Study Guide

The Color Purple Quotes

  • Violence

    Letter One
    Celie

    He [Pa] never had a kine word to say to me. Just say You gonna do what your mammy wouldn’t. First he put his thing up gainst my hip and sort of wiggle it around. Then he grab hold my titties. Then he push his thing inside my pussy. When that hurt, I cry. He start to choke me, saying You better shut up and git used to it.

    But I don’t never get used to it. And now I feels sick every time I be the one to cook. (1.4-5)

    Pa commits several forms of violence against Celie. Clearly, he’s physically violent to her by raping her. He also causes emotional damage by never showing any respect for her as a human being; he orders her around without ever saying anything kind to her. Finally, he also emotionally separates her from others by forcing her to keep quiet about the way he’s treating her.

    Letter Two

    She [Mama] got sicker an sicker.

    Finally she ast Where it is?

    I say God took it.

    He took it. He took it while I was sleeping. Kilt it out there in the woods. Kill this one too, if he can. (2.4-7)

    Pa commits violence against Celie by separating her from the people she loves—in this case, from her children.

    Letter Five
    Celie

    He beat me today cause he say I winked at a boy in church. I may have got somethin in my eye but I didn’t wink. I don’t even look at mens. (5.1)

    Pa’s violence emerges suddenly and arbitrarily, for actions that most people would consider normal.

    Letter Thirteen
    Harpo

    Harpo ast his daddy why he beat me. Mr._______ say, Cause he my wife. Plus, she stubborn. All women good for—he don’t finish. He just tuck his chin over the paper like he do. Remind me of Pa. (13.1)

    Violence is an integral part of Celie and Mr.__’s marriage. Essentially, Mr.__ beats Celie because he has no respect for her or women in general.

    Letter Nineteen
    Harpo

    Harpo want to know what to do to make Sofia mind. He sit out on the porch with Mr._________. He say, I tell her one thing, she do another. Never do what I say. Always backtalk.

    To tell the truth, he sound a little proud of this to me.

    […]

    You ever hit her? Mr._________ ast.

    Harpo look down at his hands. Naw suh, he say low, embarrass.

    Well how you spect to make her mind? Wives is like children. You have to let ‘em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating.

    He puff on his pipe.

    Sofia think too much of herself anyway, he say. She need to be taken down a peg. I like Sofia, but she don’t act like me at all. If she talking when Harpo and Mr._________ come in the room, she keep right on. If they ast her where something at, she say she don’t know. Keep talking.

    I think bout this when Harpo ast me what he ought to do to her to make her mind. I don’t mention how happy he is now. How three years pass and he still whistle and sing. I think bout how every time I jump when Mr.________ call me, she look surprise. And like she pity me. Beat her. I say. (19.1-2; 5-12)

    Even though there is nothing wrong with Harpo and Sofia’s marriage, Harpo wants to control his wife. Mr.__ advises Harpo to dominate Sofia the way most men do, by using violence. Celie realizes that bringing violence into a marriage damages it, but she’s jealous that Sofia isn’t beaten and that Harpo can be married three years and "still whistle and sing."

    Letter Twenty

    [Harpo and Sofia] fighting like two mens. Every piece of furniture they got is turned over. Every plate look like it broke. The looking glass hang crooked, the curtains torn. The bed look like the stuffing pulled out. They don’t’ notice. They fight. He try to slap her. What he do that for? She reach down and grab a piece of stove wood and whack him cross the eyes. He punch her in the stomach, she double over groaning but come up with both hands lock right under his privates. He roll on the floor. He grab her dress tail and pull. She stand there in her slip. She never blink a eye. He jump up to put a hammer lock under her chin, she throw him over her back. He fall bam up gainst the stove. (20.2)

    Unlike Celie, Sofia doesn’t become passive when men use violence against her—Sofia hits back. Once Harpo brought violence into his marriage, things just got worse.

    Letter Twenty-One
    Sofia

    You told Harpo to beat me, she said.

    No I didn’t, I said.

    Don’t lie, she said.

    I didn’t mean it, I said.

    Then what you say it for? she ast.

    She standing there looking me straight in the eye. She look tired and her jaws full of air.

    I say it cause I’m a fool, I say. I say it cause I’m jealous of you. I say it cause you do what I can’t.

    What that? she say.

    Fight. I say.

    She stand there a long time, like what I said took the wind out her jaws. She made before, sad now.

    She say, All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house. (21.13-23)

    Celie didn’t physically beat Sofia up but she did violence against her soul by encouraging Harpo to do it.

    Celie

    I ain’t never struck a living thing, I say. Oh, when I was at home I tap the little ones on the behind to make 'em behave, but not hard enough to hurt.

    What you do when you git mad? she ast.

    I think. I can’t even remember the last time I felt mad, I say. I used to git mad at my mammy cause she put a lot of work on me. Then I see how sick she is. Couldn’t stay mad at her. Couldn’t be mad at my daddy cause he my daddy. Bible say, Honor father and mother no matter what. Then after while every time I got mad, or start to feel mad, I got sick. Felt like throwing up. Terrible feeling. Then I start to feel nothing at all. (21.39-41)

    Celie has been beaten so much, she has become numb to life.

    Letter Thirty-Seven

    Sofia and the prizefighter don’t say nothing. Wait for her to pass. Mayor wait too, stand back and tap his foot, watch her with a little smile. Now Millie, he say. Always going on over colored. Miss Millie finger the children some more, finally look at Sofia and the prizefighter. She look at the prizefighter car. She eye Sofia wristwatch. She say to Sofia, All your children so clean, she say, would you like to work for me, be my maid?

