The protagonist and narrator of The Color Purple. Celie is a poor, uneducated black woman with a sad personal history. She survives a stepfather who rapes her and steals her babies and also survives an abusive husband. As an adult, Celie befriends and finds intimacy with a blues singer, Shug Avery, who gradually helps Celie find her voice. By the end of the novel, Celie is a happy, independent, and self-confident woman.
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Celie’s younger sister, whom Mr. ______ initially wanted to marry. Nettie runs from Alphonso to Mr. ______, and later runs away from Mr. ______. She meets a husband-and-wife pair of missionaries, Samuel and Corrine. With them, she moves to Africa to preach. Nettie becomes the caretaker of Samuel and Corrine’s adopted children (who, Nettie later learns, are Celie’s biological children, whom Celie and Nettie’s stepfather stole and subsequently sold) and faithfully writes letters to Celie for decades. Nettie’s experiences in Africa broaden the novel’s scope, introducing issues of imperialism and pan-African struggles.
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Celie’s husband, who abuses her for years. Mr. ______ , whose first name is Albert, pines away for Shug during his marriage to Celie and hides Nettie’s letters to Celie in his trunk for decades. After Celie finally defies Mr. ______ , denouncing him for his abuse, he undergoes a deep personal transformation, reassessing his life and eventually becoming friends with Celie.
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A sultry blues singer who first appears as Mr. ______’s mistress. Shug becomes Celie’s friend and eventually her lover, all the while remaining a gentle mentor who helps Celie evolve into an independent and assertive woman. Shug does not at first appear to be the mothering kind, yet she nurtures Celie physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Shug gives Celie the idea of sewing pants for a living.
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Mr. ______’s eldest son. Many of Harpo’s actions overturn stereotypical gender roles. He confesses to Celie about his love for Sofia, cries in her arms, enjoys cooking and housework, kisses his children, and marries an independent woman, Sofia. However, Mr. ______’s expectations of stereotypical male dominance convince Harpo that he needs to beat Sofia. His efforts at abusing Sofia fail, since she is much stronger than he is. At the end of the novel, Harpo reforms his ways, and he and Sofia reconcile and save their marriage.
A large, fiercely independent woman who befriends Celie and marries Harpo. Sofia refuses to submit to whites, men, or anyone else who tries to dominate her. After defying the town’s mayor, Sophia is sentenced to twelve years in jail, but the sentence is later commuted to twelve years labor as the mayor’s maid. The hardship Sofia endures serves as a reminder of the costs of resistance and the difficulties of combating cultural and institutional racism.
Harpo’s lover after Sofia leaves him. As a mulatto, a person of mixed black and white ancestry, Squeak highlights the complex nature of racial identification. Although abused like many of the women in the novel, Squeak eventually undergoes a transformation much like Celie’s. She demands to be called by her real name, Mary Agnes, and she pursues a singing career.
Celie and Nettie’s stepfather, who the sisters think is their real father until Nettie learns the truth years later. When Celie is young, Alphonso rapes and abuses her until she moves out of the house. Unlike Mr. ______ and Harpo, who are transformed, Alphonso remains an abuser until his death. Celie inherits her house and property after Alphonso dies.
A minister who, along with his wife, Corrine, adopts Celie’s biological children, Olivia and Adam. A wise, spiritually mature black intellectual committed to “the uplift of black people everywhere,” Samuel takes Corrine, Nettie, and the children to Africa for missionary work. He tells Nettie the story that makes her realize Alphonso is her stepfather rather than her biological father. After Corrine’s death, Samuel marries Nettie.
Samuel’s wife. After moving to Africa, Corrine grows increasingly suspicious and jealous of Nettie’s role in her family, convinced that Nettie and Samuel have had an affair. While still in Africa, Corrine dies from a fever, opening the opportunity for Nettie and Samuel to marry.
Celie and Alphonso’s biological daughter, who is adopted by Samuel and Corrine. Olivia develops a close sisterly relationship with Tashi, an Olinka village girl. This friendship, which crosses cultural boundaries, serves as an example of the strength of relationships between women.
Celie and Alphonso’s biological son, who, like Olivia, is adopted by Samuel and Corrine. Adam falls in love with Tashi, a young Olinka girl. By marrying Tashi, Adam symbolically bridges Africa and America, and his respect for and deference to her subverts patriarchal notions that women are subordinate to men.
An Olinka village girl who befriends Olivia and marries Adam. Tashi defies white imperialist culture and embodies the struggle of traditional cultural values against colonization. She chooses to undergo two painful African traditions—facial scarring and genital mutilation—as a way to physically differentiate her culture from imperialist culture.
The wife of the mayor of the town where Celie lives. Miss Millie is racist and condescending, but she admires the cleanliness and good manners of Sofia’s children, so she asks Sofia to be her maid. Sofia replies, “Hell no,” and is sent first to jail, then to Miss Millie’s, where she ends up working as her maid after all.
The mayor’s daughter. Eleanor Jane develops a strong attachment to Sofia and turns to her for emotional support. However, Sofia does not reciprocate Eleanor Jane’s feelings because of the years of mistreatment she suffered at the hands of Eleanor Jane’s parents. Toward the end of the novel, Eleanor Jane finally begins to understand the injustices Sofia and other blacks have suffered. She attempts to atone for her part in the unjust treatment of Sofia by caring for Sofia’s daughter Henrietta.
Shug’s husband. Grady is a loving and sweet man, but also a womanizer. He spends Shug’s money flamboyantly and frequently smokes marijuana. When Grady and Squeak begin an affair, Shug seems relieved to be rid of any responsibility to her relationship with Grady.
One of Mr. ______’s sisters. Kate urges Celie to stand up for herself and defy Mr. ______’s abuses.