The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Celie is a very likable heroine. Grounded in the folk life of African Americans living in the Deep South, Celie is simple yet good, withdrawn yet able to emerge from her self-preserving stoicism.
Throughout her early life, Celie is sustained by her belief in God, which has been the only consistent, safe, and hopeful element in her life. Married to Mr.——, Celie becomes resigned to degradation and denial. Celie, though sad, is never disappointed, since she has never expected her life to be happy. Less attractive in every way than her sister Nettie, Celie is accustomed to feeling inferior.
Female relationships in the novel serve to support Celie in her loneliness and in her effort to become comfortable with herself. Sofia’s pity for Celie for complying so readily with Albert’s commands points up Celie’s weakness and Sofia’s boldness. Shug’s popularity and physical attractiveness enchant Celie, while Shug’s faithlessness dismays her. Nettie’s voice, projected in her letters, is proper, intelligent, educated, and refined. In contrast, Celie’s native tongue is a thick, black dialect that is humorous in its fresh descriptions, original metaphors, and realistic dialogue.
Celie develops her identity in large measure by coming to know her similarities with and differences from the other women in the story, by accepting herself as she is, and by learning to blossom—like the purple flowers found growing unchecked in...
(The entire section is 554 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Celie, a survivor of sexual and physical abuse who writes intimate letters to God and to her sister Nettie. She is the owner of Celie Folkpants, Unlimited. Described as black, poor, and ugly, she is fourteen years old at the beginning of the story. Celie is a terrorized and passive girl with little belief in herself who undergoes a major transformation in attitude and becomes an outrageous, audacious, courageous, and willful woman who enjoys her lesbian sexuality. She gives birth to two children, conceived while she is being raped repeatedly by Alphonso, whom she believes to be her father. Both children are quickly taken from her by him. Celie is married off to Albert but falls in love with Shug Avery, a former lover of her husband. After Celie nurses Shug through an illness, they become lovers; later, they move to Memphis, where Celie starts a pants company. Celie returns to Georgia when she inherits her parents’ house.
Nettie, Celie’s younger sister, a missionary in Africa. Considered to be very pretty and very clever, Nettie loves Celie and remains devoted to her throughout her life. During a separation of some twenty years, she writes to Celie regularly, telling Celie of her experiences in Africa. Nettie helps take care of and watches over Celie’s two children, who have been adopted by the missionary couple whom Nettie accompanied to Africa. Nettie eventually reunites the family.
(The entire section is 865 words.)
The protagonist of The Color Purple is Celie, a woman whose life is traced over a thirty-year period, from the age of fourteen on a poor sharecropper's farm to success as a middle-aged pants manufacturer. More than half of the novel consists of her letters, addressed first to God and then to her missionary sister Nettie. The epistolary (letter-writing) format guarantees that readers see the story entirely from Celie's point of view, and it affords them the opportunity to trace her growth from ignorant child, to abused and despairing wife, to lesbian lover, to independent and self-assured businesswoman. The reader tends to sympathize with Celie, who is based on Walker's great-grandmother, a slave raped by her owner when she was twelve years old. And perhaps part of the power of the presentation of Celie is due to the fact that another prototype for her was Alice Walker herself: Having been blinded in one eye with a BB gun at age eight and raised on a poor Georgia farm, Walker felt she was ugly as a child: "I felt old, and because I was unpleasant to look at, filled with shame." As Celie's self-image improves dramatically in the course of the novel, she never resorts to physical or verbal aggression and she never indulges in self-pity. Even so, there are serious problems with her characterization. As Trudier Harris points out, Celie's growth "is frequently incredible and inconsistent"; a more blunt commentator, Maria K. Mootry-Ikerionwu, believes that Celie...
(The entire section is 778 words.)
Adam is Celie's son who was adopted by the missionary, Reverend Samuel, and his wife, Corrine. When the Reverend and his family return to America, Celie is reunited with her grown son.
Albert is the widower with four children who buys Celie from her stepfather. Albert treats Celie with cruelty, using her to satisfy his sexual needs and to take care of his children. He really loves Shug Avery, who later comes to live with Albert and Celie when she is sick. Celie appreciates Shug's presence in the house, because Albert treats her better when Shug is around. Albert later in life softens and Celie takes him in as a helper in her business.
Albert's father comes to visit when he hears that Albert has taken Shug Avery into his house. He says many nasty things about Shug and expresses his disapproval of what his son is doing. Albert asks him to leave.
Celie's stepfather. When Celie's mother is sick and dying, he rapes Celie and continues to do so long enough for Celie to have two children, whom he sells to a local missionary and his wife. He doesn't tell Celie what has happened to the children, and initially Celie thinks he killed them. Celie later learns that he is not her real father. Her real father was lynched years before by a white mob. Alphonso tells Celie not to tell anyone but God about what he has done to her. He warns her that if she tells,...
(The entire section is 1533 words.)