    Sofia say, Hell no.

    She say, What you say?

    Sofia say, Hell no.

    Mayor look at Sofia, push his wife out the way. Stick out his chest. Girl, what you say to Miss Millie?

    Sofia say, I say, Hell no.

    He slap her.



    No need to say no more, Mr.________ say. You know what happen if somebody slap Sofia.

    Squeak go white as a sheet. Naw, she say.

    Naw nothing, I say. Sofia knock the man down.

    The polices come, start slinging the children off the mayor, bang they heads together. Sofia really start to fight. They drag her to the ground. (37.13-25)

    Just like the black male characters use violence to assert dominance over their wives, white society uses violence in an attempt to make black people submissive.

  • Sex

    Letter One

    He [Pa] never had a kine word to say to me. Just say You gonna do what your mammy wouldn’t. First he put his thing up gainst my hip and sort of wiggle it around. Then he grab hold my titties. Then he push his thing inside my pussy. When that hurt, I cry. He start to choke me, saying You better shut up and git used to it. (1.4)

    When she is barely fourteen, Celie is raped by her father. Her first introduction to sex is a violent experience meant only to gratify Pa.

    Letter Thirty
    Sofia

    I don’t like to go to bed with him no more, she [Sofia] say. Used to be when he touch me I’d go all out my head. Now when he touch me I just don’t want to be bothered. Once he git on top of me I think bout how that’s where he always want to be. She sip her lemonade. I use to love that part of it, she say. I use to chase him home from the field. Git all hot just watching him put the children to bed. But no more. Now I feel tired all the time. No interest.

    Now, now, I say. Sleep on it some, maybe it come back. But I say this just to be saying something. I don’t know nothing bout it. Mr.__________ clam on top of me, do his business, in ten minutes us both sleep. Only time I feel something stirring down there is when I think bout Shug. And that like running to the end of the road and it turn back on itself.

    You know the worst part? she say. The worst part is I don’t think he notice. He git up there and enjoy himself just the same. No matter what I’m thinking. No matter what I feel. It just him. Heartfeeling don’t even seem to enter into it. She snort. The fact he can do it like that make me want to kill him. (30.15-17)

    Sofia has lost all interest for Harpo—and she doesn’t think he even notices. Sofia, like many of the other female characters in this novel, only wants sex when it involves love and affection. The male characters, on the other hand, use sex just for the physical experience or as a means of dominating women.

    Letter Thirty-Five
    Shug Avery

    She ast me, Tell me the truth, she say, do you mind if Albert sleep with me? I think, I don’t care who Albert sleep with. But I don’t say that.

    I say, You might git big again.

    She say, Naw, not with my sponge and all.

    You still love him, I ast.

    She say, I got what you call a passion for him. If I was ever going to have a husband he’d a been it….

    You like to sleep with him? I ast.

    Yeah, Celie she say, I have to confess, I just love it. Don’t you?

    Naw, I say. Mr._______ can tell you, I don’t like it at all. What is it like? He git up on you, heist your nightgown round your waist, plunge in. Most times I pretend I ain’t there. He never know the difference. Never ast me how I feel, nothing. Just do his business, get off, go to sleep.

    She start to laugh. Do his business, she say. Do his business. Why, Miss Celie. You make it sound like he going to the toilet on you.

    That what it feel like, I say.

    She stop laughing.

    You never enjoy it at all? she ast, puzzle. Not even with your children daddy?

    Never, I say.

    Why Miss Celie, she say, you still a virgin. (35.5-19)

    Shug can’t imagine sex without pleasure. She declares that if you don’t enjoy sex, then it’s as if you’ve never had sex at all. Celie is still a virgin.

    Letter Forty-Seven
    Shug Avery

    She say, I love you, Miss Celie. And then she haul off and kiss me on the mouth.

    Um, she say, like she surprise. I kiss her back, say, um, too. Us kiss and kiss till us can’t hardly kiss no more. Then us touch each other.

    I don’t know nothing bout it, I say to Shug.

    I don’t know much, she say.

    Then I feels something real soft and wet on my breast, feel like one of my little lost babies mouth.

    Way after while, I act like a little lost baby too. (47.16-21)

    Celie finally has a positive sexual experience. With Shug, sex isn’t one-sided and meant only for a single person’s gratification.

    Letter Seventy-Three
    Shug Avery

    She say, My first step from the old white man was trees. Then air. Then birds. Then other people. But one day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was. In fact, when it happen, you can’t miss it. It sort of like you know what, she say, grinning and rubbing high up on my thigh.

    Shug! I say.

    Oh, she say. God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves 'em you enjoys 'em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God by liking what you like.

    God don’t think it dirty? I ast.

    Naw, she say. God made it. Listen, God love everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t. (73.52-56)

    According to Shug, God made sex, and made it as a way for people to enjoy life.

  • Religion

    Letter Two

    She [Mama] got sicker an sicker.

    Finally she ast Where it is?

    I say God took it.

    He took it. He took it while I was sleeping. Kilt it out there in the woods. Kill this one too, if he can. (2.4-7)

    Like many children, Celie confuses her father with God. Rather, she doesn’t actually think her father is God, but his power over her makes him godlike.

    Letter Twenty-One
    Sofia

    I ain’t never struck a living thing, I say. Oh, when I was at home I tap the little ones on the behind to make 'em behave, but not hard enough to hurt.

    What you do when you git mad? she ast.

    I think. I can’t even remember the last time I felt mad, I say. I used to git mad at my mammy cause she put a lot of work on me. Then I see how sick she is. Couldn’t stay mad at her. Couldn’t be mad at my daddy cause he my daddy. Bible say, Honor father and mother no matter what. Then after while every time I got mad, or start to feel mad, I got sick. Felt like throwing up. Terrible feeling. Then I start to feel nothing at all.

