Supporting characters


Olivia is Celie’s first child, fathered by Alphonso and adopted by Samuel and Corrine. Raised from an early age with her missionary foster parents in Africa, Olivia develops a close sisterly relationship with Tashi, an Olinka village girl.

Like her brother Adam, Olivia represents a new, more tolerant generation, overturning the segregation of the past. Her friendship with Tashi crosses cultural boundaries as well as emphasising the strength of relationships between women. Nettie and Corinne teach Olivia liberal American views such as tolerance for other cultures and the importance of education for women, which Olivia then passes on to Tashi. She encourages her friend to accept herself rather than to live in fear of condemnation by others


Tashi is a self-confident and assertive young Olinka girl who becomes a friend of Olivia and Adam. Her intelligence becomes clear whilst she is educated in the missionary school established for the Olinkas. As the narrative progresses, it is Tashi who comes to recognise and defy the white colonialist aggression which destroys the Olinka’s homeland and the ancient way of life.

Tashi is a character who embodies the struggle between preserving cultural traditions yet embracing the opportunities offered in the name of progress, such as education for females. Her decision to undergo the African rituals of facial scarring and genital mutilation (customs which led to the death of her sister) is made as a protest against what she sees as cultural injustice. (The tragic consequences of both procedures are later recounted in Walker’s novel ‘Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992), a sequel to The Color Purple that features Tashi and Adam as major characters.)

Her anxiety at entering a new country is understandable, but with the support of her friends, her education and own sense of identity, she is able to bridge between African and American cultures.

Miss Millie, the Mayor and Billy

Miss Millie and her husband the Mayor are representatives of the dominant white culture in which the black characters exist (that world where even Shug cannot find somewhere to wash).

Miss Millie considers herself to be enlightened but in fact is racist and condescending. She has no idea that admiring Sofia’s children and asking Sofia to work in her house as a maid and a nanny to her own children is untoward. Sofia’s direct refusal, to a white woman by a black ‘inferior’, shocks Miss Millie. There may also be some implicit resentment that Sofia and Buster owning their own car appears to imitate the behaviour of prosperous white people.

Miss Millie is timid and seems to be just as oppressed by her husband as some of the black women in the novel. She remains nervous of Sofia in her employ, even when her prisoner-maid evidently has no power. It is ironic that she trusts Sofia to teach her to drive, yet cannot be seen to be sitting next to her as an equal. Compared to Sofia, Miss Millie is in fact an ineffectual mother whose children get beyond her control. Although intrinsically powerful as a white woman, she is still at the mercy of her husband, who indulges her (purchasing the status symbol of a car) but doesn’t actually honour her (refusing to teach her to drive it).

The white Mayor (along with Bubber Hodges) represents the forces of black repression. When Sofia maintains her non-deferential stance about working in their employ, he physically chastises her like a child, then calls on the services of the police who savagely beat her. The whole incident is an indication of the absolute power which the white hierarchy of the rural South imposed on black African-Americans.

The fact that everyone in the Mayor’s household resorts to alcohol over the years, and that his daughter is anxious that her baby doesn’t resemble her ‘daddy’ whom she wishes to escape, also indicates that the Mayor is a misogynist bully at home. In that sense he is a white parallel to Fonso or Albert, however superior he feels himself to be.

Billy is Miss Millie's son, who displays a disrespectful attitude towards Sofia, ordering her about and behaving like his racist father. He grows up having imbibed the worst values of the novel, rejecting education, dependent on alcohol, predatory towards women and a racist who hunts ‘niggers’ for sport.

Eleanor Jane 

Eleanor Jane is the Mayor’s daughter and the only member of his household who shows kindness toward Sofia – another example of female solidarity in the face of males assuming superiority. According to the custom of the time, female black domestic servants had almost total charge of children throughout their childhood. Eleanor Jane forms a close bond with Sofia, eventually coming to regard her as a second mother and turning to Sofia for emotional support as she grows up, marries and has her own family.

Sofia cannot reciprocate Eleanor Jane’s feelings because she is so resentful of the treatment she suffered from the Mayor’s family, but her former ward eventually understands the reason for Sofia’s anger. In a startling reversal of roles, Eleanor Jane confronts her family and condemns them for their racist attitudes, denouncing them as ‘white trash’. She then offers to make up for her family’s part in Sofia’s years of suffering by caring for Sofia’s daughter Henrietta and creating yam-based dishes to alleviate her illness.


Germaine is Shug Avery’s ‘last fling’ a nineteen-year-old youth who enjoys a short relationship with the blues singer. He appears in the narrative in Letter 83, when Celie returns to Memphis from Georgia where she has been renovating her new home in preparation for moving there with Shug.

The liaison is one of obvious sexual attraction (stronger that that shared between Shug and Grady) which takes more than the predicted six months before it gradually fizzles into maternal affection when Shug sends Germaine off to college at her expense. That Germaine is uncomfortable with Shug’s attempts to ‘dress him up’ and arrange his hair is evident by his diversionary tactic of suggesting Shug meets her birth children.

Walker introduces this character, and the intensity of the relationship, in order to create an opportunity for Celie to stand up for herself and make her own decisions. In this sense Germaine is used as a narrative pawn. He is relatively unimportant as a long-term fixture in Shug’s life but serves as a way of illustrating Shug’s insecurity, compared to Celie’s increasing self-esteem.

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