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The Color Purple | Section 4, Letters 32–38 | Summary

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Summary

After Sofia moves out, Harpo converts their home into a juke joint he calls Harpo's. Along with his guitarist friend, Swain, he provides food, cold drinks, guitar music, and some tables decorated with the candles Celie made. When Shug sings, Harpo's is packed every night. Celie is allowed to attend Shug's shows despite objections from Mr. ___. Celie begins to feel jealousy toward Mr. ___ because Shug loves him. However, when Shug introduces "Miss Celie's Song," and announces Celie helped her compose it, Celie is thrilled: "First time somebody made something and name it after me," she says. By Letter 34, Shug is back in her groove and she tells Celie she will leave soon. Afraid, Celie confesses Mr. ___ beats her when Shug is not there. She explains his reason: "for being me and not you." Shug hugs Celie and promises to stay until she is sure Albert will never abuse Celie again.

In Letter 35, the physical attraction between Celie and Shug intensifies when Celie admits she's never enjoyed sex with Mr. ___, a man the two women share, or anyone else. Shug encourages Celie to explore her own body and promises that sex can be enjoyable.

Sofia arrives at Harpo's one night with her boyfriend and father of another child, Henry Broadnax (aka Buster). Harpo's girlfriend, Squeak (aka Mary Agnes), is unhappy about Sofia's presence. When Harpo dances with his wife too long, the women fight, and then Sofia leaves with Henry.

Soon after, in Letter 37, Squeak asks Celie why Harpo is so sad: "Sofia in jail," Celie says and explains Sofia sassed the white mayor's wife, Miss Millie. The woman asked Sofia to be her maid, and Sofia responded, "Hell no." The mayor punched Sofia for her disrespectful attitude toward an upper-class white lady. Never one to back down, Sofia hit him back and a brawl with the police ensued. Sofia was severely beaten, and the sheriff said, "she lucky she alive." Harpo, Mr. ___, Celie, and Shug visit Sofia in jail and find her spirit broken. They fear she will not survive her 12-year sentence working in the prison laundry. Squeak and Odessa care for Sofia's children.

Analysis

Harpo has become a confident man and more like his father. He is making his own money now instead of earning a wage by working his father's fields. He has grown in physical stature as well as emotional stature, too. Harpo has gained weight from eating and drinking and almost equals Sofia in size if not character. He also exercises dominance over his new girlfriend, Squeak, when he denies her individuality by using a diminutive nickname rather than her given name, Mary Agnes. Celie advises Squeak: "Make Harpo call you by your real name ... Then maybe he see you even when he trouble." Because Celie is invisible to her husband except as a servant, she continues to call him Mr. ___, denying his individuality and suggesting he is not a man but a tyrant.

Gender issues are explored when Celie notes how Shug can "talk and act ... like a man," without consequence, while Mr. ___ grumbles, "My wife can't do this ... No wife of mines." It is Shug, a strong and dominant female, who begins to teach Celie about sexuality and passion and the connection between her female body and her strong female spirit. In the absence of Celie's mother and Nettie, Shug becomes all things for Celie: a mother, a sister, and ultimately a lover.

It is notable that racism, not sexism, is the force that proves most deadly to Sofia's character. Sofia is able to negotiate her gender conflict with Harpo, but she has no power to negotiate the conflict with the white government. It is this realization that defeats her as her character comes to mirror the early version of Celie. As Celie gains personal power in these letters, Sofia loses hers.

This section contains several references to one of the most notable African American blues vocalists in history, Bessie Smith, a singer known as the Empress of the Blues. She sang in juke joints until discovered by Columbia Records. After that, musicians such as Louis Armstrong accompanied her vocals.

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