Letters 42–44: Summary and Analysis
Eleanor Jane: the young daughter of Miss Millie
Billy: the young son of Miss Millie
Jack: Odessa’s husband
Six months have passed since they tried to use Squeak to get Sofia out of jail. Mary Agnes surprises everybody by starting to sing some songs that she wrote. She soon becomes very popular, and everyone discovers that she has a good singing voice. Harpo can’t understand why she sings now when she had been so quiet the year before, but he doesn’t object.
Meanwhile, Sofia has been released from prison under the condition that she work for the mayor and Miss Millie as their maid. Three years after she starts working for them, she is sitting in Miss Millie’s yard with Celie. She is talking about how angry she feels while she is watching the mayor’s children play ball. She asks Celie why “we ain’t already kill off” all the white people, and Celie replies that there are simply “too many.” While Sofia and Celie are talking, Billy, the mayor’s six-year-old son, orders Sofia to get a ball for him. When Sofia ignores him, he runs over to kick Sofia’s leg. He misses, and cuts his foot on a rusty nail. Miss Millie runs out to find out what happened, even though she is scared of Sofia. Eleanor Jane, the younger daughter, quickly defends Sofia. Celie notices that the little girl clearly loves Sofia, even though it doesn’t matter to Sofia at all.
Another time, Sofia tells Celie about a different incident with Miss Millie. The mayor presented Miss Millie with a new car but Millie does not know how to drive, so she asks Sofia to teach her. After a while, Millie is a good driver and is so grateful to Sofia that she decides to take her to see her children, since it has been five years and Sofia still hasn’t seen her children. Sofia readily agrees, but Millie insists that she sit in the back seat before she drives her to Odessa and Jack’s house, because Millie is afraid of how she will look if she lets a black woman sit alongside her. Once they arrive there, however, Millie is trapped because she doesn’t know how to drive in reverse. Sofia tries to teach her how to back up. After a long time, the engine gives out. Millie refuses to be driven home by Jack alone, so Sofia is forced to accompany them. Sofia’s day with her family turns out to be 15 minutes long. Sofia chuckles sadly after remembering that incident and tells Celie that “White folks is a miracle of affliction.”
We see a reversal of sorts in the roles of Mary Agnes and Sofia. Mary Agnes surprises everyone when she starts to sing. The only other woman who sings in this novel is Shug Avery, and she is the strongest character in this novel. Shug has been able to take her pain and her emotions and turn them into powerful statements of song. Mary Agnes is now able to do the same, a symbol of her newly found independence. Her song is also a cry out for self-identity.
The line “they calls me yellow like yellow be my name” means that Mary Agnes feels that too many people identify her by her light skin. Since there is more to her than her light skin, she wonders “why ain’t black the same.” It is ironic that even though blacks think of her as yellow, she is still considered black by the white South. In the first half of the twentieth century, any child of a union between a black person and white person was still considered black, regardless of skin color. Squeak wishes to clarify her own identity in light of perceptions of both white and black society. She is a light-skinned black woman, yet people have focused upon the fact that her skin is light. She would rather be known as black if her color is used as her name. This song is evidence that she has a stronger sense of self. Even bull-headed Harpo is impressed by her new strength.
This sense of self is taken away from Sofia when she begins work as the mayor’s maid. She is forced into a role that she doesn’t want, a stereotypically weak role that keeps her isolated from...
(The entire section is 1,119 words.)