However, Celie begins to understand that her perception of herself differs from the way others perceive her. Reflecting on herself and on her lot, Celie writes, “I might as well be under the table, for all they care. I hate the way I look, I hate the way I’m dress.” These beginnings of self-awareness represent a foundational first step toward Celie’s empowerment.
As her sense of self develops, Celie begins to perceive weakness and shortcomings in the men who oppress her. She also begins to react in an assertive manner. Looking at Mr. ______, Celie critically notes that he has a weak chin and wears dirty clothes. Angry at Mr. ______’s father for his unkind words about Shug, Celie retaliates secretly but assertively, spitting in the old man’s drinking water and threatening to put Shug’s pee in his glass the next time he visits. Celie also displays assertiveness when Harpo again asks for her advice about Sofia. This time, Celie finds words to express her true feelings, and she tells Harpo that abusing Sofia is not the answer.
Walker’s idea of the varied, multilayered nature of intimacy among women also emerges in Celie and Shug’s relationship. Walker understands sexuality and sexual orientation as a spectrum of possibilities rather than as two, polar-opposite choices. Thus, like race, sexuality can be difficult to define, and more complex than the simple dichotomy of heterosexuality and homosexuality. Celie’s feelings toward Shug are sexual, but they are also based on friendship, gratitude, camaraderie, and admiration. Celie does feel sexually aroused when she sees Shug naked, but just as important are the feelings of maternal tenderness toward Shug that Celie confesses to God when describing how she nurses Shug back to health.