As the book opens, we see how thoroughly unprotected Celie is by any adults in her life. Her Pa repeatedly rapes her and Celie gives birth to two children by him. Her mama is sick and mentally ill, dying young. Though Celie’s teacher initially comes out to fight for Celie’s right to continue school, she goes away when she sees Celie is pregnant. It’s not clear to anybody whether it’s better for Celie to stay at her house with Pa or to marry Mr.__ when he comes by looking for a wife to take care of his young children.
Celie is forced to marry Mr.__ and sees this as an opportunity to get Nettie out of Pa’s household. However, Nettie is no safer in Mr.__’s home. When Nettie refuses Mr.__’s come-ons, he kicks Nettie out. Celie is alone now, a continual victim. This central conflict sets up the rest of the novel’s themes: one of exile for Nettie (who ends up in Africa) and one of abandonment/oppression for Celie (who spends much of her life under Mr.__’s thumb).
It seems like Celie will be the complete victim when her husband’s mistress Shug Avery moves in, but Celie is relieved. With Shug around, Mr.__ doesn’t beat her and doesn’t sleep with her. She has some relief, but learns jealousy. Now, Celie competes with Mr.__ for Shug’s attention and affection.
Mr.__ has committed the ultimate crime against Celie: he has intentionally kept Celie separated from the only person in the world she loves and who loves her, Nettie. This knowledge gives Celie the ability to rise up in anger against her husband and no longer be victimized by him. She leaves Mr.__ and follows Shug to Tennessee. From Nettie’s letters, Celie learns that Pa is not her actual father after all, another bit of knowledge that gives her strength. Celie finally takes control of her own life and happiness.
Celie returns home and several things happen: Shug falls in love with somebody else, Mr.__ becomes her friend, and Nettie’s ship gets sunk when Nettie is on her way home from Africa. But it’s not clear if for sure Nettie’s dead. Although most of the plot is now behind us, there is ongoing suspense as we wonder whether Celie and Nettie will ever be reunited or not.
Life is good. Nettie comes home and is reunited with Celie. Nettie also is able to introduce Celie to Adam and Olivia, Celie’s two children. Nettie’s exile is over and Celie’s period of abandonment has come to an end.
The novel ends on a note that assures you that life for Celie and the other characters just keeps getting better. Now that she has found a voice and is surrounded by people who she loves and who love her back, Celie comments, "I think this is the youngest us [Celie, Nettie, Shug, Albert, etc.] ever felt."