Letters 37–41: Summary and Analysis
Odessa: Sofia’s sister
Miss Millie: the mayor’s wife
The Mayor: town official
Squeak asks Celie why Harpo has been so morose lately, and Celie tells her about the scandal that has shocked the entire family. Sofia has been arrested for attacking the mayor. One day she went to town with Buster and the children when the mayor’s wife stopped them. The mayor’s wife, Miss Millie, coos over Sofia’s children. She thinks that they are so cute, she asks Sofia if she wants to be her maid. When Sofia refuses, the mayor slaps her for not being respectful. Mr.____ simply says “you know what happen if somebody slap Sofia” and Celie doesn’t feel the need to say anything else. Squeak can’t believe it, so Celie tries to tell her how Sofia is beaten within an inch of her life, and how Buster is powerless to help Sofia because the police have drawn their guns on him.
Sofia is sentenced to 12 years in prison, and spends her time working in the prison laundry. When everybody goes to visit her, she says that she survives by pretending that she is Celie, and simply doing just what they say. She tries to joke about this but Celie notices that “she look wild” when she admits this. Celie, Shug, Mr.____, Squeak, Buster, and Sofia’s sisters get together after supper and agree that Sofia will not be able to survive jail. They try to come up with a plan of escape.
After a few plans are dismissed, Squeak admits that the warden is actually her uncle. After hearing this, it is decided that Squeak will go to her uncle and complain that Sofia is not being treated harshly enough. Squeak is washed and dressed up in some of Shug’s clothes in order to help her “convince” the warden that Sofia would suffer even more as the mayor’s maid.
Squeak returns from the warden’s office in a ripped dress. Harpo is incensed to learn that the warden took liberties with her and threatens to set fire to the place. Squeak quiets Harpo, and tells the rest of the group that she was raped by her own uncle. She also tells Harpo her real name: Mary Agnes.
This section of the novel focuses upon Sofia’s downfall. It seemed that Sofia was the one character who was sure of herself and what she was doing. This was directly connected with the support she received from her sisters, her children, and her new boyfriend. However, when Sofia gets caught in this situation, she becomes involved in a society in which both she and her family find that they have less influence. Her frank talk is interpreted as insubordination and her ability to defend herself is called assault, not simply because she is a black woman striking a white person but also since that person is the mayor, and therefore a man in an ultimate position of power. As a result, she is mercilessly beaten at the hands of the police. Even Mr.____ and Harpo, who have been using their positions of strength to abuse women, are disgusted.
This irony, however, is lost in the desire to free Sofia. Sofia, meanwhile, without her friends close by, immediately adopts a Celie-like persona, and provides insight to Celie’s character. We learn that Sofia does everything that she is told merely to survive. She is completely isolated and can now count on no one for support, yet she still thinks that she can live through it and eventually be reunited with the children. This parallels Celie’s belief that even when she had no one to support her, she must endure life with Mr.____ in order to enter Heaven and be eternally happy. Since most of Sofia’s friends and family reject this idea and feel she must escape now, we can conclude that the same sort of escape will eventually be necessary for Celie. However, when a plan for escape is called for, Celie can only daydream about God blowing a big breath of fire to free Sofia, indicating that she still relies on a miracle to make everyone righteous and everything normal.
However, Sofia’s network of support is still active outside of the jail, and they...
(The entire section is 1,258 words.)