Related Overviews

Alice Walker (b. 1944) American writer and critic

Color Purple


'Celie' can also refer to...





Queering Celie’s Same-Sex Desire Impossible Mourning, Trauma, and Heterosexual Failure in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple

CELIE, Pieter (born 1942), Sculptor


More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Literature


Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

Is the protagonist of Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple (1982). Her story is a testimony against death and dying—not the death of the corporal being, but one more intensely painful than that. Celie's battle is against a spiritual death that begins with her silent acceptance of abuse and disrespect. At fourteen, she is raped by a man she believes to be her natural father. Later, she is beaten by her husband, who also brings his lover to live in their home. Celie is so oppressed by the men in her life that by the time she matures, only a remnant of her spirit, enshrined within the letters she writes, remains.

Some readers find Celie's story incomprehensible. They simply cannot fathom how an African American woman could live as passively as Celie does. The reason for the character's docility is easy to explain: it is all she knows. She is so conditioned by abuse that she even advises Harpo, her stepson, to abuse his wife, Sofia.

Celie's salvation is found within the refuge of female love and support. There she gains confidence and self-respect. Her most notable female influence is her husband's lover, Shug Avery, a woman who nurses Celie's dying spirit and transforms it. Shug becomes Celie's lover, teaching her the beauty of her own body, the wonders of true love, and the value of a positive self-image. Empowered by this new knowledge, Celie breaks through the chains of male domination to celebrate the beauty, the power, and the joy that has always been hers to claim.

Linda Abbandoonato, “Rewriting the Heroine's Story in The Color Purple,” in Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, eds. Henry Louis Gates and K. A. Appiah, 1988, pp. 296–308.Daniel W. Ross, “Celie in the Looking Glass: The Desire for Selfhood in The Color Purple,” Modern Fiction Studies 34.1 (1988): 69–84.

Debra Walker King

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.