Celie is the protagonist and main character of the novel. She is a poor African-American woman who is the victim of domestic violence and low self-esteem. The novel centers on Celie's development from a struggling and unaware adolescent to a mature, emotionally sound and politically aware woman who has discovered how to love herself and to let others love her.
Celie's antagonists are all the hardships that she must overcome in order to gain self-esteem. First she must overcome the interracial conflict, specifically sexist oppression, within her family. Celie is victimized first by her father, who rapes and impregnates her, and then by her husband, to whom her father virtually sells her. Her husband, Albert, beats her and forces her to have sex with him. Both men impress upon her that she is a lowly human being. Their abuse is supported by the entire community. In addition to physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, she is denied contact with other women, specifically with her sister who writes her letters that Celie never receives.
After finding out that her husband has stolen the letters that her sister has been writing her, Celie decides to join Shug Avery on the road, leaving her husband behind. In a dramatic voice, she tells him and his family of all the pain they have caused her in her life. She curses her husband with impotence and loneliness.
The outcome of the conflict is a tragic comedy. Celie must endure many hardships before she finds happiness. In the end, however, she is reunited with her sister Nettie and her children, Olivia and Adam. She lives with Shug Avery in her childhood home and runs a successful business. She even becomes friends with her ex-husband.