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The Color Purple

Alice Walker

In The Color Purple by Alice Walker,the main character’s sister, Nettie, appears briefly but her presence continues through her letters and contributes greatly to the work by creating contrast, affecting the action and development of the other characters.

At the beginning of the book Celie tries to be Nettie’s protector by sacrificing herself to her “pa” and marrying Mr.______. Nettie is described as beautiful and smart while Celie is ugly and ignorant. Nettie is wanted by Mr.______ for being virginal, clean and fertile but he is forced to take Celie who is barren and tainted. Celie suffers in her marriage and is a slave to her husband and step children while Nettie encourages Celie to learn and fight for her rights. After Nettie leaves she tells Celie she will write to her but it is not revealed until later that Mr. _____ has been hiding her letters. Through the missing letters the reader learns more about Nettie’s life as a missionary in Africa. Nettie went out into the world to learn more about herself, her God and her race; while Celie continued to lead a passive life, accepts what she knows about God and does not care about the oppression of her sex or her race. Nettie functions as a comparison throughout the novel for the reader to understand the changes Celie goes through. When Celie leaves her husband to live with Shug and pursue their relationship, the reader learns that Nettie has married a Reverend. Shug is a worldly woman, a jazz singer and thought by many to be a prostitute – a stark contrast to the holy man Nettie married.

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Although Nettie is in a different continent throughout most of the novel, she is of vital importance to the action and development of the story’s characters. Celie retaliates against her husband and against God when she learns that Mr._______ has been hiding her letters from Nellie all along. Nettie gives Celie the will to fight, learn and improve herself through her letters and their sisterly bond. Not long after discovering and reading Nettie’s letters, Celie takes the biggest step of her life and leaves her husband, her past, and her home to make a life for herself. Celie learns that through a turn of events Nettie is living with her children and that the man she thought was her father was actually her stepfather. It is through Nettie’s letter that Celie learns the truth about her “pa” and begins to overcome all the psychological trauma she went through believing she gave birth to her father’s children. Nettie serves as a connection between Celie and her children and lets her know they are being well taken care of. Nettie also contributes to Celie’s development because she tells Celie about the oppression she faces in Africa, from blacks, whites, men and women. Nettie’s racial oppression is comparable to Celie’s but on a much larger scale, this connection between their lives gives Celie a companion – someone who is suffering just as much as she is but is still growing and learning. The most obvious example of the change Celie undergoes after finding out her sister is alive (with the first letter) is that she begins to title her letters “Dear Celie” instead of “Dear God.” Celie was more aware of herself and had a clearer voice when she was writing to Nettie than when she was writing to God. Celie’s life is divided into two phases: before Nettie’s letters and after/during Nettie’s letters. When she wrote to God she was needy and praying to someone she didn’t think cared about her anyway – a white man with a big white beard. But Celie’s letters to Nettie give the reader a different picture of Celie – a strong woman looking for someone who will always love her.

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In conclusion, Nettie is a very important character in The Color Purple and functions as a contrast to Celie, and affects her actions and development. The role Nettie plays in Celie’s life is a big one even though Nettie only appears twice in the book but she has a presence that lingers with the main character and is transferred to the people Celie interacts with.