The novel consists of Celie’s diary entries, which begin when she is fourteen years old and end when she is forty-four. As readers of Celie’s entries, we are closest to her throughout and see the world predominantly through her eyes. She starts to write after she is raped by her father, who tells her that the only person she is allowed to tell is God. She begins by addressing her entries to God. Years later, when she receives her first letter from sister Nettie, the entries are made up of her letters to Nettie and the letters she receives from Nettie. By the end of the novel, thirty years after her first entry, Celie has modified her address from "Dear God" to "Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God." She has learned to accept the world and her place in it and has learned about her own faith and religious beliefs--uniquely hers, they are not the images of God she was taught to accept. Initally a very timid, vulnerable young girl, she is not only raped by her father but also, later, beaten by her husband. But Celie gains confidence and succeeds through the opportunities she takes advantage of, and she learns to love and be loved.
Nettie is Celie’s younger sister. Nettie is intelligent, resilient, and completely loyal to Celie. As a young girl, she escapes a lot of the difficulties that Celie goes through; she is not raped by their father, and when their father does show an undue interest in her, Celie protects her. She is able to stay at school whereas Celie is taken out when she gets pregnant. Nettie takes full advantage of her education and works very hard, knowing that this is her opportunity to escape. She shares her wealth of knowledge with Celie when they are together, and when she leaves on her missionary voyage to Africa, she writes to Celie religiously. Along with Shug, she is Celie’s closest friend. Nettie is dedicated to teaching others and grateful for meeting the Reverend Samuel and his family, who treat her as part of their family and take her to Africa with them. She spends most of her life caring for Samuel’s adopted children, who are really Celie’s children, and brings them home safely to Celie after thirty years of separation. Nettie’s letters are among the diary entries in the novel so that we have access to Nettie’s experiences and thoughts in the same way that we experience Celie’s.
The man whom Celie and Nettie call Pa. He rapes Nettie when she is fourteen years old because his wife, who is ill, will not sleep with him. He instigates Celie's letter-writing by telling Celie that she must be silent aboutthe rape . He is a controlling, selfish, and weak man without a conscience. He pushes the marriage between Celie and Mr. ______ by refusing to allow Nettie to marry him. He marries again after Celie’s mother dies, and he lives with his new wife in the family home. Toward the end of the novel, Nettie finds out that Pa is not actually their father. Their real father was killed by a white businessman who felt threatened by their father's entrepeneurial success. Alfonso married their mother after their father died and raised the children as his own, living in their property for years afterward. Finally confronted by Celie at the end of the novel, all he says to her is, "now you know." He dies at the end of the novel.
Mr. Albert ______ is often described as a very handsome man. He appears to want a conventional home with upright standards--a mother for his children and a wife to look after the house--but he is never really happy with the conventional standards of others. He is in love with Shug Avery and has been for many years before we meet him, but he never marries her because of the public's (especially his father’s) opinion of her. Caring only for Shug (he cries once in the novel because he is upset that nobody fights for Shug), he stubbornly sticks to old-fashioned views of women and of male authority without taking the time to understand how this is affecting his family. He is a coward for choosing the life he leads and is unhappy because of it, taking it out on his family. He hides the letters Nettie sends to Celie and prevents communication between them for years. When he finally hands the letters over, he begins his life afresh and starts to listen to people and to forge relationships with people he has never taken the time to get to know.
Carrie and Kate
Albert’s sisters. Although we meet the sisters only briefly, they give us a good idea of the values Albert was brought up with: they gossip condescendingly to Celie about Albert’s love affair with Shug and about how they thought Annie Julia was a bad housekeeper. Kate visits the house again by herself and insists that Celie be bought new clothes. Kate takes Celie clothes shopping herself, marking the first attempt to make Celie comfortable in Albert’s home. The introduction of this bold female into the house marks the beginning of change away from male dominance; it signals very clearly that Albert will have to fight to maintain his role.
Harpo is a sensitive boy. He is only twelve when Celie first meets him, when he throws stones at her. At this stage, he is clearly protective of his mother and does not want Celie to replace her. He is found crying a couple of times by Celie, once after a nightmare of his mother dying in his arms and the other time because Sofia does not do what he tells her to do. He finds happiness young and is too ignorant to know he is happy. When he and Sofia get married and have their children, he works hard, whistling the while but, unsure of what his role should be, relies on his father for advice and learns from his father’s relationship with Celie that he should be dominant. This pattern leads to marital disaster. Harpo is not brave enough to follow what he feels is right. He is a bright boy, though, who fulfills his entrepreneurial potential by building his juke joint.
Shug Avery (Queen Honeybee)
Shug is a well-known Bessie Smith jazz singer. She arrives at Mr. ______’s house at least six years after Celie moves in, but she is introduced to us much earlier in the novel. Celie’s sixth diary entry records her first glimpse of Shug in a photograph. Celie writes that she is "the most beautiful woman I ever saw." She is independent, single-minded, and the strongest and most outrageous female character in the novel. She is sexually free and unashamed of it, enjoying Albert’s company whether married or not. She can be mean; she remarks how ugly Celie is. And she can be selfish; she runs off with Germaine at the end of the novel. But she exudes life and brightens up the world around her. When she arrives at Albert’s home, she is wearing a red wool dress, and when she sings at Harpo’s, Celie describes her outfit as "a skintight red dress look like the straps made out of two pieces of thread." The old dress she gives Celie for her quilt is a sunny yellow color. Shug brings color and opportunity to the people she meets. She brings Celie and Albert love, she brings Harpo income, she inspires others to sing, and she brings entertainment to all her fans.
