Albert (Mr _ )

The un-named husband

Albert is known to Celie only as Mr_ until the final letter, when she finally accepts him as a member of her family, although not as a husband. The couple’s marriage is never dissolved, Celie and Albert remaining man and wife, but not living together after Shug Avery and Celie begin their love affair and move to Shug’s home in Memphis. It is not until the end of Letter 89 that Celie acknowledges their changed relationship and uses his Christian name, Albert, signifying that they can now accept one another as friends.

Like Fonso and, it is implied, all men in this African-American community, Albert lacks respect for women, apart from one - his long term lover Shug Avery. He regards his second marriage, to Celie, as a business transaction, acquiring two pieces of ‘property’ - a woman to look after his children and a cow. In the negotiations with Fonso over taking Celie as a wife, it is obvious that Albert regards the cow as the more important factor in clinching the deal.

Attitude to relationships

Albert has an appetite for sex and uses Celie to satisfy his desires, without showing her any love and completely disregarding her emotional and physical health. Celie describes her sexual experiences with Albert in terms that suggest an animal doing its ‘business’.

The beatings that he inflicts on his wife show Mr _ to be callous; the insults that she endures about her appearance and housekeeping illustrate abusive cruelty. His belief (like that of many African-American men of the time), that his masculinity automatically grants him total power over his wife, justifies the beatings in his eyes. He exercises this power when he tries to stop Celie going to Harpo’s juke joint to hear Shug Avery sing.

Albert’s need to coerce covers his own weakness – he was never strong enough to stand up to his family or fight for Shug. Consequently he takes out his resentment on anyone he regards as weaker than himself. There is no justification for his treatment of Celie, particularly his spiteful decision to withhold Nettie’s letters from her once he is thwarted by Nettie’s escape. His total indifference to the well-being of his children and his laziness also make the reader judge him negatively. Furthermore, his advice to Harpo to assert physical control over Sofia perpetrates the family’s history of unhappy marriages.

Redeeming qualities

Only in relation to Shug does Walker show qualities that make the reader judge Mr _ less harshly. Shug tells Celie that when she first met Albert, who was regarded as good-looking though physically rather small, he would laugh and dance and their love life was extremely fulfilling. The fact that Albert once dressed in Shug’s clothes is symbolic of softer, more ‘feminine’ characteristics. His early creativity (evidenced by later sewing) was thwarted as a child, whilst his liberating passion for Shug was curtailed by his family’s opposition and the opinion of others. Although Albert later defended Shug against the townspeople’s criticism when he took her in, initially he was not strong enough to defy convention.

However, Albert’s long-time passion for Shug Avery does not diminish, even when Shug deserts him to set up house with Celie in Memphis. The reader sees a softer side to him when Shug is ill and he cares for her with genuine anxiety for her well-being.


Knowing that Mr _ has better qualities but never shows them to Celie somehow makes it worse. The overall impression of Albert throughout most of the narrative is of a man who is fundamentally weak, vindictive and unattractive. Hiding Nettie’s letters is a pivotal point in the novel’s plot. When Shug discovers what Albert has done, even her feelings towards him change and the two women join together in opposition against him.

It is the strength of this relationship that enables Celie to curse Albert, turning back on him all the evil he has created - or wishes - for Celie. This is a point of judgement which, although Albert resists it at the time, leads to the breakdown necessary for his eventual restoration. It is significant that he only recovers after making amends to his wife and, at Harpo’s insistence, returning her sister’s letters to her.


It is only late in the narrative (from Letter 79 onwards) that Albert’s character begins to change. He discovers feelings in common with Celie once he understands their mutual affection for Shug and by letting go of his oppressive ‘male’ conditioning in this way he is enabled to transform himself into a man who can act naturally, in harmony with his environment rather than coercing it. His love of beauty and creativity re-emerges in his shell collection and shirt designs. His compassion, once solely for Shug, starts to extend to his wider family, whom he learns to appreciate rather than try to dominate. Ultimately he forges a relationship with Celie based on respect, at last valuing her opinions and skills. Although some have suggested that this is in part due to her recently acquired wealth, there is no sign that Albert lacks materially – simply that he seeks affection, realising that no one has ever loved him other than Shug, and that he is accountable for much of that.

Walker has defended the way that she depicts African-American men against much criticism by stating that the story is one of redemption. She claims that far from being a negative portrayal of an oppressive male society, the men in the novel are themselves victims of oppression. As descendants of slaves and slave owners, she argues, African-Americans must not only struggle against seeing themselves as the victims of slavery but also fight against a desire to assert themselves as ‘masters’ over others. Her assessment of the character of Albert is that he is a black man who has the ability to change and his ability to love Shug Avery means that he can also find love for himself. In this way she justifies the transformation that takes place in Albert’s character in the latter half of the novel.

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