“The Color Purple” is a very harsh book to read. It consists of letters between two sisters: Celie and Nettie and Celie’s letters to God - He is the only one who she can trust the horrors she endures.
The first Celie’s letter is one of those she writes to God. She writes Him that she is constantly abused and raped by her Pa - the man she considers her father named Alphonso. He treats her worse than a livestock making her work at home as a slave. Celie is fourteen now and she was raped for years, impregnated once, and gave birth to a girl. Immediately afterwards, Pa took the newborn baby from Celie and killed her in the woods.
Celie is pregnant for the second time and delivers a boy who is also killed by Pa. What is most horrible is that Celie’s mother is alive, knows well what is happening in her home and hates Celie. Soon her mother becomes ill and dies, cursing her older daughter for ruining her life with her last words. Pa remarries almost immediately, but even after bringing his new wife home he continues to rape Celie.
Miraculously, the girl stays sane. All her maternal instinct she uses to protect her younger sister, Nettie, who hits her puberty and now also has to fight Pa’s sexual advances. Nettie is smart and bright (Celie thinks that she is the complete opposite of herself). But seeing this and deciding that Celie is too “old” and “ugly” for him now, after two pregnancies and constant beating, Pa decides to marry her away, so he can finally taste Nettie as well. Pa finds Mr. _____, an old widower, who needs a woman to keep his house and care for his four children. Mr. _____ wants to marry Nettie, but Pa declines and offers him Celie instead. Mr. _____ eventually agrees, he decides that Celie is fine to abuse and rape too. So, from one slavery Celie gets into another - but even this one feels like a relief. Firstly, Mr. _____ isn’t her father, so involuntary sex and beating look less disgusting to her (this part made me shrug). Secondly, Celie is fascinated by the lover of Mr. _____ named Shug, whose photos she sees in the house and thoughts about her comfort the girl. Soon she learns that Shug is a singer and she came to sing in local bar. She wants to see her idol and hear her singing, but Celie isn’t allowed to leave her home.
Very soon, Nettie, left unprotected in the house with Pa, runs away and asks Celie for a shelter. Celie agrees, but Mr. _____ starts demanding sex in exchange for protection. Unable to talk him down, Nettie has to flee again, now to nowhere. She tearfully promises Celie to write letters to her as often as she can and leaves. For a long time Celie hears nothing about her and finally assumes that her sister is dead. She fully immerses herself into the life of her new dysfunctional family, observing their behaviour.
She finds support from Mr. _____’s sister Kate. Kate soothes her, but also mildly encourages Celie to stand for herself and not let the rest of the family treat her as inferior. Celie listens to her, but still has no courage to fight back and obeys every perverted whim of her husband. But later she sees another example of confidence and high self-esteem. Mr. _____’s older son named Harpo suddenly falls in love with a girl named Sofia. Sofia is overweight and not pretty at all but still she is charming and it seems that she doesn’t worry about her appearance at all. After some time Sofia announces she is pregnant and marries Harpo (like he had a choice with such a girl). But while the family patriarch and Harpo himself try to force her to obey, “putting the woman into her place”, Sofia talks back. And how! She is not ashamed of anything they try to say her. She is proud to be a woman, she is okay to be overweight and she doesn’t mind having sex before the wedding. Enraged (and encouraged by Celie herself, who sincerely believes that Sofia indeed needs to be put into her place, like all the other women - the time for us to shrug again!) Harpo tries to outright beat her, but Sofia is stronger not only mentally but physically too and Harpo gets beaten instead. The incident never happens again.
Sofia calls Celie out for what she considers a betrayal. But when she understands how deeply traumatized Celie is, she tames her fury and the two women declare their sisterhood, making a quilt together - like a banner of their newly found friendship - they called “Sisters Choice”. Sofie becomes a constant inspiration for Celie and her example shows the girl that women can stand for themselves and survive.
Soon Shug, who is very ill, is brought to the house of Mr. _____. At first she is rude to Celie (Celie is a wife of Mr. _____ and Shug is merely a lover), but when Celie willingly takes the duty of nursing Shug back to health, the singer warms up to her, and Celie… let’s say she is more than warmed up. Confused with her feelings Celie doesn’t know how to act: what she feels towards Shug is clearly romantic. In her turn, Shug learns that Mr. _____ is relatively kind to Celie (at least he doesn’t beat her) while she is in the house and decides to stay for longer. Moreover, she also gets interested in the girl and gradually starts to flirt with her, gently and carefully, unlike all the men in Celie’s life. Very soon the relationship between the two women becomes intimate, full of mutually pleasant sex and genuine love.
Tired of constant quarrels and attempts of dominating, Sofia takes the kids and leaves Harpo. Harpo immediately finds a lover nicknamed Squeak - more to persuade himself that he is okay with being dumped by his wife. Sofia pays visits from time to time - to bring kids to their father and, of course, to see her sister Celie. When she meets Squeak, she responses immediately - by starting a fight. Squeak loses. But defeat means friendship and later the two women decide that Harpo isn’t worth it.
The hair-trigger temper finally gets Sofia in trouble. One day the wife of the mayor orders her to work as her maid. Sofia refuses in her own unique manner and is slapped by the mayor for her insubordination. Of course Sofia slaps the mayor back and is imprisoned for it.
Almost all the women we met in the book unite to get Sofia out of jail. Celie, Shug, Sofia’s sisters and even Squeak - everyone is weaving a plan behind the backs of man. But the plan backfires. Attempting to bribe the prison warden, her own uncle, Squeak is brutally raped by him. Everyone expects her to breakdown when she tells the rest of the women about what happened, but miraculously Squeak finds strength in her confession. She dismisses her nickname and promises to herself that it will never happen to her again. Later she starts to write her own blues music and it is quite a good one.
