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The Color Purple | Section 13, Letters 82–86 | Summary

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Summary

Letters 82–85: Celie to Nettie

Alphonso, the man Celie and Nettie called Pa, dies. Although he leaves all of his money to his wife Daisy, he bequeaths the house, land, and store to Celie and Nettie. Because the business is a dry goods store, selling anything but food and hardware supplies, Celie has a place to market her pants. Celie moves into her new home when Shug begins an affair with Germaine, a flute player in her traveling band.

Henrietta, Sofia's daughter, is sick with a blood disease, possibly sickle cell. Her joints swell, she runs high fevers, and endures severe pain. Miserable because of Shug's affair, Celie says, "The only thing keeping me alive is watching Henrietta fight for her life." Although the sick child detests yams (believed to have curative powers), Mr. ___ and Harpo constantly attempt to create various recipes with them to feed the sick child. Her husband's compassion leads Celie to enjoy many conversations with him.

Heartbreak comes to Celie in a letter from the government. In Letter 85, Celie relays that the ship carrying Nettie, Samuel, and Celie's children as passengers sank when it hit a German mine. Celie's letters to Nettie come back without having been opened.

Letter 86: Nettie to Celie

Written before Nettie's family left Africa, Nettie reveals that Tashi and her mother Catherine are missing. She fears they have disappeared into the jungle to join the mbeles, guerilla-type warriors fighting the rubber plantation management. Adam is devastated and goes to look for Tashi.

Unfortunately, the rubber plantation management destroyed the village yam fields. Without yams in their diets, the people are susceptible to malaria and blood diseases and are dying.

Nettie mentioned that 30 years have passed since she last saw her sister. She wonders about the effects of abuse on Celie and worries about how Olivia and Adam will react to meeting their mother and adjust to racism in the United States. Like Celie, Nettie's views on God have evolved; she embraces spirituality rather than religious figures or idols now.

Analysis

Celie's newly surfaced emotions run along a roller coaster track in these letters. She shifts from the thrilling surprise of discovering Nettie and she own a home, land, and store, to misery over Shug's affair with a man. She shifts from the calmness of her developing and respectful relationship with Mr. ___, to total heartbreak over losing Nettie, Olivia, Adam, and Samuel when their ship sinks. It is as if Celie's emotional muscles must flex in overdrive after years of disuse.

The yams create a connective symbol between the sisters' experiences. Sofia and the rest of the family incorporate them into all of Henrietta's food to try to cure her of her blood disease. Celie writes, "Us do what you say the people do in Africa." In an earlier letter, Nettie had explained the Africans ate yams to prevent malaria and to "control chronic blood disease." The yam as a symbol of health and restoration connects the sisters and foreshadows an eventual reunion.

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