The main contrast in characters in the first half of The Color Purple is between Celie and Shug. These are two women that could not be more different. Celie is passive, scared, and constantly being abused or taken advantage of by the men in her life. On the other hand, Shug is passionate, independent, and highly valued in the eyes of the men in her life. Despite these differences, they develop one of the most honest and loving relationships in the entire novel. The only other people that come close to loving one another this fiercely are Harpo and Sofia. Harpo and Sofia, like Celie and Shug, are also very different from one another. Sofia is like Shug in the sense that she is independent and never allows any man to talk down to her, including her husband Harpo. Harpo is the opposite, unlike any other man in the story he enjoys performing domestic activities and spending time with his children. He only attempts to beat Sofia because it is what his father expects of him. Walker is consciously drawing our attention to the differences in these two relationships and ultimately how the differences make the relationships stronger in the end. In each relationship, one person bridges the gap left by their partner’s weaknesses. And oftentimes, the weaker partner learns something about his or herself. For example, a very profound moment for Celie occurs when Shug begins to teach her about her sexuality. Celie has always considered her body an object that is owned by the men in her life and she has never actually even seen it fully. Shug suggests that Celie finally look at herself fully, to which Celie seems hesitant to do. Shug asks, “What too shame to even go off and look at yourself?” (Walker 78). This convinces Celie to proceed and she discovers as Shug suggests, “It’s a lot prettier than you thought, ain’t it?” (78). And Celie finally realizes, “It’s mine” (78). Walker has led up to this point setting Celie and Shug up as completely contrasting characters. Celie often watched and dreamed of Shug performing, believing her to be the epitome of femininity and beauty. However, now, as Shug has shown her, she too has a woman’s body and it is her own. She starts to believe that she and Shug are not all that different and that they both are women. Shug has given Celie something that all the men in her life took away, an identity. Alphonso and Mr. ___ both treated Celie as an object and stripped her of any notion of a ‘self.’ Shug has given Celie that individuality back. She has helped Celie by forming a relationship with her based on the commonality of being a woman. Before Celie believed she and Shug were completely different, but now she sees that they have an enormous amount in common simply because they are the same gender.
As I was reading about the relationship between Shug and Celie I couldn’t help but think of service. On a very basic level, that is what Shug is providing Celie and she is doing so by forming a relationship with her. This method ties in perfectly with a book I read for ethics titled, To Live in Peace. This book was written by Mark Gornik, the co-founder of the Sandtown Habitat for Humanity chapter in Baltimore. Gornik’s book details what he believes the best plan is to save the soul of American inner-cities. He believes that to save these communities he must become a part of them. So, he and his family moved into inner-city Baltimore to mix in with the community. He saw that no real service could be accomplished without forming relationships with his neighbors in the community. As the months passed, he started to form these relationships and became an active member of the community. Ultimately, Gornik established the Habitat chapter, a school, and a healthcare center. He created a caring and active community out of an impoverished and oppressed neighborhood simply by becoming one of them and showing them that he cared. Service is very important, but it is even more important to build a relationship with the person being helped. It shows them that you’re not helping them out of a sense of duty to help the less fortunate; you’re helping them because you genuinely care for them as a fellow person. Gornik and Shug are similar because rather than simply help someone in need, they connect with the person in need on a human level to show them that they are not alone. I experienced this sense of community and neighborhood in my former service with Habitat in Sandtown. All of the volunteers from the neighborhood do not even think twice about volunteering to help build the community. It is has become an innate part of that community to help one’s neighbor. The community works for the good of all because they are all in it together.