The Color Purple
Celie as a Victim
As the book opens, Celie is purely a victim: she’s repeatedly raped by her father, her children are taken away from her, and she’s sold into marriage to a man who wants a servant, not a wife. The only person she loves, and the only person who loves her, is her sister Nettie. And then Nettie is also taken away from her.
Celie’s narrative actually begins as a result of her victimization; her father tells her she’d better not tell anyone that he’s raping her, at least not anyone aside from God. So Celie goes and confides in God about her struggles. For a very long time, God is the only being she has to talk to, as she’s either emotionally or physically isolated from most of the other characters in the book.
For much of the novel, Celie is completely passive. She encounters other women who tell Celie that she should stand up for herself and fight, but Celie feels that it’s better to survive than to fight and risk not surviving. However, there are certain triggers that lead Celie to stand up. Celie proves herself to be willing to fight for the people she loves. Even as a downtrodden victim of her Pa, Celie sacrifices herself and offers herself to her father so that he keeps his hands off of Nettie. In a smaller way, Celie also fights for Shug. When Mr.__’s father comes and criticizes Shug, Celie silently rebels by spitting in the man’s water. If there’s anything that gets Celie riled, it’s people mistreating her loved ones.
Eventually, Celie leaves her victimhood behind. Though Mr.__ has been physically abusing Celie for years, she doesn’t find her own strength until she learns that he has been spitefully and intentionally separating her from Nettie for decades. This emotional abuse is also an abuse of Nettie. Celie finally realizes that she can leave Mr.__ and does.
Celie and Love
From years of mistreatment and isolation, Celie is emotionally numb for a good portion of the novel. She’s numb not only because she desperately needs someone to love her, but because she needs someone to love. She’s stuck in a bad marriage in which her husband considers her a servant unworthy of love, and her stepchildren are "rotten children." Finally, someone shows up for Celie to to care for: Shug Avery.
Shug is mean. Even Celie admits it, but Shug is someone to love. With gentleness and care, Celie nurses the sick Shug Avery to health. Because Celie is finally opening herself up by loving someone, Celie becomes more loveable. As Mr.__ and Celie realize in one discussion, when you start to love other people, "people start to love you back."
Well, Shug loves Celie back. Through Shug’s love, Celie begins to realize her own self-worth, which in turn increases her ability to love others. By the end of the novel, Celie loves more people than ever before. When Nettie finally comes home, Celie even introduces Albert (Mr.__) and Shug as "her people," essentially her family of people she loves.