Our first impression of Shug is negative. We learn she has a reputation as a woman of dubious morals who dresses scantily, has some sort of “nasty woman disease,” and is spurned by her own parents. Celie immediately sees something more in Shug. When Celie looks at Shug’s photograph, not only does Shug’s glamorous appearance amaze her, but Shug also reminds Celie of her “mama.” Celie compares Shug to her mother throughout the novel. Unlike Celie’s natural mother, who was oppressed by traditional gender roles, Shug refuses to allow herself to be dominated by anyone. Shug has fashioned her identity from her many experiences, instead of subjecting her will to others and allowing them to impose an identity upon her.
Though Shug’s sexy style, sharp tongue, and many worldly experiences make her appear jaded, Shug is actually warm and compassionate at heart. When Shug falls ill, she not only appreciates, but also reciprocates the care and attention Celie lavishes upon her. As Shug’s relationship with Celie develops, Shug fills the roles of mother, confidant, lover, sister, teacher, and friend. Shug’s many roles make her an unpredictable and dynamic character who moves through a whirlwind of different cities, trysts, and late-night blues clubs. Despite her unpredictable nature and shifting roles, Shug remains Celie’s most constant friend and companion throughout the novel.