The Color Purple

The Color Purple

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God Symbol Icon
God and Spirituality is a theme of the novel, but God, as discussed primarily by Celie and Shug, functions as a symbol for a far greater, and more diffuse, model of religious experience. At first, Celie believes that God and Jesus are white men. But Shug helps Celie to realize that this, itself, is a symbolic conception of God, one that has been created to suit dominant white interests. Shug says that God can be anything—a feeling of joy or connection with another person, or with nature—and Celie eventually comes to realize that God (whom she addressed in letters for a large part of the novel) is not so much a person or thing as a means toward happiness and fulfillment. It is revealed, coincidentally, that Nettie has developed a similar conception of the divine during her time with the Olinka.

God Quotes in The Color Purple

The The Color Purple quotes below all refer to the symbol of God. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Pocket Books edition of The Color Purple published in 1985.
Letter 1 Quotes

Dear God, I am fourteen years old. I am I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me.

Related Characters: Celie (speaker)
Related Symbols: God
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The Color Purple begins with a shocking revelation - that the main character, who is only fourteen years old, is expecting a child. No one knows who the father could be, but all signs indicate that it is someone much older - that Celie has been violated. The Color Purple is thus, from the beginning, Celie's story. It is a narrative of the violence that has been committed against her. And, finally, it is a tale of her own strength in the face of that violence - of the life she makes despite everything that has happened to her.

The letter, importantly, is addressed to God, whom Celie believes is always listening to her. Celie, from the beginning of the narrative, believes that there is hope to found in her situation, as dire and impossible as it seems. She senses that there is someone listening to her. And although God does not reveal himself during the course of the novel, the reader, of course, is listening, and is following the story that Celie lays out letter by letter. 

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Letter 3 Quotes

I keep hoping he fine somebody to marry. I see him looking at my little sister. She scared. But I say I'll take care of you. With God help.

Related Characters: Celie (speaker), Nettie, Pa (Alphonso)
Related Symbols: God
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Celie recognizes that her father is capable of dangerous acts of sexual violence against herself and her sister Nettie. Celie's first thought, then, is to protect her sister from this. One way to protect Nettie would be for their father to marry. Although that would be dangerous for the wife-to-be, as their father is a violent man, at least it would spare his children his anger and lust, for a time.

Celie refers to God again in this passage, arguing that, without him, there is no protection against her father and his designs on the family. Celie's faith is reinforced by the difficulty of her circumstances. There is no one in the immediate family to help her, to protect her and her sister from her father's wrath. There is only the prospect of divine salvation, of God's help. Without that, there can be no removal from the impoverished, dangerous circumstances in which the girls find themselves - that is, until the girls grow up and begin seeking out other helpers in the town around them. 

Letter 14 Quotes

Lord, I want to go [to see Shug Avery] so bad. Not to dance. Not to drink. Not to play card. Not even to hear Shug Avery sing. I just be thankful to lay eyes on her.

Related Characters: Celie (speaker), Shug Avery
Related Symbols: God
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Celie's devotion to Shug is here made even clearer. Celie states that she would do anything just to observe Shug as she sings and walks the stage. Celie is enraptured by the power of Shug's personality, even from afar, and she believes that Shug's performance will be a highlight for her - a representation of just what is possible for a woman to achieve, even within the narrow strictures of the society into which Celie has been born.

Celie also takes pains to note here that she is not interested in going to the night club to engage in what might be called "immoral" behavior. Celie retains, for herself, an idea that gambling and drinking lead only to self-destruction. Celie does not ask for much - only to be allowed to enjoy herself in an environment where someone (most notably a man) isn't bullying her or forcing her to work. In the night club, watching Shug, Celie might have a taste of her own independence. 

Letter 53 Quotes

But God, I miss you, Celie. I think about the time you laid yourself down for me. I love you with all my heart.

Related Characters: Nettie (speaker), Celie
Related Symbols: God
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

Nettie's letters back to Celie - the existence of which Celie does not know about at the time the letters are written - document the "other side" of the narrative. Nettie has escaped the harsh conditions of the rural South, where Celie continues to live. She raises Adam and Olivia, Celie's biological children, as her own adopted children. And Nettie finds, in the care of the Reverend Samuel and his wife Corrine, a kind of sustained, nurturing family environment that was not available to her in her family home.