Sofia is sentenced to serve as a mayor’s maid for twelve years. She is able to leave the prison, but now she is mocked and abused by the mayor’s family and a slightest disobedience will return her to prison again, without any chance to see her children. The spirit of the bravest woman is finally broken and no one can help her now.
Shug leaves for a while and soon returns with her new husband named Grady. But still, the polyamorous singer loves Celie too and treats her with the same romantic affection as before. They often sleep together in the house of Mr. _____ and they become closer and closer, to the point when Celie feels safe to tell Shug about her sister. She says that Nettie is probably dead because she promised to write her letters but Celie didn’t receive a single one and she knows that her sister never breaks her promises. Shug remembers that Mr. _____ hid countless letters in his room , none of which was opened. She suggests that Mr. _____ received all the letters from Nettie and just kept them in secret for some reason. The two women decide to steal the letters from his room. They are indeed from Nettie.
Overwhelmed with emotions, Celie starts to read them from the very first one. She discovers that Nettie is alive. She met a missionary couple, Samuel and Corrine. They were going to Africa to spread the Christianity amongst the locals. They also had two adopted children named Olivia and Adam. Nettie wrote that they were incredibly similar to herself and to Celie, so similar that she started to wonder. Nettie asked Corrine about the children and the woman became suspicious. Corrine tried harder and harder to separate Nettie and the children, but Samuel willingly told Nettie the story of their adoption. It appeared that they were indeed the two children of Celie, alive and well. Another thing Nettie learned was that Pa wasn’t their biological father. Their real father was lynched by the white people for simply being too rich for them, improperly rich for a black man. Pa told the girls that he was their real father, not a stepfather, to inherit the house and all family possessions after their mother’s death.
Nettie worked as a missionary for some years, but became disappointed with her job. She saw that African people just don’t understand Christianity, they have completely different culture. She wrote in her letters about African customs, the genital mutilation women endure, the multiple wives of rich people and a strong feeling of sisterhood among them that allowed them to survive everything life throws to them. Reading these stories Celie recognizes the situation she lived through - her beating, rape and the feeling of unity among the women when they tried to rescue their sister Sofie.
The following letters are more solemn. Corrine caught a local illness and got worse and worse. Unable to bear the secret, Nettie confessed to her that Olivia and Adam are her niece and nephew. It took time for Corrine to believe Nettie’s story, but on her deathbed Corrine finally accepted what Nettie had said to her and died peacefully, reconciling with her. The string of letters ends here - the last one arrived not long ago.
The whirlwind of emotions in Celie’s soul gradually transforms into pure fury. She sees Nettie as a confident and brave woman and compares her to herself - obedient, silent, unable to stand for herself. At first she is angry at God for letting all that happen, but Shug comforts her, urging Celie to reinvent the image of God and shift from the previous one: the old man with the beard who grants wishes. Like Squeak before, Celie decides that it will never happen to her again. Celie returns to Alphonso and blatantly asks him if he is her stepfather. He confirms that. Finally Celie confronts him with all just wrath, feeling great relief, now knowing he is no one and nothing to her. She returns home and does the same thing with Mr. _____, calling him out for everything he did to her. She announces that she leaves him immediately and goes to Tennessee. To his shock, Shug stands near Celie and adds that they are leaving together. Squeak, who still is Harpo’s lover, joins the two women. Before leaving they all learn that Sofie is released from her humiliating servitude.
Celie and Shug live in Tennessee together as a loving couple. As a sign of her newly found independence and confidence Celie sews a pair of pants to herself. The pants are great and she sews one pair more, and more… Soon she becomes a tailor famous for her individually and thoroughly designed female pants. After a while Shug again finds a male lover - she is polyamorous after all - and their relationship with Celie becomes less romantic and more sister-like. Soon Celie visits her hometown again to learn that Alphonso finally died and her house now belongs to her again. She decides to stay there leaving Shug to live her life in Tennessee. With surprise she discovers also that Mr. _____ (now just Albert) was shocked with her anger so much that he indeed started reforming himself and finally grew some sense of morals. Although Celie can’t be interested in him as in husband or just as in man, she starts to enjoy talking to him. Harpo also settled down and tuned down his misogyny, so Sofia remarried him. Though they both have ragged edges, they do love each other and they had enough time to finally understand it.
Meanwhile, in Africa, Samuel, after several years as a widower, makes Nettie a proposal and she agrees. Adam grows up and falls in love with a local girl named Tashi, but, according to local customs, she has to pass through genital mutilation and facial scarring before the wedding. Shocked by the pain and horror Tashi has to undergo, Adam himself goes through the face scarring ritual as a sign of solidarity with pain of his beloved. It touches Tashi’s very heart and shakes the very basics of local traditions. After that all the family including Tashi decide to leave Africa and return to America. Celie is waiting for them. Half of the house belongs to Nettie and it is big enough to accommodate everyone.
The sisters finally reunite and are incredibly happy together. Tashi adapts to American customs and becomes happy with Adam, who loves her faithfully and truly. Sofia now works as a seller in Celie’s tailor shop and also gets financially independent from her husband - who now has to grasp the concept of gender equality. Squeak becomes a famous blues composer. Shug still jumps from one bed to another feeling perfectly happy while sleeping with younger men, but her gentle relationship with Celie remain forever and the two women write to each other letters full of love and tenderness. Finally everyone receives the happiness and peace they all deserved long ago.