The Relation Between Celie And Shug And Its Evolution In The Color Purple By Alice Walker
Published in the year 1982, ‘The Color Purple’ written by Alice Walker which won the Pulitzer Prize in the year 1983, tells the story of an African-American woman’s journey of self-discovery and the hardships and struggles she experiences throughout her life. Narrated in a style similar to that of the black people, Alice Walker recreates America from the 1920’s, a period marked by great prosperity in the upper-class societies but a time of great economic, racial and gender oppression for the African-Americans. The characters paint a grim picture of what life would have been like for the black population during those times and the discrimination they were subjected to. The protagonist of the story, Celie faces numerous adversities never having the courage to stand up for her or anyone to treat her right. A victim of various cruelties such as incest, rape and physical abuse, she finally finds solace in a picture of another black woman named Shug Avery who is a musician whom everyone loves. As fate would have it, Shug Avery ends up at Celie’s house and then begins the chapter of Celie’s self-discovery through her bond with Shug Avery, who is at first Celie’s idol, then her friend and later on her lover.
To better understand the relationship that Celie and Shug shared and its development as is seen in the story, it is important to look at Celie and the image of herself in her mind. The most remarkable aspect about their relationship is how Shug enables Celie to transform from a submissive and immature person to a mature, independent woman who can take decisions for herself and has a goal in her life in the latter half of the story. Celie is depicted as a powerless female who believes in the things around her as normal. The neglect from her mother and the sexual abuse from her father are things that do not strike her as odd or wrong because she did not know that there was something she could have done about it and also that she was a fourteen years old young girl who was not allowed to go to school as her father did not deem her fit to be educated. When Celie bears two children to her father he tells her, “You better not never tell anybody but God” which is when she begins to write letters addressed to God. Another important thing to notice here is that she never used to sign her letters which reaffirm the fact that until she met Shug Avery who helped her to grow faith in herself later in the story, she believed she had no identity of her own. Celie is mistreated in multiple ways and at one point she gets so sick from her life that she writes in her diary, “This life be over soon. Heaven lasts always”. It is evident that Celie never had anyone to fall back on except her younger sister Nettie whom she dearly loved but who was not there in her life for a significant amount of time. Her marriage too does not seem to bring any relief in her life and she is continued to be treated the way she was treated at her father’s place. It is the same till the time Shug Avery comes into Celie’s life first in the form of a photograph as a symbol of hope for Celie to look up at and then as herself.
Although Shug’s first impression of Celie projects her as a little insensitive when she says “You sure is ugly”, she goes on to help Celie discover who she really is through her love and care. Shug’s entry in Celie’s life is in the form of her husband’s mistress and lover whom Mr ___ could never marry. As Shug spends time with them and realizes the person Mr ___ (Albert, as Shug calls him) has become she becomes warmer towards Celie and stands up against Mr ___ to stop beating Celie as and when he pleased. Later on in the story Shug dedicates a song to Celie at Harpo’s bar; “This song I’m bout to sing is call Miss Celie’s song”. It is the first time ever anyone has done anything for her and that gives Celie a kind of individuality and identity. One afternoon when Celie and Shug are alone in the house, Celie experiences her first intimate moment with Shug which gives her a sense of her sexuality, her physical and emotional self. One after another, Shug releases Celie from all the shackles that have kept her chained and sets Celie free; free to do what she wants with her life for the first time when she takes her away from Mr ___. Shug manages to get hold of the letters Nettie wrote to her sister Celie for all those years from Albert which Celie never knew about because of Mr ___ and the ones that are sent after Celie leaves the house. Shug becomes the reason of the resurrection of Nettie in Celie’s life giving Celie her dear sister back in her life. The fact that Celie never knew about all the letters Nettie sent her just because she was not allowed to check the mailbox depicts how deeply rooted the fear of men was amongst the women. Shug takes Celie along with her to her home in the city and gives her a room for herself, colored in purple and a purpose in Celie’s life by letting her sew as a means of channelling her creativity. For Celie, creating was never something she thought she was supposed to do and all she was entitled to do was to follow orders. By giving Celie the resources to sew, Shug opened a new chapter in Celie’s life where she had a purpose that she could call hers. All the changes in Celie’s life are because of the importance Shug gives to her which makes Celie believe in herself.
To give a name to Celie’s and Shug’s relationship is a difficult task as we see a number of shades in their relationship; the sense of sisterhood and friendship between the two when Celie treats Shug while she was ill and when Shug stood up for Celie against Albert on multiple occasions and dedicated a song to her transforms into the bond of love and affection when they embrace each other in a warm hug when asleep. The two were lovers as they were romantically involved and at the same time Shug was the sister Celie found in the absence of Nettie, comforted and supported by Shug at various points in the story. The changes in the relationship that Celie and Shug share are remarkable from both of theirs point of views. For Celie, Shug was the glamorous, stylish woman who wore beautiful clothes and was desired by everyone which made Celie like her too. Gradually, Celie develops feelings for Shug when she stays in her house and they both get romantically involved with each other in a lesbian relationship. Shug always remained someone Celie liked and admired but for Shug, Celie was an ugly woman and it is only when Shug observes the changes in Albert that she pays attention on Celie and reciprocates the same affection towards her. Although, towards the end of the story Shug takes a liking for a young boy almost a third of her age which pains Celie and she tells Shug that she thought they were done with men, Shug never stops loving Celie. It is interesting to note that Shug experiences a similar sense of jealousy when she observes Celie’s and Albert’s behaviour towards each other (after she ends her relationship with Germaine and decides to send him to college instead and pay for his education) which Celie had felt when Shug had first come to her house. Throughout the story, the bond that Celie and Shug share grows stronger and more affectionate enriching their lives and eventually leading to the final stage when Celie finds everything that she ever wished for: her sister, kids, love and a family.