Celie's journal, then, is braided into the narrative with Nettie's unanswered letters back to Celie. The fact that Celie does not read them, nor know about them and respond to them, does not deter Nettie from continuing to write. In this way, both Nettie and Celie develop the "story" of The Color Purple, even though they have no evidence that anyone will be able to read it. This determination to bear witness to the events of their lives is one of the most profound and affecting morals of the novel. 

Letter 58 Quotes

Did I mention my first sight of the African coast? Something struck in me, in my soul, Celie, like a large bell, and I just vibrated. Corrine and Samuel felt the same. And we kneeled down right on deck and gave thanks to God for letting us see the land for which our mothers and fathers cried—and lived and died—to see again.

Related Characters: Nettie (speaker), Samuel, Corrine
Related Symbols: God
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

Nettie's life is much "larger," geographically, than Celie's is - she travels with Samuel and Corrine into Africa as part of an evangelizing mission, to spread Christianity among African peoples and to share the good news with populations with whom they understand themselves to live in a greater community. Nettie marvels at the seats of African culture and their relationship to black life in the American South. And she wishes that Celie were present to share in this wonderment with her.

Nettie's response to a visit to Africa represents one of many versions of African American cultural revival in the South of this time. For some, like Celie (who has no other choice, in effect), African American life is about living in the United States, about a set of circumstances particular to being born and raised in the South. For others, like Nettie, the African American experience is linked to the African experience, and it is important for her to find the networks that connect one aspect of this broader culture to another. 

Letter 73 Quotes

She say, My first step from the old white man was trees. Then air. Then birds. Then other pope. But one day . . it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. It sort of like you know what, she say, grinning and rubbing high up on my thigh.

Shug! I say.

Related Characters: Celie (speaker), Shug Avery (speaker)
Related Symbols: God
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

Celie is struck by the nature of Shug's religious experiences. Celie, for her part, has stopped writing to God, and now writes to Nettie, just as Nettie has written to Celie for years. And Celie is not sure that Nettie will ever receive her letters, just as Nettie has continued her writing despite total unawareness that Celie has been reading, after a long period of not knowing the letters existed.

For Shug, God is a sensual and spiritual entity that exists in all living things, and that ties living beings together, unifying them even if they do not appear to be unified. Shug takes a great deal of comfort in this unifying energy, and even connects it to her sexuality. Celie, though she is at first surprised to hear that Shug speaks of God in this way, comes to realize that Shug's connection to earthly life and sexuality is a powerful and sustaining one. 

Letter 82 Quotes

Then she took some cedar sticks out of her bag and lit them and gave one of them to me. Us started at the very top of the house . . . and us smoked it all the way down to the basement, chasing out all the evil and making a place for good.

Related Characters: Celie (speaker), Shug Avery
Related Symbols: God
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a turning point in the novel. Tapping into some of Shug's ideas of spirituality, Celie moves with her through the home, airing it out, and removing from it the "spirits" that have long haunted it. As part of her journey of self-discovery, Celie, along with Shug, begins to tell herself that her life has been lived in subservience to men - and that life can be so much more than this. Shug has helped Celie to realize that even the oddest or most personal ritual, if genuinely believed, can help one to overcome inner demons - to reassert authority of a world that, for so long, has given Celie nothing.

Indeed, as Celie's journey comes closer and closer to its conclusion, the reader realizes just how much Celie and Nettie's lives have been intertwined, despite the enormous distances between them. Each has lived a life in search of true love and commitment - and each has found it, after years of hardship. 

Letter 87 Quotes

But guess what else . . . When the missionaries got to the part bout Adam and Eve being naked, the Olinka peoples nearly bust out laughing . . . They tried to explain . . . that it was they who put Adam and Eve out of the village because they was naked. Their word for naked is white. But since they are covered by color they are not naked.

Related Characters: Nettie (speaker)
Related Symbols: God
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the most important racial passages in the novel. Celie notes (paraphrasing a letter from Nettie) that the Olinka word for naked is "white," meaning "having no color." For the Olinka, being naked is being without color - and because the Olinkans happen to have dark skin, for them "whiteness" has nothing to do with skin color at all. This is a way for Celie to understand both that the Olinkans are proud of their heritage, traditions, and skin, and that they do not consider their "blackness" to be any kind of categorical or immutable category. Olinkans can be white or black, naked or clothed.

The white Englishmen who come into the village, however, have a much different conception of race - for them, the Olinkans are nearly naked and are black - the Olinkans, for them, simply cannot be white. This means that the European conception of race, compared to the Olinkan, is vastly cruder and less informed. The Olinkans have within their culture a well-developed concept of subtle difference, whereas the English see, literally, only in black and white terms. 

