protagonist and narrator of The Color Purple
is a poor, uneducated black woman with a sad personal history. She
survives a stepfather who rapes her and steals her babies and also
survives an abusive husband. As an adult, Celie befriends and finds intimacy
with a blues singer, Shug Avery, who gradually helps Celie find
her voice. By the end of the novel, Celie is a happy, independent,
and self-confident woman.
in-depth analysis of Celie.
younger sister, whom Mr. ______ initially wanted to marry. Nettie
runs from Alphonso to Mr. ______, and later runs away from Mr. ______.
She meets a husband-and-wife pair of missionaries, Samuel and Corrine.
With them, she moves to Africa to preach. Nettie becomes the caretaker
of Samuel and Corrine’s adopted children (who, Nettie later learns,
are Celie’s biological children, whom Celie and Nettie’s stepfather stole
and subsequently sold) and faithfully writes letters to Celie for
decades. Nettie’s experiences in Africa broaden the novel’s scope,
introducing issues of imperialism and pan-African struggles.
in-depth analysis of Nettie.
husband, who abuses her for years. Mr. ______ , whose first name
is Albert, pines away for Shug during his marriage to Celie and
hides Nettie’s letters to Celie in his trunk for decades. After
Celie finally defies Mr. ______ , denouncing him for his abuse,
he undergoes a deep personal transformation, reassessing his life
and eventually becoming friends with Celie.
in-depth analysis of Mr. ______.
sultry blues singer who first appears as Mr. ______’s mistress.
Shug becomes Celie’s friend and eventually her lover, all the while
remaining a gentle mentor who helps Celie evolve into an independent
and assertive woman. Shug does not at first appear to be the mothering
kind, yet she nurtures Celie physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Shug gives Celie the idea of sewing pants for a living.
in-depth analysis of Shug Avery.
______’s eldest son. Many of Harpo’s actions overturn stereotypical
gender roles. He confesses to Celie about his love for Sofia, cries
in her arms, enjoys cooking and housework, kisses his children,
and marries an independent woman, Sofia. However, Mr. ______’s expectations
of stereotypical male dominance convince Harpo that he needs to
beat Sofia. His efforts at abusing Sofia fail, since she is much
stronger than he is. At the end of the novel, Harpo reforms his
ways, and he and Sofia reconcile and save their marriage.
large, fiercely independent woman who befriends Celie and marries
Harpo. Sofia refuses to submit to whites, men, or anyone else who
tries to dominate her. After defying the town’s mayor, Sophia is
sentenced to twelve years in jail, but the sentence is later commuted to
twelve years labor as the mayor’s maid. The hardship Sofia endures
serves as a reminder of the costs of resistance and the difficulties
of combating cultural and institutional racism.
lover after Sofia leaves him. As a mulatto, a person of mixed black
and white ancestry, Squeak highlights the complex nature of racial
identification. Although abused like many of the women in the novel, Squeak
eventually undergoes a transformation much like Celie’s. She demands
to be called by her real name, Mary Agnes, and she pursues a singing
and Nettie’s stepfather, who the sisters think is their real father
until Nettie learns the truth years later. When Celie is young,
Alphonso rapes and abuses her until she moves out of the house.
Unlike Mr. ______ and Harpo, who are transformed, Alphonso remains an
abuser until his death. Celie inherits her house and property after
minister who, along with his wife, Corrine, adopts Celie’s biological
children, Olivia and Adam. A wise, spiritually mature black intellectual
committed to “the uplift of black people everywhere,” Samuel takes Corrine,
Nettie, and the children to Africa for missionary work. He tells
Nettie the story that makes her realize Alphonso is her stepfather
rather than her biological father. After Corrine’s death, Samuel
wife. After moving to Africa, Corrine grows increasingly suspicious
and jealous of Nettie’s role in her family, convinced that Nettie
and Samuel have had an affair. While still in Africa, Corrine dies
from a fever, opening the opportunity for Nettie and Samuel to marry.
and Alphonso’s biological daughter, who is adopted by Samuel and
Corrine. Olivia develops a close sisterly relationship with Tashi,
an Olinka village girl. This friendship, which crosses cultural boundaries,
serves as an example of the strength of relationships between women.
and Alphonso’s biological son, who, like Olivia, is adopted by Samuel
and Corrine. Adam falls in love with Tashi, a young Olinka girl.
By marrying Tashi, Adam symbolically bridges Africa and America,
and his respect for and deference to her subverts patriarchal notions
that women are subordinate to men.
Olinka village girl who befriends Olivia and marries Adam. Tashi
defies white imperialist culture and embodies the struggle of traditional
cultural values against colonization. She chooses to undergo two painful
African traditions—facial scarring and genital mutilation—as a way
to physically differentiate her culture from imperialist culture.
wife of the mayor of the town where Celie lives. Miss Millie is
racist and condescending, but she admires the cleanliness and good
manners of Sofia’s children, so she asks Sofia to be her maid. Sofia
replies, “Hell no,” and is sent first to jail, then to Miss Millie’s, where
she ends up working as her maid after all.
mayor’s daughter. Eleanor Jane develops a strong attachment to Sofia
and turns to her for emotional support. However, Sofia does not reciprocate
Eleanor Jane’s feelings because of the years of mistreatment she
suffered at the hands of Eleanor Jane’s parents. Toward the end
of the novel, Eleanor Jane finally begins to understand the injustices
Sofia and other blacks have suffered. She attempts to atone for
her part in the unjust treatment of Sofia by caring for Sofia’s
husband. Grady is a loving and sweet man,
but also a womanizer. He spends Shug’s money flamboyantly and frequently
When Grady and Squeak begin an affair, Shug seems relieved to be
rid of any responsibility to her relationship with Grady.
of Mr. ______’s sisters. Kate urges Celie to stand up for herself
and defy Mr. ______’s abuses.