The Color Purple

The Color Purple

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God and Spirituality Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Color Purple, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
God and Spirituality Theme Icon

The first words written by Celie, the novel's protagonist, are "Dear God," and the novel ends with a letter, the salutation of which reads, "Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God." This encapsulates The Color Purple's relationship to religion and spirituality: a transition from a belief in a single God, an old white man in a long beard, to a God that exists all around, and is a part of human happiness. Celie begins writing letters to God in order to survive the her father's sexual abuse; she later comes to view God as an outgrowth of nature's beauty, after Shug convinces her that God is more than what white people say, and what church teachings confirm.

Although Shug is not typically religious, she believes strongly that God wants people to be happy, and that God, too, wants to be loved, just as people do. Nettie serves as a missionary to the Olinka people, intending to spread Christianity, but realizes, like her sister, that God is more pervasive, more bound up in nature than some Christian teaching suggests. Even Mr. _____ comes to realize that he behaved evilly as a young man, and his growing belief in the "wonder" of God's creation makes him a better person, and a friend to Celie. Nettie's return to Celie, at the novel's end, confirms that the beauty of family togetherness is one manifestation of God's power on earth.

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God and Spirituality Quotes in The Color Purple

Below you will find the important quotes in The Color Purple related to the theme of God and Spirituality.
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 26 Quotes

What that song? I ast. Sound low down dirty to me. Like what the preacher tell you its sin to hear. Not to mention sing.

She hum a little more. Something come to me, she say. Something I made up. Something you help scratch out my head.

Related Characters: Celie (speaker), Shug Avery (speaker)
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

The relationship between Shug and Celie deepens in this scene, as Celie combs Shug's hair. Although Celie and Shug do not yet engage in romantic behavior, there is nevertheless an intimate quality to their interaction here.

Shug is a creative spirit, and eventually goes on to spur that creativity in Celie. Celie has long looked for a creative outlet as a part of her journey of self-discovery - she has attempted to find a way to express herself and her feelings. Of course, Celie has been doing this all along without exactly understanding how or why - she has been keeping a journal of the events of her life, the journal that forms the basis of the narrative that the reader reads as the novel itself. Celie will, later on, begin to understand that she is a writer and storyteller - but, for now, she is content with witnessing Shug engage in her own acts of creation. 

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 62 Quotes

Corrine said to me this morning, Nettie, to stop any kind of confusion in the minds of these people, I think we should call one another brother and sister, all the time.

Related Characters: Nettie (speaker), Corrine
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

This conversation has to do with the nature of the Olinka community, where Samuel, Corrine, Nettie, and the children settle. Corrine worries that the Olinka do not understand Samuel's relationship to Nettie - the Olinka believe, in fact, that Samuel has two wives, and that Nettie is the younger, and therefore more desirable, wife. Although Corrine wishes to behave with Christian courtesy both to the community they are visiting and to Nettie, she is visibly upset by the idea, even the merest hint of one, that perhaps Samuel and Corrine have had some form of sexual relationship at some point in the past.

Nettie's interaction with Corrine at this point in the novel makes clear that, despite the loving brother- and sisterhood of Samuel and Corrine's family, everyone in the novel is susceptible to jealousy of a kind. Corrine values the integrity of her marriage and believes that, if the Olinka view Samuel to have taken multiple wives, this integrity might be in jeopardy. 

Letter 71 Quotes

Don't cry. Don't cry, I said. My sister was glad to see Olivia with you. Glad to see her alive. She thought both her children were dead.

Related Characters: Nettie (speaker), Corrine, Olivia
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

For years, Corrine has noted the resemblance between Olivia and Nettie, thinking that perhaps the children are biologically related to Nettie (of course they are, although Nettie is their biological aunt, and Celie their mother). But this goes to Corrine's longstanding feelings of jealousy and anxiety regarding Adam and Olivia's parentage. Corrine fears that Samuel has loved Nettie, and that the family's "coming together" and trip to Africa was, in some sense, a pretext for Samuel and Nettie to continue to be together.

But Corrine, in confiding this to Nettie finally, does free herself of some of the burden of her fear before she dies of an illness. Corrine has been warped by her jealousy - her goodness has changed to bitterness over the time the family has been in Africa. In this way, even though Nettie has found a more supportive and less violent family structure with Samuel and Corrine in Africa, her life is afflicted with many of the same jealousies and divisions as Celie's life in the American South. 

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 80 Quotes

You may have guessed that I loved him all along; but I did not know it. oh, I loved him as a brother . . . but Celie, I love him bodily, as a man! I love his walk, his size, his shape, his smell, the kinkiness of his hair.

Related Characters: Nettie (speaker), Samuel
Page Number: 244
Explanation and Analysis:

Nettie confides in Celie here, telling her that, after years, she finds herself married to Samuel, and that she has fallen in love with him. Corrine, of course, feared for a long time that this might happen, and Nettie betrays a small amount of guilt for confirming, even if only after Corrine's death, the fear that she long harbored.

But Nettie is happy and has found a way to cement her familial relationship with Adam and Olivia, and to care for the man she loves. As Nettie describes it, this is a love that is affirming both for her and for Samuel - they feel comfortable doing things together, and take a great deal of satisfaction merely from being in one another's presence. Meanwhile, Celie has similarly recognized over the course of the novel that her lifelong love has been Shug, and that this relationship with her has allowed her further to grow and recognize her own abilities. 

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.