A Synopsis for Film
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The story really begins circa 1903 with the lynching-by envious whites-of Celie's father, a starving and beginning to be prosperous entrepreneur/farmer in a small Southern town. Celie's mother becomes mentally unstable but is wooed by and marries a man more interested in her trim Victorian house, fields and property than he is in her or her two daughters, Celie and Nettie. When Celie is 14 this stepfather, whom she believes (because nobody talks about the lynched) is her father, begins to rape her, causing the birth of two children whom he gives away to an old friend who has become a missionary. Celie's mother dies angry at Celie and, because she's been warned by her stepfather not to tell anyone (but God) who fathered her children, she dutifully writes letters to God.
Later, when her younger sister, Nettie, runs away from home, she comes to the house Celie shares with Mr. ---------, a mean-spirited, often brutal man who, having been denied Nettie by her stepfather, married Celie so that she would look after his children: his first wife, Annie Julia, having been murdered by her lover. Because Nettie spurns his attentions he turns her out of his house and Celie sends her to the same missionaries (Corrine and Samuel) who have unwittingly adopted her children, Olivia and Adam. With them Nettie goes as a junior missionary to Africa, where she remains, writing letters to but never hearing from Celie for thirty years.
Beaten down for many years by her life of drudgery and abuse with Mr.-------- and his obnoxious offspring, Celie's spirit begins to rally when Shug Avery, a blues singer and old lover of Mr.--------'s, is brought home by him, ill, for Celie to nurse. Celie and Shug fall in love, and Celie leaves Mr.-------- to accompany Shug to Memphis, where Shug makes a grand living singing (earlier she made her living as a domestic) and where Celie begins a happy and independent life designing and sewing pants.
The last straw in Celie's life with Mr.-------- was the knowledge, provided by Shug, that Mr.-------- had hidden all the letters Nettie had written her over the years. In these letters, which she finally receives, Nettie's parallel life unfolds: She and Celie's children and Samuel and Corrine live among the Olinka in a small village of thatched huts (some round, some square) in West Africa. They all teach and nurse and Samuel preaches as well. Corrine gradually recognizes the strong resemblance between her adopted children and Nettie and (with help from a tropical fever) agonizes herself to death. After her death, Samuel and Nettie marry. During this personal drama, the Olinka's village is destroyed by an English rubber company, and the Olinka are forced onto an arid reservation. Adam marries Tashi, an Olinka woman, and with her, the Americans return home.
Meanwhile, Shug has left Celie to have a fling with a cute boy of 19 who plays blues flute. They travel to the Southwest to meet Shug's grown children, one of whom teaches on an Indian reservation that is a mirror image of the one the Olinka now occupy in Africa. Celie, whose stepfather has died and left her real father's property to her, including a large beautiful house, forgives and becomes friends, for the first time, with Mr.--------, who has changed considerably and whom she now calls Albert. Though missing Shug, she is content with her friendships, her designing and her sewing. Naturally, at this point, Shug comes back.
With Shug and Albert by her side, Celie needs only one thing to maker her life complete. Her sister, Nettie. One day, as they are all sitting companionably on the front porch, Nettie, Adam, Olivia, Samuel and Tashi arrive (after Celie has received a telegram saying their ship was sunk by German mines off Gibralter).