Celie is abused and raped by her Pa, who takes away her children after they’re born. Eventually, Pa marries Celie off to a man who is just as abusive as Pa. Celie’s new husband, Mr.__ simply marries Celie to take care of his four children, look after of his house, and work in his fields.
Celie is somewhat happy to marry Mr.__ because she can now remove her younger sister, Nettie, from Pa’s household. However, after Nettie lives in Mr.__’s household for a time without encouraging his sexual advances, Mr.__ kicks Nettie out. Though Nettie promises to write to her sister, Celie doesn’t hear from her. Celie’s life gets worse and worse, as she’s now separated from the only person in the world whom she loves and who loves her back.
Celie’s life changes when Mr.__ brings his deathly ill mistress home for Celie to nurse back to health. Mr.__’s mistress, Shug, is everything that Celie isn’t: sexy, sassy, and independent. Celie quickly falls in love with Shug, and Shug falls in love back. For the first time in Celie’s life, she has a chance to enjoy sex, romance, and friendship.
Together with Shug, Celie discovers the mystery of Nettie’s silence for so many decades: Mr.__ has been hiding all of Nettie’s letters in his locked trunk. When Celie finds her sister’s letters, it unlocks a new world for her. Instead of being submissive and downtrodden, she realizes the full extent of the abuses she has suffered from Mr.__. This knowledge gives her the strength to leave him. Celie heads off to Memphis with Shug to start a new life.
Nettie’s letters transform the way Celie sees the world. From Nettie, Celie learns that Pa isn’t actually her biological father. Celie also learns that Nettie is living with the Reverend Samuel and his family, working as a missionary in Africa. The Reverend Samuel had also adopted Celie’s two children from Pa many years back. Nettie, Samuel, and the children plan to return from Africa soon.
Celie learns that Pa has died. She also finds out that the house that Pa lived in actually has belonged to Celie and Nettie since their mother passed away. So now Celie owns a home, which she prepares for Nettie’s arrival. Now an independent woman, Celie remains close friends with Shug, although Shug is not faithful or constant in their romantic relationship. Celie also gains a new friend. After she left Mr.__, he became a changed man. He’s reformed and is now a pretty decent guy. Although Celie isn’t remotely romantically interested in him, they now enjoy each other’s company.
After several decades abroad in Africa, Nettie returns with Samuel, who is now her husband, and with Celie’s two children. The sisters have a blissful reunion, and although they’re now old women, we get the sense that they’ve just begun the best years of their lives.