Study Guide

Celie in The Color Purple

By Alice Walker


It's Hard Out There for a... Black Woman in the Early 1900's

Poor Celie. She's got it tough straight through the first part of the book. She is purely a victim: She’s repeatedly raped by her father, her children are taken away from her, and she’s literally 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 back—is her sister Nettie. And then Nettie is also taken away from her. Sheesh! When it rains, it pours.

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. Talk about lonesome.

For much of the novel, Celie is completely passive. She meets other women who tell her 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. Like a true fighter, Celie proves herself to be willing to stand up 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. Now if that's not love, we don't know what is.

Celie also fights for Shug, though in a smaller way. When Mr.__’s father comes and criticizes Shug, Celie silently rebels by spitting in the man’s water. Sure, it's gross, but he totally deserved it. 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 doesn't just affect Celie—it also affects Nettie. And that's the last straw. Celie finally realizes that she can leave Mr.__, and leave she does.

As Long as She Knows How to Love She Knows She'll Stay Alive

During her years of mistreatment and isolation—a.k.a. most of the novel—Celie is emotionally numb. 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 where her stepchildren are "rotten" and her husband considers her a servant. Finally, someone shows up for Celie 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 woman back to health. Because Celie is finally opening herself up by loving someone, Celie becomes more lovable. As Mr.__ and Celie realize in one discussion, when you start to love other people, "people start to love you back." It's kind of like waving.

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—and she's not even mad at Mr.___. We can see just how far Celie has come when Nettie finally returns home and Celie introduces Albert (Mr.__) and Shug as "her people." If that's not love, we don't know what is.

Celie embodies the strength of the human spirit and the power of forgiveness. We see her transform from a wounded, beaten woman to a strong, independent, and loving individual. So next time you're having a bad day, stop and ask yourself: What would Celie do?