    Sofia frown. Nothing at all?

    Well, sometime Mr._______ git on me pretty hard. I have to talk to Old Maker. But he my husband. I shrug my shoulders. This life soon be over, I say. Heaven last all ways.

    You ought to bash Mr.___________ head open, she say. Think bout heaven later. (21.39-44)

    This passage implies that organized religion has kept Celie from rising up in anger against all of those who have sinned against her. Is this true, or just an excuse Celie is using?

    Letter Sixty-One
    Nettie

    We know a roofleaf is not Jesus Christ, but in its own humble way, is it not God? (61.28)

    In Africa, Nettie recognizes that the shelter and safety provided by the roofleaf are godlike in a way. Her definition of God begins to expand.

    Letter Seventy-Three
    Celie

    Then she [Shug] tell me this old white man is the same God she used to see when she prayed. If you wait to find God in church, Celie, she say, that’s who is bound to show up, cause that’s where he live.

    How come? I ast.

    Cause that’s the one that’s in the white folks’ white bible.

    Shug! I say. God wrote the bible, white folks had nothing to do with it.

    How come he look just like them, then? She say. Only bigger? And a heap more hair. How come the bible just like everything else they make, all about them doing one thing and another, and all the colored folks doing is gitting cursed?

    I never thought about that.

    Nettie say somewhere in the bible it say Jesus’ hair was like lamb’s wool, I say.

    Well, say Shug, if he came to any of these churches we talking bout he’d have to have it conked before anybody paid him any attention. The last thing niggers want to think about they God is that his hair kinky.

    That’s the truth, I say.

    Ain’t no way to read the bible and not think God white, she say. Then she sigh. When I found out I thought God was white, and a man, I lost interest. You mad cause he don’t seem to listen to your prayers. Humph! Do the mayor listen to anything colored say? (73.28;35-44)

    Shug points out that the reason Celia has lost her faith in God is because she has the wrong idea about God—she believes that God is a white man who treats her just like white men do, like she’s trash, like she’s beneath him. Shug, though she believes in God, sees the bible and organized religion as just another way for white society to oppress blacks.

    Dear Nettie,

    I don’t write to God no more. I write to you.

    What happen to God? ast Shug.

    Who that? I say.

    She look at me serious.

    Big a devil as you is, I say, you not worried bout no God, surely.

    She say, Wait a minute. Hold on just a minute here. Just because I don’t harass it like some peoples us know don’t mean I ain’t got religion.

    What God do for me? I ast.

    She say, Celie! Like she shock. He gave you life, good health, and a good woman that love you to death.

    Yeah, I say, and he give me a lunched daddy, a crazy mama, a lowdown dog of a step pa and a sister I probably won’t ever see again. Anyhow, I ay, the God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all the other mens I know. Trifling, forgetful and lowdown.

    She say, Miss Celie, You better hush. God might hear you. Let ‘im hear me, I say. If he ever listened to poor colored women the world would be a different place, I can tell you. (73.1-12)

    Celie directs her anger about her life not at the people who have harmed her, but at God. In her mind, God has ignored her, and therefore she will ignore him. Also, Celie sees God as a man, and men have never been good to her in her entire life.

    Shug Avery

    Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit.

    It? I ast.

    Yeah, It. God ain’t a he or a she, but a It.

    But what do it look like? I ast.

    Don’t look like nothing, she say. (73.46-50)

    According to Shug, God has no gender and no race. God is something inside of every person.

    I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. (73.58)

    Shug sees God’s love in the beauty around her. She believes that God places beauty in the world to make human happy; that God made the color purple in order to cause pleasure.

    She say, My first step from the old white man was trees. Then air. Then birds. Then other people. But one day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was. In fact, when it happen, you can’t miss it. It sort of like you know what, she say, grinning and rubbing high up on my thigh.

    Shug! I say.

    Oh, she say. God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves 'em you enjoys 'em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God by liking what you like. (73.52-54)

    Shug find a connection to God in nature, not in the idea of God an old white man. She also sees God in all things pleasurable, from experiencing being in nature to the enjoyment of sex.

    Letter Seventy-Nine
    Sofia

    The first thing I notice about Mr.______ is how clean he is. His skin shine. His hair brush back. When he walk by the casket to review Sofia mother’s body he stop, whisper something to her. Pat her shoulder. On his way back to his seat he look over at me. I raise my fan and look off the other way. Us went back to Harpo’s after the funeral. I know you won’t believe this, Miss Celie, say Sofia, but Mr.___________ act like he trying to get religion. Big a devil as he is, I say, trying is bout all he can do. He won’t go to church or nothing, but he not so quick to judge. He work real hard too. (79.1-6)

    Getting "religion" isn’t the same as going to church. Mr.__ doesn’t go to church, but he’s been getting "religion" because he has recognized his sins against Celie and is trying to change himself into a person who has some compassion and decency.

    Letter Eighty-Six

    God is different to use now, after all these years in Africa. More spirit than never before, and more internal. Most people think he has to look like something or someone—a roofleaf or Christ—but we don’t. And not being tied to what God looks like, frees us. (86.5)

    Religion has become less literal to Nettie and Samuel. God’s become less human, less material—and that has made a huge difference for them. Like Celie feeling freed by disassociating God with the image of a white man, Nettie is also freed by leaving assumptions about God behind.

