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The Color Purple | Section 7, Letters 52–58 | Summary

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Summary

In this section of text, Celie and Shug settle into the room Shug shares with Grady, and Celie reads Letters 52–58 from Nettie out loud. All the letters open with the greeting Dear Celie. As the secondary narrator, Nettie begins her story from the moment Albert evicts her. She explains he follows her and tries to rape her, but she fights him off and runs into town. Nettie injures Mr. ___ in the struggle and he threatens to keep her apart from her sister. She finds a home with Samuel and Corrine, the Reverend Mr. ___, as Celie calls him, and his wife. From the start, Nettie joins them in all of their family activities "so I don't feel left out and alone." Joyously she takes care of the two children, Olivia and Adam. From their looks, Nettie suspects they are Celie's daughter and son, but she keeps her thoughts secret until Letter 55, where she acknowledges their identities and assures Celie that the children are well-cared for.

Missionaries Samuel and Corrine prepare to go to Africa. Nettie will travel with them to care for Olivia and Adam and to teach the Olinka children. In Letter 56, they stop in Harlem to gather donations that will support their missionary work. The upscale lives of the black people she encounters there and their openness in supporting their mission thrills her. During voyages to England and then Africa, Nettie begins to learn the history of black people.

Analysis

The letters from the secondary narrator, Nettie, show a contrast between Celie and Nettie in the formation of important concepts and themes in the novel. Because Nettie has not been battered and abused by men, she calls Celie's husband Albert instead of Mr. ___ and the Reverend Mr. ___, Samuel. She believes people's names signify a specific internal and external identity and reputation, but titles can be derogatory as well as complimentary. Neither Nettie nor her sister have experienced anything close to the love, nurture, and bonds associated with being part of a family. When Nettie is accepted into Samuel and Corrine's family, they treat her with such kindness and respect she says, "They've been like family to me. Like family might have been, I mean." In Africa, she is impressed when she watches the families returning from working in the fields. The women carry their children on their backs while singing in unison.

Unlike Celie, Nettie often comments on the racism she witnesses between races as well as within ethnic groups. A fair judge, she is both neutral and critical, depending on the situation and her perceptions. When it comes to notions of religion, because of Albert's attack, Nettie understands Celie feels "so ashamed you couldn't even talk about it to God, you had to write about it." Nettie faithfully believes writing to Him brings Celie relief and offers her a meaningful spiritual relationship, "leav[ing] it all to God."

Thematically, Nettie understands the sacrifices Celie has made. Nettie is overwhelmed by Celie's endurance of their father's assaults and her willing entrance into a forced marriage: "I think about the time you laid yourself down for me. I love you with all of my heart," Nettie writes. She also observes the reality of human invisibility. While still in Georgia, and during her life with the Olinka, Nettie witnesses how easily gender roles make women invisible to the men around them.

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