Celie is meek and passive, accepting the abuse that is heaped on her by her father and husband for most of her life. Eventually, she learns to assert herself and to speak for herself.
In befriending Shug Avery, Celie learns to love herself and others in new ways. This change allows her to stand up for herself and also, importantly, to forgive others.
Celie's transformation is symbolized by her business making pants. Not only has she come far enough to wear pants, like a man, but she has gained enough confidence to start her own business.
After twenty years of enduring abuse after marriage, Celie finds the strength to engage in a lesbian relationship with her husband's former lover, to leave the church and her home, and to start a pant-making business.
Sofia is combative and proud. She never really forgives, but also does not allow people to abuse her insofar as she is capable of stopping them. A fighter and a truly spirited woman, Sofia is a leader who does not compromise herself for others.
Some of these qualities are lost when Sofia is put in prison and later assigned to be the maid for the mayor's family. After suffering this punishment, Sofia loses much of her spirit.
Squeak uses her appeal and her sexuality to get what she wants and is willing to fight for her rights. She tries to follow in Shug's footsteps but is not as strong or savvy as Shug. Squeak lives a life of some adventure and freedom, but also finds that she is alone in the end because she makes poor decisions.
Squeak responds to the systematic suppression of African American women by making choices for herself and asserting herself professionally.