Literature Study GuidesThe Color PurpleSection 3 Letters 23 31 Summary

The Color Purple | Study Guide

Alice Walker

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The Color Purple | Section 3, Letters 23–31 | Summary



Shug Avery is very ill, and Celie cooks for Shug, bathes her, and styles her hair. In return, Shug showers Celie with contempt. However, by Letter 26, Celie's devotion, and budding physical attraction, to Shug has inspired Shug to write a song. Mr. ___ is not spared from Shug's venom, either: "I don't want to smell no stinking pipe, you hear me, Albert?" she says to him. He sits in the shadows of the room watching her day after day. He explains to Celie, "Nobody fight for Shug," and he sheds a few tears.

In Letter 27, Mr. ___'s father, Ole Mr. ___, and brother, Tobias, visit on separate days. Ole Mr. ___ disparages Shug's looks and reputation. Celie doesn't say anything but spits in the older man's glass of water and considers breaking the glass in his hands. When Tobias visits, a healthier Shug joins them on the porch. Celie and Shug sew and Mr. ___ sits beside them. Celie says, "For the first time in my life, I feel just right."

The gender dispute war between Harpo and Sofia escalates. Sofia prefers working in the fields, patching the roof and taking care of their animals, while Harpo enjoys cooking and tending to their children and home. She refuses to surrender to his control, and Celie tells him, "Some womens can't be beat," and reminds him Sofia loves him. In response he eats obsessively, trying to match Sofia in size so that he can match her in spirit. When their life becomes loveless by Letter 31, Sofia takes the children and moves in with her sister, Odessa.


The major characters continue to reveal more facets to their personalities. Mr. ___ shows an inability to oppose Shug by absorbing her criticism without retaliating verbally or physically. He even comments to his wife about his mistress, "I been scared." For the first time, Celie notices his lack of a chin and thinks, "Not much chin there at all. I have more chin." Because chin size is often interpreted as the strength of a person's character, Celie infers she is emotionally stronger than her husband. Mr.___ doesn't even defend himself against his father's tirade about Shug and the money his son has spent financing his love for her. Shug notices and says, "I don't need no weak little boy can't say no to his daddy hanging on me." The singer shows no love for anyone. When Celie mentions she has a daughter and a son but doesn't know where they are, Shug explains her mother watches her three children: "She could stand the kids, I had to go," she says. When Celie asks if she misses them, Shug says, "Naw. I don't miss nothing."

Celie's hardened emotions soften and she starts to develop some backbone as her fascination for Shug blossoms. Her physical attraction for the woman appears the first time she bathes her. When Tobias responds to Shug's "all womens not alike" comment by saying, "Oh, I believe it ... I just can't prove it to the world," Celie reveals her expanding views about life, "First time I think about the world."

Sofia cannot accept Harpo's push for dominance. While they are quilting she says to Celie, "I'm getting tired of Harpo. He don't want a wife, he want a dog." Harpo responds to his inner conflict over obeying his father or pleasing his wife by continually eating, as if he is literally trying to grow himself into the version of manhood that dominates his culture.

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