The main character of The Color Purple, Celie, undergoes a complete transformation of self as the novel progresses. Not only does she come to terms with her sexuality and start her own business, but she also reconciles many of the daunting clouds of her past that hung over her head for the majority of the story. Initially such a wounded and violated young girl, how does she grow into the confident and happy woman we see at the end of the novel? What is the cause for this new found self-esteem and comfort? In my opinion, Shug Avery is the number one catalyst for Celie's personal transformations.
Firstly, Shug carries herself as a confident and independent figure. Her presence is captivating to Celie and the other characters all throughout the novel because she radiates with charisma. "Shug Avery is standing upside a piano, elbow crook, hand on her hip. She wearing a hat like Indian Chiefs. He rmouth open showing all her teef and don't nothing seem to be troubling her mind. Come one, come all, it say. The Queen Honeybee is back in town." As Celie continues to describe Shug's intoxicating effects on those who see her, she says, "Lord, I wants to go so bad. Not to dance. Not to drink. Not to play card. Not even to hear Shug Avery sing. I Just be thankful to lay eyes on her" (25). The blazing confidence of Shug Avery not only captivates Celie, leaving her spellbound by Shug's effervescent charm, but also serves as a model for the secure sense of self Celie would like to grasp and call her own.
When Shug Avery gets sick and stays at Celie and Mr. __________'s house, she initially treats Celie poorly, but eventually, she starts to fight to end Celie's abuse. "If you was my wife, she say, I'd cover you up with kisses instead of licks, and work hard for you too" (109). It starts out as a friendly relationship between the two women, but it quickly becomes romantic in nature. When the two go to visit Celie's stepfather, the transformation becomes very apparent. In the words of Celie in one of her infamous letters to God, she recounts simply "Shug say, Us each other's peoples now, and kiss me" (183). This is one of the moments where we can tell that Celie is growing comfortable with her homosexuality, and also, she is beginning to feel romantically loved by another for the first time in her life. These, in my opinion, are milestones in Celie's journey to self-discovery.
Finally, I believe that Shug influences the religious attitude Celie employs at the end of the novel, because of the discussion they have about God's will that begins on page 192. In this dialogue, Celie questions God's goodness because of all of the darkness in her life. Shug responds to Celie's doubts by saying, "Here's the thing... The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. YOu come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don't know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow..." Shug understands why Celie feels disheartened by her emotional pain, but she goes on to explain her optimistic mentality."But one day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all." This attitude is reflected in Celie's behavior later on when she is with Harpo and Sofia. "Harpo go look out the window. Nothing out there, he say. Humming say UMMMMMM. I think I know what it is, I say. They say, What? I say, Everything" (221). Celie begins to see the big picture and the fruitfulness in her life, and starts to revel in it.
At the end of the novel, Celie is reunited with Nettie, the children, and most importantly, Shug--finally, she is transformed; revived, content. I believe that, without Shug, Celie would not have been able to realize her sexuality. Shug, being the inherently confident figure she is, helped to strengthen Celie and bring her out of the dark. Shug also shows Celie her first romantic love, whereas Celie only knows abusive relationships men. She introduced Celie to a new way of life, which Celie slowly adopts and grows to believe in. In the words of Shug, Celie realizes that "You can just relax, go with everything that's going, and praise God by liking what you like" (221).