  • Marriage

    Letter Four
    Celie

    He come home with a girl from round Gray. She be my age but they married. He be on her all the time. She walk round like she don’t know what hit her. I think she thought she love him. But he got so many of us. All needing something. (4.1)

    Pa gets married to a young woman; the love she thought she had for him doesn’t last long in the face of familial needs. This marriage is less about love than about Pa wanting sex and a woman to take care of his children.

    Letter Five
    Celie

    Sometime he [Pa] still be looking at Nettie, but I always git in his light. Now I tell her to marry Mr.______. I don’t tell her why.

    I say Marry him, Nettie, an try to have one good year out your life. After that, I know she be big. (5.2-3)

    Celie sees marriage as a way for Nettie to escape from Pa. However, she also sees marriage as ultimately unfulfilling, because once pregnant, a woman is chained to raising her husband’s children.

    Letter Eight

    Mr.________ come finally one day looking all drug out. The woman he had helping him done quit. His mammy done said No more.

    He say, Let me see her again.

    Pa call me. Celie, he say. Like it wasn’t nothing. Mr.________ want another look at you.

    I go stand in the door. The sun shine in my eyes. He’s still up on his horse. He look me up and down.

    Pa rattle his newspaper. Move up, he won’t bite, he say.

    I go closer to the steps, but not too close cause I’m a little scared of his horse.

    Turn round, Pa say.

    I turn round. (8.11-18)

    Like a cow, Celie is sold into marriage. Mr.__ doesn’t love her, he just wants a woman to take care of his children.

    Letter Twelve

    When a woman marry she spose to keep a decent house and a clean family. (12.5)

    Carrie, Mr.__’s sister, pronounces a woman’s duty as wife and mother. Celie certainly keeps Mr.__’s house and children clean, but that doesn’t leave her feeling fulfilled and it certainly doesn’t make Mr.__ love her.

    Letter Seventeen
    Harpo

    Harpo tell me all his love business now. His mind on Sofia Butler day and night.

    She pretty, he tell me. Bright.

    Smart?

    Naw. Bright skin. She smart too though, I think. Sometime us can git her away from her daddy.

    I know right then the next thing I hear, she be big.

    If she so smart how come she big? I ast.

    Harpo shrug. She can’t git out the house no other way, he say. Mr.________ won’t let us marry. Say I’m not good enough to come in his parlor. But if she big I got a right to be with her, good enough or not.

    Where yall gon stay?

    They got a big place, he say. When us marry I’ll be just like one of the family. (17.12-20)

    Harpo uses pregnancy as a means to get what he wants—that is, to marry the girl he wants and become part of her family. But he’s young and has unrealistic expectations for how he’ll be treated.

    Letter Nineteen
    Harpo

    Well how you spect to make her mind? Wives is like children. You have to let 'em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating.

    He puff on his pipe.

    Sofia think too much of herself anyway, he say. She need to be taken down a peg. I like Sofia, but she don’t act like me at all. If she talking when Harpo and Mr._________ come in the room, she keep right on. If they ast her where something at, she say she don’t know. Keep talking.

    I think bout this when Harpo ast me what he ought to do to her to make her mind. I don’t mention how happy he is now. How three years pass and he still whistle and sing. I think bout how every time I jump when Mr.________ call me, she look surprise. And like she pity me.

    Beat her. I say. (19.5-12)

    Even though Harpo is happy with Sofia, his marriage isn’t fitting his expectations. Love isn’t enough to make his marriage satisfying to him. He always saw his father controlling his wives, and now he wants the same.

    Letter Twenty-Nine
    Celie

    You still bothering Sofia? I ast.

    She my wife, he say.

    That don’t mean you got to keep on bothering her, I say. Sofia love you, she a good wife. Good to the children and good looking. Hardworking. Godfearing and clean. I don’t know what more you want.

    Harpo sniffle.

    I want her to do what I say, like you do for Pa.

    Oh, Lord, I say.

    When Pa tell you to do something, you do it, he say. When he say not to, you don’t. You don’t do what he say, he beat you.

    Sometime beat me anyhow, I say, whether I do what he say or not.

    That’s right, say Harpo. But not Sofia. She do what she want, don’t pay me no mind at all. I try to beat her, she black my eyes. Oh, booo-hoo, he cry. Boo-hoo-hoo. (29.5-13)

    To Harpo, a good marriage is one in which the woman is totally submissive. To Celie, a good marriage is one in which there is love and respect.

    Letter Sixty-Two
    Olivia

    Why do they say I will be a wife of the chief? asks Olivia.

    That is as high as they can think, I tell her.

    He is fat and shiny with huge perfect teeth. She thinks she has nightmares about him.

    You will grow up to be a strong Christian woman, I tell her. Someone who helps her people to advance. You will be a teacher or a nurse. You will travel. You will know many people greater than the chief.

    Will Tashi? she wants to know.

    Yes, I tell her, Tashi too. (62.13-18)

    Marriage is not the end-all, be-all. Nettie assures her niece that a woman has worth outside of the man she marries.

    Letter Eighty-Four
    Mr.__

    You know, he say, you use to remind me of a bird. Way back when you first come to live with me. You was so skinny, Lord, he say. And the least little thing happen, you looked about to fly away.

    You saw that, I say.

    I saw it, he said, just too big a fool to let myself care.

    Well, I say, us lived through it.

    We still man and wife, you know, he say.

    Naw, I say, we never was. (84.9-14)

    Though Mr.__ and Celie are still legally married, Celie states definitively that they were never spiritually or emotionally married.

