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Free Study Guide-The Color Purple by Alice Walker-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES

CHAPTER 20

Summary

When Celie goes to visit, she again hears Harpo and Sofia fighting and looks inside to see what is happening. Harpo tries to slap Sofia, but she picks up a piece of wood and knocks him on the eyes. He hits her in the stomach, but she comes up and locks her hands on his genitals. He tries to pull her over, but she does not blink. He then tries to hit her under the chin, but she pulls him over her back and throws him against the stove. Celie decides to go home without entering the house. On Saturday morning, she sees all of Harpo's family in a wagon going to visit Sofia's sister.

Notes

This chapter centers on a physical fight between Harpo and Sofia that Celie watches. She is shocked to see that Sofia does not passively accept being beaten; instead, she fights back, getting the best of Harpo physically and emotionally. Later Sofia will fight back even more by leaving Harpo.

CHAPTER 21

Summary

Celie has trouble sleeping and knows it is because she feels guilty about doing Sofia wrong. She hopes Sofia will not find out what she has told Harpo, but he tells his wife. Angry with Celie, Sofia comes to return the curtains she has made and confronts her. Celie admits she did wrong and tells Sofia that she was jealous because she was brave enough to fight back. Sofia tells Celie not to advise Harpo to beat her anymore unless she wants a dead stepson.


The women then talk about abuse, and Celie confesses that she has never hit a living thing. Sofia asks her what she does when she gets mad. Celie says she cannot remember the last time she got angry, for the Bible has taught her to honor her mother, father, and husband; therefore, she feels she cannot get angry with them. She then admits that she does not feel much of anything anymore and hopes that her life will soon be over. Sofia cannot believe that Celie has no emotions. She tells her that she ought to knock Albert's head open. They laugh at the image and begin quilting. That night Celie is able to sleep.

Notes

This letter, one of the most powerful ones in the book, reveals a breakthrough for Celie. Sofia confronts her about what she has told Harpo. Celie admits she was wrong and apologizes. Celie then takes a first step in overcoming her internalized oppression by recognizing her solidarity with another woman. A discussion follows which reveals the different ways these women have dealt with the violence and abuse in their lives. Sofia, a fighter, cannot understand how a person can shut down anger as fully as Celie has. On the other hand, Celie cannot believe that any woman is brave enough to hit her husband. The Bible has taught her to honor her parents and her husband, and Celie does not dare to question God's word. As a result, she thinks the only answer to her misery is death. Walker will later introduce another idea of God and spirituality, one that empowers rather than cripples its believers.

CHAPTER 22

Summary

Celie learns at church on Sunday that Shug Avery is ill and cannot find anyone to take care of her. Neither her parents nor the women at church are interested in helping. It is not surprising since the preacher has used Shug as an example of the evils in society, and no one defends her. Celie then thinks about the hypocrisy of some of the church members. While she works hard to clean the church, other women flirt with her husband.

After church, Albert leaves in the wagon. Five days later he returns with Shug in the back, protected by a canopy. When Celie realizes who is in the wagon, she worries about her appearance because she has been working all day. When Harpo asks his father who is in the wagon, he tells his son that she is the woman who should have been his mammy. The two men then help Shug get out. Celie feels her heart beat faster as she watches. She notices that Shug has make-up caked on her face and is dressed in an outfit that she probably wore while singing, one which Celie considers very stylish. Celie wants to open her arms to Shug and invite her inside the house, but she knows it is not her house. Albert then orders Celie to prepare the spare room for their guest. When Shug looks up at Celie, she exclaims that Albert's wife "sure is ugly."

Notes

For the first time in the book, Shug appears before Celie in person, and she cannot believe her eyes. She has been preparing to meet this blues singer ever since she was twenty years old. Idolizing Shug, Celie believes her to have everything that she herself is missing: glamour, beauty, style, and independence. It is ironic that Celie still holds the woman in such awe, for Albert has brought her to the farm because she is sick and alone. No one else would volunteer to care for her. Celie genuinely wants to care for Shug in her illness and unselfishly nurse her back to health. Unfortunately, Shug is not kind like Celie; she cruelly calls her ugly, reinforcing what Celie already thinks about herself.

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