Shug Avery

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Alice Walker (b. 1944) American writer and critic

Color Purple


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The symbol of self-determination and self-love in Alice Walker's The Color Purple (1982) is Lillie, better known as Shug Avery or the Queen Honeybee. Shug is a beautiful, vivacious, and flamboyant blues singer who is considered a “loose woman” by some of the novel's characters. These opinions are of little concern to Shug, however. Unlike the novel's protagonist, Celie, Shug does not accept imposed definitions of herself, nor does she allow anyone to control her. Instead, she is compassionate toward others and allows herself the freedom to enjoy love wherever she finds it—even in the arms of another woman. Her spirit of determination is the catalyst for Celie's transformation and the vehicle to freedom for Mary Agnes (a younger woman who wants to leave rural Georgia to become a blues singer).

Even though Shug is a positive influence on others, she is also a character in pain. True to her name, this Queen Honeybee moves from one garden of love to another as if trying to escape something she does not want to face. Her parents reject her because of her adulterous relationship with Albert, a man whose father forbids him to marry her. Although Shug does not want to marry Albert, she believes in their love. Knowing that he will always choose her over his wife, Shug remains his lover, gliding in and out of his life as she pleases. When she discovers Albert's true nature—his cowardliness—she rejects him and develops a relationship with his wife, Celie.

Om P. Juneja, “The Purple Colour of Walker Women: Their Journey from Slavery to Liberation,” Literary Criterion 25.3 (1990): 66–76.

—Debra Walker King

Subjects: Literature.

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