HomeLiterature Study GuidesThe Color PurpleSection 8 Letters 5963 Summary

The Color Purple | Study Guide

Alice Walker

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The Color Purple | Section 8, Letters 59–63 | Summary

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Summary

Letters 59–61: Celie to God

In Letter 59, Celie writes to God about her anger with Mr. ___, saying that she still wants to kill him, but Shug helps her fight these feelings. Shug and Celie arrange to sleep together for the remainder of Shug's visit, but their sleep is like sisters. Shug says that Celie's grief and anger will end and that she will feel desire again. In an important moment for Celie's future independence, Shug suggests that Celie should wear pants when she works in the fields. The pair obtain some material and make Celie a pair of pants. In Letter 61, Celie begins to feel excitement over the possibility of being reunited with Nettie and her children, but she worries that her children, as the products of incest, may lack intelligence. The narrative bleeds into Nettie's next letter: Nettie and Samuel's family are met at an African port by Joseph, the Olinka tribe's liaison, who takes them to the village where they will be living. He explains Nettie isn't Samuel's second wife, nor is she the children's mother along with Corrine, but that she is a missionary, too. Nettie relates the ancient story, now a part of the village mythology, told by Joseph over dinner about the roofleaf plant, which is the focus of their worship.

Letters 62–63: Nettie to Celie

Nettie details their daily schedules, the Olinka's beliefs about education, and the expected gender roles. Olivia and another little girl, Tashi, have become close friends. Tashi's parents confront Nettie because they see a change in their daughter's thinking regarding the tribe's stances on female roles and refuse to allow their daughter to spend time with Olivia in her parents' home because the American girl is taught how to think and do for herself. Olivia is the only female to attend school. Nettie tells her niece that she can grow up to become "a teacher ... a nurse." Tashi's father counters, "There is always someone to look after the Olinka women."

Corrine experiences some jealousy toward Nettie as the villagers repeatedly mistake her for Samuel's second wife and the co-mother of Olivia and Adam. Nettie enjoys living on her own but wishes she had a photograph of Celie.

Analysis

Celie has morphed from a static, flat character to a dynamic, rounded one. Knowing Nettie is alive gives Celie the confidence to swagger instead of cower. She is open about her love for Shug, and she is excited to sew a pair of pants to wear. She believes pants represent power. This belief makes them a symbol of strength and authority. Instead of freezing her feelings as she used to, Celie admits she "feels shame ... more than love" when she thinks about her two children because her daughter and son are the results of incestuous rape.

As Nettie acclimates to finding comfort with the people, homes, food, and clothing of a vastly different culture, she also tries to understand their beliefs regarding marriage, gender roles, and education. Men build, hunt for food, run the village, and make decisions. Women roof the huts, tend the homes and children, work the fields, and listen to the men without looking at them: "To 'look in a man's face' is a brazen thing to do," the women say. Boys go to school and do "boy things."

The way the Olinka perceive and treat the women in their tribe parallels the submissive role Celie lived with her father and continues to live with her husband. Understanding that Alphonso and Albert dehumanized her sister, Nettie uses her insight about the Olinka customs to convince Celie not bow to her husband's demands. The various tribal myths offer the rationale for the customs and traditions the tribe follows.

Three explorers famous for their expeditions to Africa are mentioned in this section. John Hanning Speke was the first British explorer in Africa to identify the source of the Nile. He named this body of water Lake Victoria after the English Queen in 1858. Dr. David Livingstone was a Scottish-born missionary and explorer. He crossed much of Africa, perpetuating his Christian beliefs while learning about various tribal African cultures. Sir Henry Morton Stanley, a British explorer and reporter for the New York Herald, gained fame by saying, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" when he found the ill explorer who had been missing for five years.

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