The Color Purple Letters 19–21: Summary and Analysis
by Alice Walker

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Letters 19–21: Summary and Analysis

Harpo wants to know why Sofia will not listen to his orders. Mr.____ tells his son that Sofia needs “a good sound beating.” While Celie likes Sofia, she advises Harpo to beat her also. The next time Harpo visits, he is heavily bruised on his face, and walks in on sore legs. Some time after that incident, Celie drops in on Sofia and Harpo’s place, only to find them viciously fighting. Their house is devastated from their struggle, and Celie walks back home.

Celie feels guilty for telling Harpo to beat Sofia, and has trouble sleeping for about a month. She understands that her greatest fear is that Sofia will find out. Eventually, Harpo confesses to Sofia that Celie told him to beat her, and Sofia quickly returns the curtains that Celie made for them. When Sofia confronts Celie, Celie admits that she said it because she is jealous of Sofia’s strength. Upon hearing this, Sofia calms down and they start to talk candidly. Sofia says that she has had to fight all her life, and that even though she loves Harpo, she will never let any man beat her. She asks Celie how can she stand to live with Mr.____, and Celie responds that she doesn’t think about life on earth, since “Heaven last all ways.” After Sofia and Celie patch up their differences, they decide to make a quilt out of the curtains that Sofia returned. Celie is now able to sleep at nights.

Celie notices how happy Harpo and Sofia seem together. This happiness, however, is due to their contradictory roles in the marriage. Harpo complains about Sofia’s refusal to obey, even though he sounds “a little proud of this” to Celie. Mr.____’s advice to Harpo comes from his understanding of a husband-wife relationship and his dislike of Sofia. The fact that Harpo cannot assert himself simply proves to Mr.____ that his son is limited. Celie’s advice, however, comes from her jealousy of their relationship. Even though three years pass and he still whistles and sings, Harpo is not satisfied with his role, because he was brought up in a house where the wife was submissive to the husband. When Celie answers the question, she thinks about how “every time I jump when Mr.____ call me, [Sofia] look surprise.” She resents Sofia’s pity and wants her to feel some of the pain that Celie has always felt. Her advice, however, results in the first humorous event of the entire novel. Harpo’s obvious defeat at Sofia’s hands should be taken as a lesson. It is futile for Harpo to beat Sofia because they have a happy marriage. If Harpo cannot understand this, he should be able to understand the bruises all over his body, which are some more good reasons not to hit Sofia.

Even though it is clear to everybody what happened to Harpo, he still tries to make lame excuses because he cannot admit he was beaten by a woman. The male and female roles of society, accepted for so long by Mr.____ and Celie, now look out of place when a man like Harpo tries to enforce his will upon Sofia. Sofia proves that even without her sisters to support her, she still has the character to fight for herself. Harpo cannot give up what he has started, because...

(The entire section is 860 words.)