In The Color Purple, does the statement, "you cannot escape your past," apply to Celie?
I don't think so at all. Rather, the story of Celie is one of empowerment as she discovers who she is and finds her identity. The character who we are introduced to at the beginning of the story is very different from the indepdent and confident individual that Celie is at the end of the story. Obviously, the plot focuses on the way in which Celie gradually builds up her sense of self starting from the position of being told repeatedly that she is ugly and worthless.
However, if we examine her life at the end of the novel, we see that she has not let herself remain a victim of her past experiences. This is symbolised in one way through her adoption of sewing, traditionally considered a worthless job done by women, as the means of supporting herself and expressing her creativity. The Celie at the end of the book is so different from the Celie of the beginning of the book that she clearly shows the past has no hold on her whatsoever. In fact, in spite of her advancing years, her state of happiness at the end of the story indicates clearly that she is rejuvenated by the chance to be independent and express herself through her skill in sewing. Note what she says about her age at the end of the book:
Don’t think us feel old at all... Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt.
Celie's story is a testament to the way in which the chains of an unhappy and painful past can be broken and healing can occur.