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tw: abuse in this article, for the book: graphic depictions of rape, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, general abuse, racism
The Color Purple was written by Alice Walker, published in 1982 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, and won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1983. Though the story has many characters and goes many places (Memphis, England, Olinka, a small African village, among others) the root of it all is family, specifically sisterhood. Celie and Nettie are two black sisters living in the American South who become separated by distance, abuse, and betrayal. The story follows them as their love for one another and refusal to give up on hope lead them back home.
As you read, Celie, the sister that has been left behind, becomes a woman that recognizes, survives, and overcomes abuse. As she’s coming through her healing stages, she falls in love with her husband’s, Mister’s, mistress, Shug Avery, a jazz and blues singer. Though Shug treats Celie like shit when she first comes, suffering from an illness and unwilling to bend her pride to be thankful for help she’s given, Celie loves her from first sight. As Celie takes care of her, Shug softens, and Celie begins to notice that she blurs the line between man and woman.
“That when I notice how Shug talk and sometimes act like a man. Men say stuff like that to women, Girl, you look like a good time. Women always talk bout hair and health. How many babies living or dead, or got teef. Not bout how some woman they hugging on look like a good time.” (p.85)
When Shug learns that Mister beats Celie whenever Shug leaves, she decides to stay.
“If you was my wife, she say, I’d cover you with kisses instead of licks, and work hard for you too.” (p. 115)
As the two become closer, they begin a sexual relationship and fall in love.
“Nobody ever love me, I say.
She say, I love you, Miss Celie.” (p.117)
“It feel like heaven is what it feel like, not like sleeping with Mr. _____ at all.” (p.119)
Shug convinces Celie to find out more about her sister, Nettie, and where she may be, whether or not she’s alive, and to find her. She helps her decide not to give up hope.
“Why you want to know so much about Nettie?, I ast.
Cause she the only one you ever, she says, side me.” (p.123)
This relationship sustains Celie as she becomes strong enough to search for and read through the letters Nettie wrote her and Mister hid from her. As Nettie explains that the man they believed was their dad isn’t their father, Celie leaves Mister with Shug and Squeak and she stays in Tennessee becoming a relatively famous seamstress. As someone who had grown up being called ugly, Celie begins to come into her own as she rejects (seen at the time as) more feminine outfits such as dresses and skirts, and dresses herself in stylish pants and other masculine wear that she creates. She moves back into her childhood home after inheriting the land and strikes up an understanding with Mister, who now asks her to call him Albert. She learns that Shug has fallen in love with a man and wants to travel with him. Celie is heartbroken at first and still loves Shug even if it’ll remain unrequited, but continues to live her life for herself and is good with that, when Shug comes back. When she does, Celie’s sister, Nettie and her family finally find each other, and the book ends with them introducing their families to each other.