Harpo meets Sofia in church when she is fifteen, but even at that age, she is "strong and ruddy looking." She is confident and not intimidated by men who think they have power over her. She is loyal and devoted to Harpo, but when he starts treating her badly, she does what she thinks is best and leaves him. She has huge support from her sisters and looks like she has potential to be successful--she is practical and strong willed--but she has a fiery temper. After she is put in jail, she loses her fighting spirit. She also is changed after her time at Miss Millie’s; she resents white people and the way she has been treated, and she retreats into a shell. When she gets back together with Harpo at the end of the novel, we see a gleam of hope that she might find her spirit again.
One of Sofia’s sisters. Like Sofia, she is strong and practical. She is described by Harpo as a militant mother. She supports her sister and looks after her children when she is in jail. Not a central member of Celie’s family but a member nonetheless, she represents the depth of female support in this community.
Old Mr. ______
Albert’s father. He only appears once in the novel. His attitude to Albert is scathing. He reprimands his son for his behavior with Shug Avery and tells Celie she has his sympathy. Inadvertently, he brings Celie and Albert closer together, uniting them in their love for Shug.
Henry Broadnax (Buster)
Sofia’s second boyfriend. He has one child with Sofia. He allows her to remain independent--his job, he says, is to take her where she wants to go and to love her--and he does not fight Sofia’s battles for her.
Mary Agnes (Squeak)
Harpo’s girlfriend after Sofia leaves. Typically, Harpo is dominant in the relationship, and she has to stand up to Sofia herself without Harpo’s support. This leads to Sofia knocking her teeth out. She seems meek and ineffectual to begin with, but everything changes after she is raped by the warden. She learns resilience, insists that Harpo call her Mary Agnes, and begins to sing.
Major and Miss Millie
The Major is a bully who uses his power as a white male to physically intimidate and then abuse Sofia because he is insulted by her insolence. Along with the warden and the businessmen who kill Celie’s father, the Major contributes to a very bleak picture of the white males in the community. Miss Millie is insensitive but essentially harmless. Not realizing her condescension to Sofia’s family, she feels insulted when Sofia refuses her offer and then happily accepts Sofia’s sentence as maid in her house. Typically separated from the black community, Miss Millie does not even think to question the status quo let alone resist it.
Miss Millie’s daughter, who does her best to support Sofia and make Sofia's life easier. She wants Sofia to care about her in the way that she cares about Sofia--after all, she has been brought up by Sofia. Unfortunately for Eleanor Jane, her efforts to persuade Sofia are fruitless. Nevertheless she retains her kindness and makes food for Sofia’s daughter Henrietta when she is ill. Eleanor Jane represents a positive step for the future, for she is more intelligent and forward-thinking than either of her parents.
Sofia’s youngest child. She is unruly and mischievous and has a dangerous disease. Characteristic of her mother when she was young, Henrietta puts up a brave fight and is still going by the end of the novel.
Happily married to Samuel, the only thing missing in her life is children. When she adopts Adam and Olivia, she asks for nothing else, for she now has a completely happy family. Hardworking and religious, Corrine succumbs to suspicion and jealousy when she sees how well Nettie and Samuel get on and how much the children look like Nettie. She dies content that Nettie is not their mother--but has spent many anxious years thinking that Nettie was.
The Reverend Samuel is dedicated to his missionary duties and works hard to bring help to the Olinka tribe. Gentle and sensitive, he takes Nettie into his home thinking she has come in search of Adam and Olivia. Happy in his first marriage but hurt by Corrine’s accusations, he marries Nettie after years of friendship once Corrine dies.
Intelligent and independent, Olivia does not immediately fit into the Olinka way of life. She does not find love during the course of the novel, but this is presented as a good thing, for the men she lives with in Africa expect her to be subservient and this is something she adamantly refuses.
A passionate young boy who loves Tashi but finds the culture she comes from difficult to accept. He cannot bear to think she will undergo the scarring and the female initiation ceremony. When he realizes how much he loves her, he decides to join her and have the scarring done himself.
Catherine and Tashi
Catherine is a typical Olinka mother and wife when we meet her; she does not doesn’t want her daughter Tashi to go to school. After years with Nettie and Olivia, Catherine realizes that education is important and that she is free to change her views once her husband is dead. Tashi is torn between her Olinka culture and the more modern world that Nettie and Olivia introduce to her. Not officially educated, Tashi learns from Olivia but succumbs to the tribal ceremonies of scarring and the female initiation ceremony.
The white missionary whom Nettie and Samuel meet on their way to England. Unusually forward thinking for her time, Doris has contributed hugely to communities in Africa as well as helping individuals by sending them to England for their education. She has adopted Harold, the African boy with whom she is traveling, as her grandson. She sees past color and convention and is a key contributor to change.
The Color Purple Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Color Purple is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
"The way you know who discover America, Nettie say, is think bout cucumbers. That what Columbus sound like. I learned all about Columbus in first grade, but look like he the first thing I forgot. She say Columbus come here in boats call the...
The novel begins with a very clear self-reassessment by the writer when she strikes out the words “I am.” Although she is still unsure of who she is now, her letters will provide a canvas on which she can openly explore this and many other...
The Color Purple is a book by Alice Walker. The Color Purple study guide contains a biography of Alice Walker, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
The Color Purple is an epistolary novel by Alice Walker. The Color Purple literature essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Color Purple by Alice Walker.