her way and is one of the pallbearers. At the funeral, no one acts like it is unusual, which makes Celie happy. After the funeral, they all go back to Harpo’s. Mr. ______ comes over and starts talking to Celie. He tells her that Henrietta has a blood disease that has made her very ill. Sofia tells Celie that Mr. ______ lived like a pig once Celie left, and Harpo helped him back up again. Sofia once found them asleep together, Harpo holding his father in his arms. This scene made her feel compassion for him again. Once Harpo forced him to send Nettie’s letters to Celie again, Mr. ______ started to improve.


Celie has been writing her experiences and feelings on paper to God. Now she is able to write back to Nettie. In her letter to Nettie, Celie describes her feelings as she approaches Pa's house, writing, “Even the sun seem to stand a little longer over our heads.” Pa’s house is in full bloom and green, and the anthropomorphic description of the sun, lingering over the women’s heads, anticipates new warmth in Celie’s life. As Celie describes it, the sun stands over them to guard them, acting as a symbol of omnipotent grandeur and love in this garden of paradise. Interestingly, exactly the same phrase is used a couple of paragraphs earlier in a completely different context: Celie remembers the last time she saw Pa, “standing over” May Ellen, “tap tapping on the gravel with his cane.” In this case, the tyrannical male figure is a negative, dominating, looming presence who casts a shadow over the female. In her description, however, Celie has escaped into the positive rays of the sun.

When Celie finds Nettie’s letters, we gain access to Nettie’s feelings and experiences. We do not have access to the same kind of documentation for Samuel or others. But what he tells Nettie is recorded by her and incorporated into Celie’s diary which, in turn, we read. Nettie’s and Celie’s documentation of their lives unites them with others and gives voice to their various experiences.

Samuel’s story of how he got the children is able to reach Celie through this medium. The information he tells is perhaps the most important news of her life: the man who raped her was not actually her father. The novel records many displacements and separations of families and communities, and now even the family Celie thought she had is no more. The oral tradition on which so many black communities relied is made difficult by so many displacements. But with the tradition of writing one’s thoughts and experiences, one creates a written testimonial, making somewhat more permanent the words that would be spoken during storytelling. Thus broken families can communicate from wherever they are in the world, across both space and time.

As Corrine dies, she remembers the day when she met Celie. She finds out where her children came from on her deathbed, having gone so many years doubting whether or not they were Nettie’s children. This epiphany is similar to Celie’s. After years of believing one thing, she eventually realizes that she has spent a great deal of time with the wrong information. Only the commitment of the two sisters to keep writing one another has enabled the truth to be communicated to Celie.

At this time in the novel, Olivia becomes a woman and starts to menstruate. This celebration of womanhood and the prospect of a new generation comes at just the time when the truth has been uncovered for Corinne and Celie. Again we see blood as a significant aspect of the imagery in the novel. Corinne dies, but we have hope for a new, fresh generation of women who will be educated and who will tell their stories. Olivia is not to go through with the traditional ceremony, further emphasizing the breaking of seemingly destructive and misogynistic traditions.

Clearly this is a central point in the novel, the point at which the color purple is mentioned. The conversation between Shug and Celie here points to Celie’s own personal struggles; she is dealing with the fact that she no longer believes in God. Moreover, we see again the novel’s preoccupation with color and perception. When challenged, Celie describes God as “big and old and tall and graybearded and white. He wear white robes and go barefoot…[eyes] bluish-gray. Cool. Big though. White lashes.” The repetitive structure of the first sentence in this staccato and rhythmic description is childlike. It betrays a naïvely definite view of what God looks like due to the cumulative effect of several and (mostly) monosyllabic adjectives. God is big, old, and tall; his eyes are cool and big. Celie has a fairly clear view of what God looks like in her mind. But Shug, as the novel does on a grander scale, challenges Celie’s perception and asks her to really assess why God is white and bearded in her mind. It is interesting that Shug points out to Celie the beauty of the color purple in nature, for this example reinforces the question of whether or not any color can be picked out above any other as beautiful. Celie has associated purple with Shug’s beauty; Shug tends to choose red and gold; many individuals who are white or black tend to see white skin or black skin, respectively, as beautiful. Purple is a special color that God uses to add beauty to the world in kindness and love.

When Shug explains what God means to her, she is articulating something that God has become to Celie already. Even though Celie may have been writing “Dear God” to the white, bearded image in her head, her writing also was very personal. In a sense she always was writing for and to herself. The specific white God has now transcended her traditional image of God, becoming much more abstract, as Shug suggests. God is now, for them, on the one hand an internal goodness available to each person, and on the other hand a being who loves everything in the world and who rejoices when people find pleasure in the world and in each other. It is a shame when someone lets something good pass by unadmired, even if it is something like the color purple in a field.

Celie continues to write after she moves to Memphis. Even though she has moved, God is with her, as are her readers. We remain with Celie in her new location. What provides unity of place is the diary itself, for it is the place where all the writings and letters come together. Her writing unites many aspects of her life so that she can remain connected to the world even when others move away from her or she moves to a new city.

In her new, happier existence, she is transforming with new hope and new powers. She is at her most lucrative and starts earning a living from making pants. She now says she really is happy.

We have seen before that pants are a symbol of power in the novel. With Celie in control over pants, her new business symbolizes her huge leap forward toward self-sufficiency. Mr. ______ does not even recognize her when they meet. Men and women alike wear pants, for Memphis is a place for hope in greater equality between the sexes. Clothing has been another significant image and source of thematic material throughout the novel.

Everyone is getting older, and Mr. ______ is no longer like he used to be. But at any age, a person can improve. Celie’s conscience improved, after she betrayed Sofia by telling Harpo to beat her, by giving him healthier advice later. Now, Mr. ______ has improved after agreeing to send Celie her sister’s letters. Such change is very important because it forces a break with the past and heals the conscience, enabling a character to create a healthier future.

Finally, even though Sofia and Harpo argue about Sofia being a pallbearer at her mother’s funeral, she insists. The community accepts her decision and does not reject the idea of a woman carrying the coffin. This makes Celie happy because it confirms her faith in the power of social change in addition to individual change. Women, individually and collectively, are gaining in power as the story progresses.