Alice Walker's The Color Purple: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Brienne Adams

Brienne has taught college level English and has a master's degree in Afro American Studies with a concentration in English Literature.

The Color Purple is about Celie and her life over several decades at the turn of the 20th century. After reading the lesson, test your knowledge with a short quiz.

Basic Overview

What is your favorite color? Mine happens to be purple, which is also the title of one of my favorite books by Alice Walker. In this lesson, we will summarize her book, The Color Purple, and take note of some the key quotes that make the novel so memorable!

The story takes place in rural Georgia for most of the book. The title comes from a line the character Shug Avery says toward the end of the story, ''I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.''


The book follows Celie in a series of letters addressed to God and Celie's sister, Nettie, who moved to Africa. Celie's story begins as a fourteen year old who is being sexually abused by her father. She has two children by him named Adam and Olivia.

Upon turning twenty years old, she is married to a man she calls, Mr. ____. He sexually, physically, and emotionally abusive throughout their marriage. Celie begins a sexual and eventually romantic relationship with Mr. ____'s ex-lover, Shug Avery, who helps her to uncover Nettie's letters to Celie that were hidden by Mr. ____.

In the letters from Nettie, we find out that she has moved to West Africa with a missionary couple, Samuel and Corinne, who are also the adoptive parents of Celie's children. The last letter that Celie writes is addressed to God and sums up the spiritual aspect in the book. Celie writes, ''Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God.''

With her new-found sense of self from Shug's love and Nettie's letters, Celie ends up leaving Mr. ____ and moves with Shug to Memphis TN, where she begins a business selling pants. Samuel and Nettie bring the children, who are adults now, back to Georgia with them to meet the family. (Samuel and Nettie were married after Corinne passed away in Africa.) Olivia, Adam and Adam's wife, Tashi, are all reunited with Celie and all the other characters, bringing an immense joy to Celie's heart.

Main Storylines

Celie's observations about life and love are told through her interactions with key characters. Let's look at some of the main storylines.

  • Celie and Nettie

Celie's and Nettie's relationship is important because Celie feels Nettie is the only one who ever loved her until she met Shug Avery. Celie and Nettie are separated once Celie marries Mr. ____.

Through Nettie's letters that Mr. ____ hid from Celie, we discover Nettie moved to Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa with the couple, Samuel and Corinne, who adopted Celie's children. She discusses in depth her life in Africa as a missionary and how Celie and Nettie's father isn't actually their father but their step-father.

  • Celie and Mr. ____

Celie calls her husband, Mr. ____, throughout the book. He originally wanted to marry Nettie after his wife died, but their father said he could marry Celie instead. Celie raises his children and endures his domestic abuse for most of the book.

Their marriage hurts her self-esteem, and she is constantly encouraged by different women surrounding her to be strong. Once she starts her romantic relationship with Shug Avery, she finds the strength to leave Mr. ____. She tells Mr. ____ after he berates her for leaving him, ''Until you do right by me, I say, everything you touch will crumble.'' They reconcile at the end once he sends her the rest of Nettie's letters he hid from Celie.

  • Celie and Shug Avery

Shug Avery and Mr. ____ were a couple before he got married to his deceased wife. She is a singer who tours the country. She eventually falls ill, and Mr. ____brings her back to his house to nurse her back to health.

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