The Color Purple: Novel Summary: Chapter 1
The first few pages begin Walker’s narrative of the life of Celie, a fourteen-year-old black girl who lives with her dying mother and her sister, Nettie. Her stepfather, Alfonso, is portrayed as the villain of the narrative, first demanding sex from Celie’s sick mother and then demanding it from young Celie herself.
The reader is struck by the colloquial, black-southern language of the text, as well as the graphic scenes of sexual abuse. Celie writes her story in the form of letters addressed to God. It seems she can trust no one else with her secrets.
Soon Celie’s mother dies, leaving her to tend to the family. The pattern of abuse from Alfonso, usually described as “he,” continues, eventually leaving Celie twice pregnant. Her first baby is taken by Alfonso and killed, while her second child seems to have been sold by her stepfather. Celie hides all this from her dying mother however, saying that God took the children.
Eventually Alfonso comes home with a young girl who is apparently his new wife. Nettie, at the same time, seems to have become an older man’s girlfriend. Celie hopes that Nettie will marry Mr. __ (this older man) because she wants to protect her younger sister from Alfonso, who seems to be thinking about raping her as well.
Celie believes that she can no longer have children. This pleases her, since she hates always being “big.”
Finally Alfonso tries to persuade Mr. __ to marry Celie instead of Nettie. Afer several months of consideration, Mr. __ finally agrees, saying that he needs a mother for his children. It seems that Celie is very hard-working and good with children, though very ugly. Her main draw-back is the fact that she spoils the children, always giving them what they want. Perhaps this is because she was so neglected and abused as a child-- she wants to give the other children what was never given her.
As in her old home, Celie isn’t treated very well as the wife of Mr. __. He treats her like a possession and his children seem to boss her around as if she’s their slave.
Later, on another occasion, Celie thinks she sees her daughter who was sold six years before. At a market, she sees this child, Olivia, with her mother, who seems to have a lot of money. This woman seems quite friendly to Celie.
Soon Nettie runs away from her home, seeking refuge with Celie and her new family. After staying a few days, Mr. __ finally forces her to leave. This is the last time the two sisters see each other: soon Celie will learn that her sister is dead, killed for being disobedient and running away.
Most of the rest of the section is devoted to the description of Shug Avery, a local celebrity of sorts who sings and dances. She is described by Celie as the most beautiful woman she has ever seen. But this woman isn’t an innocent hero by any stretch of the imagination. It seems she has had past affairs with Mr. __, Celie’s new husband. Nevertheless, Celie is enthralled by this new woman idol, and hopes to see her in person.