The Color Purple tells the story of women in rural Georgia through the letters of the main character, Celie. Like with Huck Finn, the colloquial language in The Color Purple draws us into the story and gives the narrator more credence. This is amplified by the fact that the story is constructed of letters between Celie and God, lending a sense of intimacy and a feeling that the reader is getting direct access to Celie’s thoughts. This closeness to Celie makes her account of the abuse and trials she suffers all the more difficult to read. However, Celie’s relationship God helps her through these situations. Despite being repeatedly beaten and belittled throughout her life, Celie’s concept of God does not stay stagnant. While her first letters show God as a cold, male authority figure to whom she simply relates her struggle but who might not even be listening, by the end of the novel Celie sees God more as a nebulous, genderless being who takes pleasure in all of It’s creation. Nettie’s concept of God undergoes a similar change through her experiences in Africa. Celie arrives at this conclusion through her experiences and the help of Shug. This change in her idea of God represents Celie’s changing identity from a scared young girl to a confident woman in charge of her own life.
When asked to explain her pregnancies, Celie says the children are God’s, despite the fact that they are the product of her stepfather’s rape. This shows a kind of confusion between two strong male authority figures in her life. However, unlike her aggressive and abusive stepfather, Celie feels that she can confide in God, shown by her addressing the letters in the beginning of the novel to God. Despite this, God still silences her, as shown by her conversation with Sofia in which she says that she couldn’t be mad at her parents because “Bible say, Honor father and mother no matter what” (42). She resigns to her abuse with the belief that heaven will be better.
Nettie’s relationship with God grows much more quickly than Celie’s because of her missionary work in Africa. Before even leaving, she believes that God helped her escape from Mr. _____, and directly afterwards she meets the Reverend (126). Her trip to Africa with Corrine and Samuel increases her self-awareness greatly, and she realizes that Christianity isn’t as whitewashed as she originally believed (134). Towards the end of her journey in Africa, Nettie says, “God is different to us now, after all these years in Africa. More spirit than ever before, and more internal. Most people think he have to look like something or someone […] but we don’t” (257). Her experiences with the Olinka’s religion and her relationship with Samuel have distanced her from her original idea of a white, bearded God and lead her to believe in one that is much more inclusive.
Celie eventually comes to the same conclusion, but it is not without Shug’s help. When Celie says she will write to Nettie instead of God, Shug scolds her. Celie explains herself, saying, “the God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all the other mens I know. Trifling, forgitful and lowdown” (192). Celie believes that God doesn’t listen to poor colored women. While before she only cared about what God thought of her, she now thinks that he is deaf to her struggles. Celie rejects men, something that she would never have been able to do when she was younger. Shug argues that God is present and listening, saying, “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, “I believe God is everything […] Everything that is or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found It” (195). Shug de-genders God, explaining that men are so present and powerful in their lives that “soon as you think he everywhere, you think he God” (197). Shug rejects the accepted idea of God, preferring to believe in one that is always present, listening, and caring. It is clear that Shug’s concept of God has profoundly affected Celie. When she’s finally reunited with Nettie, Celie writes to God, but it is a very different God from her first letter. This God is “everything,” and It has at last brought Nettie home (242).