Skip to Content

Who are the two sisters in the color purple?

The Color Purple is a famous novel by Alice Walker that tells the story of two sisters, Celie and Nettie, and their struggles living in the early 1900s American South. The book explores themes of sexism, racism, family, sisterhood, spirituality, and redemption. Published in 1982, The Color Purple was met with both high praise and controversy for its raw, honest depiction of African American women’s experiences.


Celie is the main character and narrator of The Color Purple. When we first meet Celie, she is a poor, uneducated, 14-year-old black girl living in rural Georgia. Celie endures years of abuse from her stepfather, who rapes and impregnates her numerous times. Celie gives birth to two children, but her stepfather takes them away from her soon after they are born. Celie is forced to marry a widowed farmer, Albert, who treats her like a servant and mistress. Celie believes her beloved younger sister Nettie is dead.

Here are some key facts about Celie:

Description Details
Age at start of novel 14 years old
Marital status Married to Albert
Children A daughter and son taken from her by her stepfather
Personality Timid, cowed, oppressed
Key relationships Nettie (sister), Albert (husband), Shug Avery (Albert’s mistress)

As Celie endures her loveless marriage, she begins corresponding with her sister Nettie, who is revealed to be alive and working as a missionary in Africa. Nettie’s letters are a light in Celie’s darkness. Celie also finds inspiration in the love and friendship of a blues singer named Shug Avery, Albert’s longtime mistress. Gradually, Celie gains confidence and independence. She leaves Albert and opens her own successful business making pants. By the end of the novel, Celie is a changed woman – strong, empowered, and happy.


Nettie is Celie’s younger sister. She is intelligent, courageous, and kind. When they are teenagers, Nettie runs away from home with Celie after their stepfather tries to rape Nettie. Nettie wants to go to school to become a missionary in Africa. But their stepfather refuses to pay for Nettie’s education. Nettie ends up living with Celie and Albert for a time, but Albert tries to start a sexual relationship with her. To escape, Nettie runs away. She is eventually taken in by a missionary couple, Samuel and Corrine, who adopt her and take her to Africa.

Here are some key facts about Nettie:

Description Details
Age at start of novel 15 years old
Marital status Unmarried
Children Adoptive mother to Celie’s daughter and son after they were taken from Celie
Personality Earnest, courageous, caring
Key relationships Celie (sister), Samuel and Corrine (adoptive parents), Adam and Olivia (Celie’s children raised by Nettie)

In her letters to Celie, Nettie describes her life in the Olinka village. She acts as a teacher, nanny, and nurse to the villagers. Nettie adopts Celie’s lost children, Olivia and Adam, who were taken in by Samuel and Corrine. Nettie serves as a mother figure to the children. She also describes the devastating impact of colonialism on the Olinka people. After many years overseas, Nettie returns to the United States. She and Celie joyfully reunite, and Nettie helps take care of Celie.

Comparison of Celie’s and Nettie’s Experiences

Although they come from the same childhood home, Celie’s and Nettie’s lives take different trajectories. Here is a comparison of the two sisters’ key life experiences:

Experience Celie Nettie
Education Uneducated, can barely read and write Gets education from missionaries
Marriage and children Forced into unhappy marriage to Albert. Two children taken from her. Remains single and unmarried. Adopts Celie’s lost children.
Work Housewife for Albert, later opens successful pants business Works as teacher, nanny, and nurse in African village
Home Rural Georgia Olinka village in Africa
Relationship Rebuilds broken relationship with Nettie through letters. Finds love with Shug. Very close to adopted children. Eventual happy reunion with Celie.
Personal growth Gains strength and independence after years of abuse. Learns about cultures in Africa. Returns home more worldly.

While their lives take very different trajectories, the sisters retain an unbreakable bond. Their sisterhood endures geographic separation and many years apart. After Celie leaves her husband, she and Nettie are happily reunited. Nettie comes to live with Celie and helps her run her business making pants. Their sisterhood remains central to both women’s lives.

Celie and Nettie’s Impact on Each Other

As sisters, Celie and Nettie greatly impact each other’s lives. Here are some of the key ways the sisters influence one another:

  • Nettie rescues Celie from abuse – When they are teenagers, Nettie tries to protect Celie from their abusive stepfather. This causes Nettie to be cast out of the home.
  • Celie takes Nettie in briefly – After Nettie is forced to leave home, Celie takes her in briefly after Celie’s marriage to Albert. This gives the sisters some time together.
  • Nettie’s letters empower Celie – Nettie’s loving letters from Africa help Celie survive her difficult marriage. They give her hope.
  • Celie inspires Nettie’s career – Nettie pursues missionary work in part because of her desire to protect vulnerable girls like her sister Celie.
  • Reunion helps Celie heal – When Nettie returns after 30 years abroad, her presence greatly helps Celie recover from her trauma and move forward.
  • Celie provides Nettie a home – After their reunion, Nettie lives with Celie. This gives Nettie stability and comfort after so many years away.

Despite the many years apart, the sisters retain an unshakable and profound connection. Their relationship is a source of comfort, inspiration, and strength for them both during incredibly challenging life circumstances.

How Sisterhood Is Portrayed in The Color Purple

The relationship between Celie and Nettie is fundamental to The Color Purple’s narrative. Through the sisters, the book powerfully explores the following themes related to sisterhood:

  • Unbreakable bonds – Nettie and Celie maintain their sisterly love and devotion despite decades of distance.
  • Protection – The sisters try to protect each other from harm, though they aren’t always able to.
  • Support – Celie and Nettie give each other vital emotional support in times of despair.
  • Empowerment – Nettie’s education and worldliness make her a source of inspiration for Celie.
  • Family – Their sisterhood provides a sense of family and belonging in the face of tragedy.
  • Healing – After a lifetime of trauma, the sisters’ reunion helps them heal.

Walker beautifully expresses through Celie and Nettie the redemptive, nurturing power of sisterly bonds. Their relationship remains fiercely devoted despite time, distance and hardship. The sisters cherish their reunion later in life, which brings closure after decades of painful separation. Through Celie and Nettie, The Color Purple reveals sisterhood to be a crucial source of love, comfort and growth.


Celie and Nettie are two remarkable sisters who endure incredible hardships but retain an unbreakable bond. Celie overcomes oppression and abuse to gain independence. Nettie’s intelligence and empathy impact the lives of many in her African village. Despite vast differences in their lives and long physical separation, the sisters find strength in their enduring love for each other. Their emotional reunion late in life brings healing and closure. The Color Purple vividly depicts how the joys and comforts of sisterhood can endure even the most difficult circumstances.