  • Sexuality and Sexual Identity

    Letter Five
    Celie

    He beat me today cause he say I winked at a boy in church. I may have got somethin in my eye but I didn’t wink. I don’t even look at mens. That’s the truth. I look at women, tho, cause I’m not scared of them. Maybe cause my mama cuss me you think I kept mad at her. But I ain’t. I felt sorry for mama. Trying to believe his story kilt her. (5.1)

    The first evidence that Celie may not be at all interested in males: She is afraid of men. Besides, the men she knows (a.k.a. Pa) are liars. The only man in Celie’s life is her Pa, and he abuses her terribly and lies to her mother. Ultimately, Celie blames Pa for her mother’s death.

    Letter Twenty-Four
    Shug Avery

    They have made three babies together but he squeamish bout giving her a bath. Maybe he figure he start thinking about things he shouldn’t. But what bout me? First time I got the full sight of Shug Avery long black body with it black plum nipples, look like her mouth, I thought I had turned into a man.

    What you staring at? she ast. Hateful. She weak as a kitten. But her mouth just pack with claws. You never seen a naked woman before?

    No ma’am, I said. I never did. Cept for Sofia, and she so plump and ruddy and crazy she feel like my sister.

    She say, Well take a good look. Even if I is just a bag of bones now. She have the nerve to put one hand on her naked hip and bat her eyes at me. Then she suck her teef and roll her eyes at the ceiling while I wash her.

    I wash her body, it feel like I’m praying. My hands tremble and my breath short. (24.1-5)

    For the first time in her life, Celie is attracted to somebody. Her attraction to Shug is instant and physical. Even though Shug is mean, Celie still is excited by her.

    Letter Thirty-Three
    Celie

    He love looking at Shug. I love looking at Shug.

    But Shug don’t love looking at but one of us. Him.

    But that the way it spose to be. I know that. But if that so, why my heart hurt me so? (33.24-26)

    Celie battles with whether or not her feelings for Shug are OK. On one hand, Celie thinks that it’s right and natural for people to be attracted to the opposite sex. On the other hand, Celie can’t deny her feelings for Shug and is jealous of Mr.__.

    Letter Thirty-Six
    Celie

    All the men got they eyes glued to Shug’s bosom. I got my eyes glued there too. I feel my nipples harden under my dress. My little button sort of perk up too. Shug, I say to her in my mind, Girl, you looks like a real good time, the Good Lord knows you do. (36.26)

    Though Celie compares herself to males in that she’s attracted to Shug, Walker makes it clear that Celie is in no way masculine. Celie is sexually excited by Shug in ways very specific to females.

    Letter Forty-Seven
    Shug Avery

    She say, I love you, Miss Celie. And then she haul off and kiss me on the mouth. Um, she say, like she surprise. I kiss her back, say, um, too. Us kiss and kiss till us can’t hardly kiss no more. Then us touch each other.

    I don’t know nothing bout it, I say to Shug.

    I don’t know much, she say.

    Then I feels something real soft and wet on my breast, feel like one of my little lost babies mouth.

    Way after while, I act like a little lost baby too. (47.16-21)

    Celie’s only experience with sexual pleasure is with Shug. Not only is she attracted to Shug, but she and Shug both care for each other.

  • Women and Femininity

    Letter Five
    Celie

    He beat me today cause he say I winked at a boy in church. I may have got somethin in my eye but I didn’t wink. I don’t even look at mens. That’s the truth. I look at women, tho, cause I’m not scared of them. Maybe cause my mama cuss me you think I kept mad at her. But I ain’t. I felt sorry for mama. Trying to believe his story kilt her. (5.1)

    In Celie’s mind, men have a kind of meanness that women don’t possess. Women, though they may scream and swear, are not harmful in the way men like Pa are. Pa, and later Mr.__, set up a strong distinction in Celie’s mind between women and men.

    Letter Twelve
    Harpo

    Harpo, she [Kate, Mr.__’s sister] say. Harpo the oldest boy. Harpo, don’t let Celie be the one bring in all the water. You a big boy now. Time for you to help out some.

    Women work, he say.

    What? she say.

    Women work. I’m a man.

    You’re a trifling nigger, she say. You git that bucket and bring it back full.

    He cut his eye at me. Stumble out. I hear him mutter somethin to Mr.________ sitting on the porch. Mr.___________ call his sister. She stay out on the porch talking a little while, then she come back in, shaking.

    Got to go, Celie, she say.

    She so mad tears be flying every which way while she pack. (12.28-35)

    Mr.__ and his son see women essentially as servants, or slaves, meant to work while men enjoy life. Though some women try to band together and support each other, many men in this novel try to prevent them from supporting each other.

    Letter Thirteen
    Harpo

    Harpo ast his daddy why he beat me. Mr._______ say, Cause he my wife. Plus, she stubborn. All women good for—he don’t finish. He just tuck his chin over the paper like he do. Remind me of Pa.

    Harpo ast me, How come you so stubborn? He don’t ast how come you his wife? Nobody ast that.

    I say, Just born that way, I reckon.

    He beat me like he beat the children. Cept he don’t never hardly beat them. He say, Celie, git the belt. The children be outside the room peeking through the cracks. It all I can do not to cry. I make myself wood. I say to myself, Celie, you a tree. That’s how come I know trees fear man. (13.1-4)

    Harpo and Mr.__ treat women as if they’re children and, perhaps, worse than children—as if they have no will or rights of their own.

    Letter Seventeen
    Sofia

    She [Sofia] say, How you, Mr.______?

    He don’t answer the question. He say, Look like you done got yourself in trouble.

    Naw suh, she say. I ain’t in no trouble. Big, though.

    She smooth the wrinkles over her stomach with the flats of her hands.

    Who the father? he ast.

    She look surprise. Harpo, she say.

