Albert is not easy to understand. His character is at once evil and weak. One usually thinks of an evil person as being a strong person, but in Albert's case, this is not true. He is weak and he is evil. His mistreatment of Celie is unthinkable today — and totally unnecessary. And yet his adoration of Shug Avery humanizes him.
Of all the central ideas in this novel, the key to understanding many of the characters lies in their lack of self-knowledge and in their gradually learning to know themselves and value themselves. This is certainly true in Albert's case. The roots of his evil nature come from his not knowing himself. Albert's father didn't rear him to be independent, but rather to be subservient to his father's own interests. When Albert became a man, he used his father for a role model and evolved into a self-centered, irrational individual.
For example, note that Albert never asks Shug to marry him, although he openly declares his love for her. In contrast, his first wife was driven to take a lover because she received so little attention from Albert. It is possible that Albert is both very frightened and very awed by Shug. If this is true, then perhaps he was too afraid to ask her to marry him. He couldn't control her. She ruled the relationship. She came to him when she wanted to be involved with him. Eventually Albert does go to Shug, but he waits — until Shug is weak and sick. Then he goes to her and brings her to his home. But note that he is totally unconcerned about what his dutiful wife, Celie, will think. It is his house. Albert is much more concerned with what Shug will think and that her health will improve.
Albert, of course, never really wanted to marry Celie. When he first approached Fonso, Celie and Nettie's stepfather, it was Nettie whom he wanted to marry. Nettie was not flashy like Shug, but she was pretty and young. Fonso opted to marry off Celie instead. Celie wasn't "valuable"; she wasn't a virgin. Nettie was. Albert had to take second-best, Fonso's "spoiled" daughter.
In assessing Albert's character, one always returns, ultimately, to his cruelty to Celie. Celie suffers terribly at Albert's hands. He beats her because she is not Shug. He hides the letters that Nettie writes to Celie to hurt both Nettie and Celie. He is not strong enough to tell Celie that Nettie refused his offer and fought off his sexual advances. Instead, he hides Nettie's letters, an act that defines him indelibly as a coward.
Albert has sex with Celie in a callous and uncaring way. He cares little about her pleasure. However, when Albert is with Shug, he is obviously an expert and exciting lover.
In the course of the novel, Albert is completely reformed. He goes from being the mean, anonymous Mr. _______, a detestable figure, to being an understanding, grandfatherly figure. The key to this transformation lies in the misery he experiences when both Shug and Celie leave him. The reason for his character reversal is that Celie finally becomes a person in her own right. She becomes independent and full of love. The transformation in Celie allows Albert to realize that his meanness cheated him from enjoying the wonderful new Celie during the years that they were married.