Letters 10–12: Summary and Analysis
Olivia: Celie’s daughter, taken from Celie at birth
The Reverend Mr.____ (Samuel): Olivia’s adopted father and husband to Corrine
Corrine: Olivia’s adopted mother
Kate and Carrie: Mr.____’s sisters
While Celie is at the dry goods store with Mr.____, she sees her daughter walking with Corrine. She begins to talk with Corrine and finds her to be a friendly and kind woman. When Corrine’s husband is late picking them up, Celie offers a ride to her and Olivia. They are ready to accept, but the reverend comes by and whisks them away. Corrine tells Celie a joke as they leave, and Mr.____ wants to know why Celie is so happy as he comes out of the store.
Nettie moves in with Mr.____ and Celie after she runs away from home. Mr.____ still has a crush on Nettie, and spends most of his time complimenting her. This makes Nettie uncomfortable, and she keeps as far from him and as close to Celie as possible. After it becomes clear to Mr.____ that Nettie has no interest in him, he tells Celie that Nettie has to leave the next day. Celie tells Nettie to go to the reverend’s house and ask for his wife, since she is “the only woman [she has] ever seen with money.” Nettie leaves but begs Celie to fight the unfair treatment she receives from Mr.____ and his children. Celie tells Nettie to write her, but she never hears from Nettie again.
This is repeated when Kate and Carrie come to visit. They joke with Celie about Mr.____’s previous wife, Annie Julia, and compliment her cooking. A few days later, Kate returns by herself, and badgers her brother into buying a dress for Celie. However, when Kate tells Harpo to do some housework on his own, Harpo complains to his father. Mr.____ kicks his sister out of the house, and Kate, with tears in her eyes, tells Celie that she can’t help anymore. Kate also begs Celie to fight for herself. Celie wonders how she can fight when Nettie fought her own family and had to run away. Celie knows she’s not happy, but at least she is alive.
Once Celie is married, she resigns herself to a life that is at best boring and uneventful and usually calls for work from dawn to dusk. After Walker shows us a woman at the mercy of men and a society which caters to men, she introduces elements of hope that are more effective than Celie’s reliance on the church and God. These elements are embodied in the people Celie meets in this section of the novel.
Celie’s first shock comes when she meets her own daughter, whom she feared was killed by her father. This moment is bittersweet, of course, because her daughter is now the foster child of the reverend and his wife. While the reverend’s wife is a pleasant woman, her connection to the church is a symbol of the distance that Celie feels between herself and God. We can tell that the reverend’s wife does not fully understand the society in which she lives; her comments on Mr.____ and his attractiveness indicate how withdrawn she is from the rest of the community. She only witnesses the town from inside the church, and never sees the violence that occurs after everyone goes home. Celie feels poor because she can sense her distance from the woman. At the same time, she is overjoyed that her daughter is in this family; Celie feels that Olivia is protected by her new mother. This protection is symbolized by the dress that the reverend’s wife plans to make. When Celie and the reverend’s wife trade jokes, the distance between Celie and God is temporarily closed. Celie is able to laugh for the first time in a long time, a moment that is quickly brought to an end by Mr.____’s return.
This contact is a definite contrast to her isolation in the previous section. The arrival of Nettie proves that Celie has other options in life than simply to agree to the wishes of Mr.____ and his ungrateful family....
(The entire section is 1,072 words.)