Study Guide

Nettie in The Color Purple

By Alice Walker


Nettie is the only character who loves Celie consistently and unconditionally throughout the entire novel. Because she loves Celie so strongly, Celie reciprocates the care. Their mutual love for each other remains steadfast even after the sisters are separated for thirty years without any contact.

Unlike Celie, Nettie is educated and independent of all men. In many ways, Nettie is the woman she is as a result of Celie’s sacrifices. Although Celie had to leave school after she became pregnant by Pa, Celie steers Pa away from Nettie so that Nettie can have a better life and continue her education. Celie also marries Mr.__ instead of Nettie, thus keeping Nettie from being a married woman, tied down to her husband’s children and constantly giving birth to children of her own.

Nettie is an eager learner and always interested in sharing her newfound knowledge with her sister. As young girls, when Pa took Celie out of school Nettie tried to teach her everything she could. This pattern continues over the years. In the letters Nettie sends to Celie, she uses her experiences to expand Celie’s view of the world. Relating her stories of Africa, gender politics, and religion to her sister, Nettie is a primary source of information that gives Celie pride in her African heritage and knowledge of the world outside of the American South.

As an educated, intelligent woman, Nettie is quite self-sufficient. Unmarried for the majority of the book, Nettie never judges her personal worth in relation to men. Although the Olinka men in Africa think very little of Nettie because she isn’t married, Nettie feels pleased with her life. Instead of looking for personal value and meaning through marriage, Nettie doesn’t actually marry until she feels that she is a full and complete human being herself. As a result, she has a happy and stable marriage with Samuel.