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At the start of the novel, the young, black female is presented as about the most vulnerable person in society. Celie epitomizes this female: she is abused and denied a voice by her (supposed) father and then by her husband. Along with the racial prejudice young, black women endure, they also tend to struggle against their black, male counterparts. Sofia always fought her brothers, and we see how she has to fight Harpo to assert her equality. Likewise, the Olinka tribe do not believe in educating their women, and although there are no reports of abuse against women by men in Nettie’s letters, female subservience is unchallenged, and the debasing initiation ceremony continues without contest--except from Nettie and her family. Under such conditions, if they want to change the status quo, these women must stick together against male oppression. In fact, the one time that Celie is too disturbed to sleep is when she betrays Sofia by telling Harpo to beat her; the disloyalty to her fellow female is more than she can bear. Usually, however, there is a strong union of support between one woman and another, and this bonding comes from a need to unbalance the male view of themselves that they have total authority over women in their society.
The woman who manages to challenge this male dominance the most is Shug, who asserts her independence by living according to her own laws. It is unsurprising, given the circumstances, that Celie and Shug become involved romantically. Shug is a powerful goddess who refuses to be brought down by men, ever vigilant to maintain the upper hand. Celie is a victim of male abuse who has closed herself off from the possibility of trusting men. When she comforts Harpo, who is crying on the porch, she feels nothing more than she would for a dog. Together, these females free each other: Shug teaches Mary Agnes to sing, Albert’s sister takes Celie shopping when no one else does, Sofia’s sisters look after her children while she is in jail, Nettie writes to Celie and looks after her children for thirty years, Doris Baines sends her "wives" to England for their education, Eleanor Jane cooks nourishing food for Henrietta, and Celie nurses Shug back to health and inspires her songwriting. More than all this, Shug and Celie loves each other with a very strong love born from isolation, desire for something better, and acceptance of one another. By the end of the novel, these women are no longer powerless; they have joined forces and are forging their own lives.