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The three dominant attributes of Celie's personality are strength and endurance, the ability to love unconditionally, and the constant search for truth. Celie's endurance arises out of a belief in herself, even though she sometimes questions her worth, and out of her connections with others, even though those connections are sometimes tenuous. From adolescence into adulthood, Celie endures sexual, physical, and emotional abuse; still she remains a caring and gentle soul who finds it easy to love when she feels loved. Her resilience is truly miraculous and a tribute to humankind.
Often during the novel, Celie loves others more than she loves herself. In order to save her mother and then Nettie from the cruelty of Fonso, she quietly takes her own abuse. She marries Albert so Nettie will not be forced to marry him. She then sends Nettie away from the farm to protect her from Albert, even though it means she will lose the only family and friend she has in the world. Even before she meets her, she loves Shug, believing her to be the perfect picture of glamour and independence. When Shug loves her back, she finds it hard to believe. When Shug chooses Germaine over her, it breaks Celie's heart, but she understands and wonders why Shug has ever loved her. It is only towards the end of the novel that Celie realizes she can be content without depending on anyone but herself, but it took years of pain to arrive at this sense of self-sufficiency.
The ability to endure under the worst of circumstances is Celie's key to survival. She manages to withstand the sexual abuse of Fonso, the loss of her babies, the cold cruelty of Albert, the loss of her sister Nettie, and the uncertainty of Shug's love -- all coupled with a life filled with poverty, struggles, and prejudice. In spite of the hardships, Celie never gives up faith. At first, she writes letters to God, trusting that He will eventually bless her life. When she feels deserted by God, she places her faith in Nettie, certain that she will again be reunited with her sister. Even when she learns that Nettie has supposedly been shipwrecked at sea, she does not give up her faith. She continues to write letters to Nettie, certain that she is still alive.
The same kind of steadfastness characterizes Celie's love for Shug Avery. Long before she meets Shug, she adores her. When she finally meets Shug, she loves her unconditionally, even though Shug mistreats her. She sleeps with Albert, with Celie in the next room; after saying she loves Celie, she gets bored with her life and marries Grady; she leaves Celie again to have a last fling with Germaine. In spite of this treatment, Celie never wavers in her love for Shug. She even decorates a room for Shug in her house, painting it purple, in hopes that Shug will return to live with her. Celie's patience pays off.
Celie also maintains a steadfast, platonic love for Sofia. When she is imprisoned, Celie goes to the jail and cares for her wounds. She also visits her often during the years of her confinement, encouraging her and giving her strength. After her initial mistake of advising Harpo to beat Sofia, Celie learns the power of women's solidarity through her bond with Sofia.
Celie's constant search for the truth may be the most amazing characteristic of this beautiful character. Celie is at the bottom of the social hierarchy in the South because she is poor, she is Black, and she is female. As a female she is abused by her father (really her stepfather) and by her husband, for she lives in a patriarchal social system that does not value a female except as a sexual object and a laborer. From early in the novel, Celie looks for ways to stand up for this unfair system. It is Shug who teaches her about her own self-worth, making her believe in herself. As a result, she finally leaves Albert, her abusive husband, and goes with Shug to make a life of her own. By the end of the novel, she has built a successful business, largely because she never gave in to the reality of her life, but searched for the truth beyond it.
Because Celie is poor, she is denied an education. As the older daughter, she is expected to stay home and care for Fonso and the house, while Nettie attends school. Fortunately, Miss Beasley and Nettie privately teach and coach Celie. It is difficult for her to learn because she is both physically and emotionally beaten by her abuse; but she never gives up trying. When Shug tries to help Celie learn about life, she eagerly soaks up her every lesson. She never forgets that Shug taught her to enjoy and appreciate the little things in life - like the color of purple in a field. Celie also learns from Shug the life-enabling philosophy of believing in herself. It is this philosophy of self-sufficiency that brings the novel to a happy ending for Celie.
Portrayed as the archetypal blues woman, Shug Avery is unconventional. She reveals to Celie that her mother never really loved her and would not even touch her, while her father made sexual advances. As a result, she learned independence at an early age. She fell in love with Albert early in life, but refused to marry him, for she felt he was weak. Still she returned to Albert over and over again during the novel. She admits to Celie that she has always loved him in some way and always enjoyed sex with him.
Shug's world is the world of the blues, with its earthy wisdom and singer lifestyle. She is a glamorous and beautiful woman that Celie always adores, even before she meets her. To Celie, she is the personification of freedom from the patriarchal system that abuses her. It is no wonder that Celie easily falls in love with Shug. Amazingly, Shug is only portrayed once actually singing in the novel. She writes a song for Celie, in appreciation of her nursing her back to health. She sings this song before a crowd at Harpo's; Celie feels more important than she ever has in her life. As a result, from early in the novel, Shug is picture as a life-giver to Celie.
Shug is always full of earthy wisdom and correct responses, serving as a catalyst to free Celie and the other women. She tells Celie that she believes that God gets angry if a person does not take time to admire the color purple in a field. She convinces Celie that she is really a virgin, although married, since she has never experienced sexual pleasure and teaches her how to gratify herself. She also calls Fonso "a son of a bitch" when she reads his gravestone, praising him as a great parent and person; she does humorously remind Celie, however, that at least he is dead. When Albert does not take Celie's curse seriously, Shug warns him to listen or be sorry. When she tells Celie that she is leaving with Germaine, she promises that it will only be one last fling for six months; then she promises to live with Celie forever.
Shug loves without any boundaries of age or gender. Celie claims that Shug is loved by so many people because she finds it easy to give love. She falls in love with Albert when she is young, but refuses to marry him because he is too weak. Instead, Shug has a constant string of affairs and flings; but she always comes back to Albert to get her grounding and to enjoy some sex. Even though Celie is married to Albert, Shug sleeps with him in the next room. When she returns to Georgia with her new husband, Grady, she begins an affair with Celie that will last, off and on, throughout the novel. Then, when living with Celie, she begins an affair with Germaine, a nineteen-year-old man in her band. She has one last fling with him before permanently settling down with Celie. Although Shug's lifestyle and philosophies are often wild and unconventional, she is a perfectly natural and free spirit. She never questions if it is right or wrong to love a person, be it male or female, young or old. Shug simply loves people who need loving.