Letter 90 Quotes

And I see they [the children] think that me and Nettie and Shug and Albert and Samuel and Harpo and Sofia and Jack and Odessa real old . . . But I don't think us feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt.

Related Characters: Celie (speaker), Nettie, Mr. _____ (Albert), Shug Avery, Sofia, Harpo, Samuel, Adam, Olivia, Tashi, Jack and Odessa
Related Symbols: God
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the marvelous closing passage to the novel. After all that has happened to Celie and to Nettie - after all the miles Nettie has traveled, after all that Celie has been through in remaining in the South - time feels, in this passage, not to have passed at all. It is as though time itself was brought to a halt, or a new kind of time is here introduced. Celie and Nettie, reunited, can now make physical the bond that has united them in letters for years. And this bond is made even stronger by the presence of family, both biological and affiliative, that Celie and Nettie have assembled over the many intervening years. Despite their hardships, Celie and Nettie recognize that their stories are stories of family togetherness, of bonds made and sustained despite the incredible difficulty of their circumstances. The Color Purple thus ends triumphantly, as a celebration of the power of love in the face of violence and hatred.

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God Symbol Timeline in The Color Purple

The timeline below shows where the symbol God appears in The Color Purple. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Letter 1
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
...main character, who is later revealed to be named Celie, writes a first letter to God, saying that she is fourteen, and that she wonders what is happening to her body.... (full context)
Letter 2
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
...as she is dying, wonders who the father is, and asks Celie. Celie replies that God is the father of the child. Celie's father mourns his wife's passing at her bedside. (full context)
Letter 3
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
...designs on her younger sister, Nettie. Celie vows to protect her sister from harm, "with God's help." (full context)
Letter 5
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
...so she changes her mind and tells Nettie to wed Mr. ____ Celie reveals to God that she no longer gets her period, meaning she can no longer become pregnant. (full context)
Letter 11
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
...reaches the house of the Reverend and Corrine. But, Celie says, in this letter to God, that Nettie never does write. (full context)
Letter 12
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
...that she knows better how to deal with him. She says, in her letter to God, that she will continue to appease Mr. ____, and to give in to his demands,... (full context)
Letter 22
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
...services, and the preacher delivers a sermon chastising a nameless woman who has strayed from God. Shug is the implied subject of this fiery sermon. (full context)
Letter 28
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
...wishes to give it to Shug only if it turns out really beautifully. Celie tells God, in the letter, that she now feels closer both to Sofia and to Shug. (full context)
Letter 35
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
...mind when Shug sleeps with Mr. ____. But Celie then admits, in the letter to God, that when she hears Shug and Mr. ____ having sex, she touches herself quietly, in... (full context)
Letter 55
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
...reports that Samuel and Corrine believe Olivia and Adam have been sent to them by God. Only Nettie knows that Celie is their real mother—but Nettie derives comfort in knowing that... (full context)
Letter 61
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
...of life and of earth's abundance: therefore, he goes on, does it not resemble a God? Nettie finds this ceremony, and her entrance into the village, to be a thing of... (full context)
Letter 67
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
...offered to take in Adam and Olivia. Samuel told Corrine, simply, that the children were God's gift to them. Samuel never explained to Corrine the circumstances of the children's origin. Nettie... (full context)
Letter 68
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Celie writes a brief letter to God, in response to Nettie's information, saying she cannot believe that her children were not born... (full context)
Letter 73
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Celie tells Shug that she no longer writes to God—she writes to Nettie. This letter is addressed to Nettie. Celie says that God would never... (full context)
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Celie and Shug have a discussion about religion, after Celie decides to stop writing to God. Shug says that, just because she (Shug) has behaved immorally in her life, she is... (full context)
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Shug asks Celie what her God looks like, and Celie replies that her God is a white man. Shug says this... (full context)
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Shug goes on to say that God is inside her and all around, and that she, when younger, went from believing that... (full context)
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Celie continues, in the letter, by saying to Nettie that she is trying to find God outside of man—to find God in nature, in rocks and trees and grass. But this... (full context)
Letter 86
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
...and Samuel worry what is to become of the Olinkans, but they try to find God everywhere—in nature, in the trees, as a way of coping with the horrors they see... (full context)
Letter 89
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
...believes it is his religious duty, while on earth, to wonder at the marvels of God's creation, to appreciate the beauty that surrounds him. (full context)
Letter 90
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Celie addresses this final letter to "God," but this time it is a new God—one of the trees, of the land she... (full context)