    How he know that?

    He know. She say.

    Young womens no good these days, he say. Go they legs open to ever Tom, Dick and Harry.

    Harpo look at his daddy like he never seen him before. But he don’t say nothing. (17.26-35)

    Mr.__ has a double-standard regarding sexual behavior between the genders. While it’s fine that Harpo has been sleeping with girls, Mr.__ clearly thinks that Sofia having sex and being pregnant is "trouble" and that she’s sleazy.

    Letter Sixty-Two
    Nettie

    The Olinka do not believe girls should be educated. When I asked a mother why she thought this, she said: A girl is nothing to herself; only to her husband can she become something.

    What can she become? I asked.

    Why, she said, the mother of his children.

    But I am not the mother of anybody’s children, I said, and I am something.

    You are not much, she said. The missionary’s drudge. (62.3-7)

    Nettie learns that women are not thought of very highly in Olinka culture. To the Olinka, a woman’s only importance is with respect to the men in her life. Nettie, on the other hand, sees women as having inherent value.

    Olivia

    Why do they say I will be a wife of the chief? asks Olivia.

    That is as high as they can think, I tell her.

    He is fat and shiny with huge perfect teeth. She thinks she has nightmares about him.

    You will grow up to be a strong Christian woman, I tell her. Someone who helps her people to advance. You will be a teacher or a nurse. You will travel. You will know many people greater than the chief.

    Will Tashi? she wants to know.

    Yes, I tell her, Tashi too. (62.13-18)

    Nettie tries to help Olivia to look higher than simply becoming a wife and mother, and not to accept prescribed gender roles for herself.

    Letter Sixty-Three
    Nettie

    Tashi is very intelligent, I said. She could be a teacher. A nurse. She could help the people in the village.

    There is no place here for a woman to do those things, he said.

    Then we should leave, I said. Sister Corrine and I.

    No, no, he said.

    Teach only the boys? I asked.

    Yes, he said, as if my question was agreement.

    There is a way that the men speak to women that reminds me too much of Pa. (63.14-20)

    Nettie recognizes that to the Olinka, her only value is her position with respect to men. Nettie is valuable because she can educate boys. In addition, the Olinka men, just like Pa, are very interested in maintaining their dominance over women by denying females education and by speaking down to them.

    Letter Seventy-Five
    Celie

    I curse you, I say. What that mean? He say.

    I say, Until you do right by me, everything you touch will crumble.

    He laugh. Who you think you is? He say. You can’t curse nobody. Look at you. You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman. Goddam, he say, you nothing at all. (75.9-12)

    Mr.__ uses his usual tactics in an attempt to oppress Celie. Essentially, he thinks women are worthless, and therefore the sins that he has committed against her don’t matter.

    Letter Eighty-Seven
    Mr.__

    Sofia and Shug not like men, he say, but they not like women either.

    You mean they not like you or me.

    They hold they own, he say. And it’s different.

    What I love bet bout Shug is what she been through, I say. When you look in Shug’s eyes you know where been where she been, seen what she seen, did what she did. And now she know. (87.90-93)

    Mr.__ and Celie discuss how Sofia and Shug, regardless of their gender, have managed to carve out a unique identity for themselves.

  • Family

    Letter Ten
    Celie

    I was in town sitting on the wagon while Mr._________ was in the dry good store. I seen my baby girl. I knowed it was her. She look just like me and my daddy. Like more us than us is ourself. She be tagging long hind a lady and they be dress just alike. They pass the wagon and I speak. The lady speak pleasant. My little girl she look up and sort of frown. She fretting over something. She got my eyes just like they is today. Like everything I seen she seen, and she pondering it.

    I think she mine. My heart say she mine. But I don’t know she mine. If she mine, her name Olivia. I embroder Olivia in the seat of all her daidies. I embrody lot of little stars and flowers too. He took the daidies when he took her. She was bout two month old. Now she bout six. (10.1-2).

    Celie is drawn to her children, drawn to her blood. Though she is the stepmother to Mr.__’s four children, it’s her own children that she loves unconditionally.

    Letter Seventeen
    Celie

    Everybody say how good I is to Mr._________ children. I be good to them. But I don’t feel nothing for them. Patting Harpo back not even like patting a dog. It more like patting another piece of wood. Not a living tree, but a table, a chifferobe. Anyhow, they don’t love me neither, no matter how good I is. (17.10)

    Unlike Nettie, who loves Celie, Mr.__’s children are not Celie’s family and she doesn’t treat them like family, even though she’s kind to them. Family is more about love than marriage or sharing the same blood.

    Letter Eighty-Three
    Celie

    My heart broke.

    Shug love somebody else. (83.1-2)

    As much as Shug loves Celie, she is not capable of fidelity or monogamy.

  • Love

    Letter Seventeen
    Celie

    Everybody say how good I is to Mr._________ children. I be good to them. But I don’t feel nothing for them. Patting Harpo back not even like patting a dog. It more like patting another piece of wood. Not a living tree, but a table, a chifferobe. Anyhow, they don’t love me neither, no matter how good I is. (17.10)

    Celie is dead inside because she doesn’t feel love for a single person now in her life, nor is she loved by any of them. Talk about feeling lonely. 

    Letter Twenty-Seven
    Mr.__

    Mr._______ turn his head slow, watch his daddy drink. Then say, real sad, You ain’t got it in you to understand, he say. I love Shug Avery. Always have, always will. I should have married her when I had the chance. (27.11)

    Mr.__ proclaims his love for Shug Avery to his father, while Celie watches. At this point in his life, he uses his love for Shug as an excuse to treat everyone else in his life inconsiderately.

