Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Color Purple Study Guide." Course Hero. 15 Sep. 2016. Web. 23 Jan. 2019. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2016, September 15). The Color Purple Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 23, 2019, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "The Color Purple Study Guide." September 15, 2016. Accessed January 23, 2019.


Course Hero, "The Color Purple Study Guide," September 15, 2016, accessed January 23, 2019,

The Color Purple | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The Color Purple begins with Celie's first letter to God. She opens by stating she is 14 and has "always been a good girl." Celie wants Him to help her to understand why she must endure the physical and sexual abuse of her father, Alphonso, along with her mother's neglect and disdain. Even before her mother dies, Celie is responsible for caring for her siblings, including her younger sister, Nettie. Although the other characters call her father Alphonso, Fonso, or Pa, Celie only refers to him as He.

Alphonso repeatedly rapes Celie, and she gives birth to a daughter and then a son. Both of the children disappear. She thinks He took them into the woods and killed them. After the second pregnancy, He shuns Celie and starts eyeing Nettie but marries May Ellen, a widow Celie's age. Addie Beasley, a teacher, implores Alphonso to allow Celie to stay in school, but he refuses, saying Nettie is the only smart child. A neighbor wants to marry the more appealing Nettie instead of the older, less attractive Celie. Alphonso won't agree to the union because of Nettie's youth. Instead, he promises the man a cow if he will marry Celie. To save her sister from Alphonso, Celie marries Albert, but she calls him Mr. ___. The cow He refers to is Celie.

Throughout her marriage to Mr. ___, Celie continues to endure beatings as well as physical and verbal assaults from his children, especially Harpo, the oldest son. Nettie escapes her home and goes to live with Celie because Alphonso begins to bother her with sexual advances. Life is better for Celie until Mr. ___ kicks Nettie out of his home for rejecting him. Missing Nettie's lessons covering what she learned in school, and miserable over the loss of the only person who ever loved her, Celie waits for the letters her sister promises to write. They never arrive.

Nettie is not the only strong female who affects Celie's future. Shug Avery, a beautiful blues singer who drapes herself in elegant clothes and jewels moves in with them when she becomes ill. Although she is Mr. ___'s mistress, and the only woman he has ever loved, she is independent. Celie admires her for everything, even accepting her relationship with Mr. ____. Shug emotionally and sexually controls Albert, Celie's husband, showing Celie women can have power over their lives. The singer becomes Celie's advocate, friend, and lover. In addition to Shug, four other women—Sofia (Harpo's first wife), Carrie and Kate (Mr. ___'s sisters), and Squeak/Mary Agnes (Harpo's girlfriend)—all play a part in Celie's transition from a life of physical, emotional, and spiritual oppression to one of freedom and autonomy.

The catalyst that triggers Celie's transformation occurs when Shug explains Mr.___'s dishonesty. Since Nettie's departure, he has hidden every letter Nettie has written her. Celie and Shug take the letters from the trunk where Mr. ___ has stashed them. Through reading them, Celie finds out Nettie is living with Samuel, a minister, and his wife, Corrine. As a part of their family she takes care of their adopted children—Celie's daughter Olivia and son Adam. Instead of killing Mr. ___ like she wants to, Celie continues to write to Nettie, a missionary in Africa.

Mr.___'s deceit gives Celie the courage to leave him and move to Memphis with Shug. While living there, she learns self-love and self-respect. Shug helps her to let go of her anger at God for believing He neglected her because he is a white man. Through their talks about God and His desires for all people, Celie restores her relationship with Him. She now understands spirituality is an essential aspect of a full life. When Celie starts a business designing and sewing women's pants, her confidence soars. The last chain that has bound her to a life of domination breaks when Nettie tells her the man they called Pa is her stepfather, not her biological father.

When Alphonso dies, Celie finds out she and Nettie inherited his home. She moves into her very own home, continues to run her business, and becomes friends with her husband, whom she now calls by his given name, Albert. He has also found freedom from his oppressive ways. Celie's story ends when Nettie, Samuel, Olivia, Adam, and his wife, Tashi, return from Africa to live with her.

The Color Purple Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Celie is repeatedly abused and raped by her father.

Rising Action

2 Celie's abuse continues during her marriage to Mr. ___.

3 Nettie disappears after Mr. ___ evicts her for spurning him.

4 Sofia and Harpo have gender role disputes. Sofia leaves him.

5 Shug first is mean to Celie, but then they become friends.

6 Sofia is jailed for offending the white mayor and his wife.

7 Celie's self-assurance grows; she and Shug become lovers.

8 Shug teaches Celie about God's love and earthly blessings.


9 Celie wants to kill Mr. ___ for hiding Nettie's letters.

Falling Action

10 Celie learns Alphonso is her stepdad and moves to Memphis.

11 Celie inherits Alphonso's house and has business success.


12 Celie enjoys independence and love from family and friends.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Color Purple? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!