    Letter Twenty-Nine
    Celie

    Some womens can’t be beat, I say. Sofia one of them. Besides, Sofia love you. She probably be happy to do most of what you say if you ast her right. She not mean, she not spiteful. She don’t hold a grudge.

    He sit there hanging his head, looking retard.

    Harpo, I say, giving him a shake, Sofia love you. You love Sofia.

    He look up at me best he can out his fat little eyes. Yes ma’am? He say.

    Mr._______ marry me to take care of his children. I marry him cause my daddy made me. I don’t love Mr.________ and he don’t love me.

    But you his wife, he say, just like Sofia mine. The wife spose to mind.

    Do Shug Avery mind Mr.__________? I ast. She the woman he wanted to marry. (29.15-21)

    Celie tries to get Harpo to see that love in a marriage means a lot more than a loveless marriage where the wife obeys her husband blindly.

    Letter Thirty
    Sofia

    I don’t like to go to bed with him no more, she [Sofia] say. Used to be when he touch me I’d go all out my head. Now when he touch me I just don’t want to be bothered. Once he git on top of me I think bout how that’s where he always want to be. She sip her lemonade. I use to love that part of it, she say. I use to chase him home from the field. Git all hot just watching him put the children to bed. But no more. Now I feel tired all the time. No interest.

    Now, now, I say. Sleep on it some, maybe it come back. But I say this just to be saying something. I don’t know nothing bout it. Mr.__________ clam on top of me, do his business, in ten minutes us both sleep. Only time I feel something stirring down there is when I think bout Shug. And that like running to the end of the road and it turn back on itself.

    You know the worst part? she say. The worst part is I don’t think he notice. He git up there and enjoy himself just the same. No matter what I’m thinking. No matter what I feel. It just him. Heartfeeling don’t even seem to enter into it. She snort. The fact he can do it like that make me want to kill him. (30.15-17)

    Sofia has lost love for Harpo, and she doesn’t think he even notices. He enjoys sex whether the woman he’s with loves him or not. Sofia, on the other hand, doesn’t want to have a sexual relationship without love. She doesn’t want sex to just be something physical, but an action involving "heartfeeling."

    Letter Eighty-Nine
    Celie

    Hard not to love Shug, I say. She know how to love somebody back. (89.20)

    Shug’s mystique is explained. Being loveable is about the ability to love others. Once Mr.__, for example, gets a little nicer and shows care and consideration to the people in his life, they reciprocate.

  • Race

    Letter Thirty-Seven

    Sofia and the prizefighter don’t say nothing. Wait for her to pass. Mayor wait too, stand back and tap his foot, watch her with a little smile. Now Millie, he say. Always going on over colored. Miss Millie finger the children some more, finally look at Sofia and the prizefighter. She look at the prizefighter car. She eye Sofia wristwatch. She say to Sofia, All your children so clean, she say, would you like to work for me, be my maid?

    Sofia say, Hell no.

    She say, What you say?

    Sofia say, Hell no.

    Mayor look at Sofia, push his wife out the way. Stick out his chest. Girl, what you say to Miss Millie?

    Sofia say, I say, Hell no.

    He slap her. (37.13-19)

    This passage doesn’t end with Sofia simply being slapped, but being beaten nearly to death and dragged off to jail. As a black woman, white people like the mayor and his wife assume that it’s a great honor to be a white lady’s housemaid. Because Sofia is unwilling to place herself in a degrading position, the white mayor and police beat her in order to reassert their racial dominance.

    Letter Forty-Three
    Celie

    She seem like a right sweet little thing, I say to Sofia.

    Who is? She frown.

    The little girl, I say. What they call her, Eleanor Jane?

    Yeah, say Sofia, with a real puzzle look on her face, I wonder why she was ever born.

    Well, I say, us don’t have to wonder that bout darkies. (43.21-25)

    Sofia and Celie joke about the differences between white folks and black folks. Sofia, because she’s been a victim of racism and racial violence, is puzzled that a white child can be nice.

    Letter Forty-Four
    Sofia

    Fine, she say. Fine. Well git in.

    Well, say Sofia, I was so use to sitting up there next to her teaching her how to drive, that I just naturally clammed into the front seat.

    She stood outside on her side the car clearing her throat.

    Finally she say, Sofia, with a little laugh, This is the South.

    Yes ma’am, I say.

    She clear her throat, laugh some more. Look where you sitting, she say.

    I’m sitting where I always sit, I say.

    That’s the problem, she say. Have you ever seen a white person and a colored lady sitting side by side in a car, when one of 'em wasn’t showing the other one how to drive it or clean it? (44.20-27)

    Sofia describes a moment of social awkwardness when the mayor’s wife insists upon typical social protocol. Even the external semblance of racial equality is not to be tolerated by the mayor’s wife.

    Yes ma’am, I say. I’m slaving away cleaning that big post they got down at the bottom of the stair. They act real funny bout that post. No finger prints is sposed to be on it, ever.

    Do you think you could teach me [to drive]? she says.

    One of Sofia children break in, the oldest boy. He tall and handsome, all the time serious. And mad a lot.

    He say, Don’t say slaving, Mama.

    Sofia say, Why not? They got me in a little storeroom up under the house, hardly bigger than Odessa’s porch, and just about as warm in the winter time. I’m at they beck and call all night and all day. They won’t let me see my children. They won’t let me see no mens. Well, after five years they let me see you once a year. I’m a slave, she say. What would you call it?

    A captive, he say.

    Sofia go on with her story, only look at him like she glad he hers. (44.5-11)

    Sofia describes her position at the mayor’s house as slavery, but her son refuses to let her think that—he’s got too much pride for that. We don't know about you, but it sounds like Sofia's got a pretty honest opinion of her situation. She's only allowed to see her kids once a year, for crying out loud. 

    Letter Fifty-Five
    Nettie

    Oh, Celie, there are colored people in the world who want us to know! Want us to grow and see the light! They are not all mean like Pa and Albert, or beaten down like Ma was. Corrine and Samuel have a wonderful marriage. Their only sorrow in the beginning was that they could not have children. And then, they say, "God sent them Olivia and Adam." (55.13)

    Nettie learns that the cruelty she experienced as a child is not the way of the world, nor the way of black folks as a whole; it is simply the way of her father and Celie’s husband.

    Letter Fifty-Six
    Nettie

    Think what it means that Ethiopia is Africa! All the Ethiopians in the bible were colored. It had never occurred to me, though when you read the bible it is perfectly plain if you pay attention only to the words. It is the pictures in the bible that fool you. The pictures that illustrate the words. All of the people are white and so you just think all the people from the bible were white too. But really white people lived somewhere else during those times. That’s why the bible says that Jesus Christ had hair like lamb’s wool. Lamb’s wool is not straight, Celie. It isn’t even curly. (56.3)

    Nettie describes how overjoyed she was to realize that the Bible is full of black people—just like her. One manifestation of racism had just been that white people had whitewashed the bible.

    Letter Fifty-Seven
    Nettie

    Millions and millions of Africans were captured and sold into slavery—you and me, Celie! And whole cities were destroyed by slave catching wars. Today the people of Africa—having murdered or sold into slavery their strongest folks—are riddled by disease and sunk in spiritual and physical confusion….

    Why did they sell us? How could they have done it? And why do we still love them? (57.4-5)

    Nettie reflects on how evil done in Africa by Africans has brought evil back on themselves.

    Letter Fifty-Eight
    Celie

    The president [of Monrovia] talked a good bit about his efforts trying to develop the country and about his problems with the natives, who don’t want to work to help build the country. It was the first time I’d heard a black man use that word. I knew that to white people all colored people are natives. But he cleared his throat and said he only mean "native" to Liberia. I did not see any of these "natives" in his cabinet. And none of the cabinet members’ wives could pass for natives. (58.3)

    For the first time, Nettie observes prejudice against Africans from a black man. Instead of distinctions set up between black and white people, it’s between black former descendants of slaves and the black original inhabitants of Liberia.

    Nettie

    They are the blackest people I have ever seen, Celie. They are black like the people we are talking about when we say, "So and so is black than black, he’s blueblack." They are so black, Celie, they shine. Which is something else folks down home like to say about real black folks. But Celie, try to imagine a city full of these shining, blueblack people wearing brilliant blue robes with designs like fancy quilt patterns. Tall, thin, with long necks and straight backs. Can you picture it at all, Celie? Because I felt like I was seeing black for the first time. And Celie, there is something magical about it. Because the black is so black the eye is simply dazzled, and then there is the shining that seems to come, really, from moonlight, it is so luminous, but their skin glows even in the sun. (58.1)

    Nettie begins to revel in the color of black skin, to feel the pride of her heritage.

    I think Africans are very much like white people back home, in that they think they are the center of the universe and that everything that is done is done for them. (65.2)

    Nettie recognizes the vast cultural differences that separate her from Africans, even though they have the same color skin.

    Letter Sixty-Two
    Olivia

    Why can’t Tashi come to school? she [Olivia] asked me. When I told her the Olinka don’t believe in educating girls she said, quick as a flash, They’re like white people at home who don’t want colored people to learn. (62.10)

    Olivia utters one of the most political statements of the book, recognizing that sexism and racism are similar forms of oppression.

    Letter Seventy-Three
    Shug Avery

    Then she [Shug] tell me this old white man is the same God she used to see when she prayed. If you wait to find God in church, Celie, she say, that’s who is bound to show up, cause that’s where he live.

    How come? I ast.

    Cause that’s the one that’s in the white folks’ white bible.

    Shug! I say. God wrote the bible, white folks had nothing to do with it.

    How come he look just like them, then? She say. Only bigger? And a heap more hair. How come the bible just like everything else they make, all about them doing one thing and another, and all the colored folks doing is gitting cursed?

    I never thought about that.

    Nettie say somewhere in the bible it say Jesus’ hair was like lamb’s wool, I say.

    Well, say Shug, if he came to any of these churches we talking bout he’d have to have it conked before anybody paid him any attention. The last thing niggers wan tot think about they God is that his hair kinky.

    That’s the truth, I say.

    Ain’t no way to read the bible and not think God white, she say. Then she sigh. When I found out I thought God was white, and a man, I lost interest. You mad cause he don’t seem to listen to your prayers. Humph! Do the mayor listen to anything colored say? (73.28; 35-44)

    Shug points out that the reason Celie’s lost her faith in God is because she has the wrong idea about God: She believes that God is a white man who treats her just like white men do, like she’s trash, like she’s beneath him. Religion has always been racialized, Shug says, but that doesn’t make it right or true.

    Letter Eighty-Seven
    Eleanor Jane

    I just don’t understand, say Miss Eleanor Jane. All the other colored women I know love children. The way you feel is something unnatural.

    I love children, say Sofia. But all the colored women that say they love yours is lying… Some colored people so scared of whitefolks they claim to love the cotton gin. (87.56-57)

    Eleanor Jane and Sofia finally have the racial confrontation that’s been coming between them for a long time, not because Eleanor Jane is a horrible person but because she’s blind to the realities of racism that exist around her.