Letters 49–51: Summary and Analysis
Shug asks Celie many questions about Nettie, because Nettie was the only girl Celie ever loved. Celie tells her that she has been waiting every day for all of these years for a letter from Nettie, but she never wrote. After this conversation, Shug starts hanging out with Mr.____ again, which shocks and pains Grady and Celie.
It soon becomes clear why Shug is doing this, however. After a week Shug gives Celie a letter from Nettie, which Mr.____ took out of his mailbox and hid in his coat pocket. Obviously, Mr.____ has been hiding these letters from Celie all of this time. Hearing about this causes Celie to temporarily lose her mind. She fantasizes about murdering him, and even approaches him from behind with a razor when she is stopped by Shug. Shug tries to calm down Celie by telling her about the time when she was young and courted by Albert. Shug confesses that she was an evil girl who tortured Annie Julia, Mr.____’s last wife, and Celie, even though she didn’t want to marry him herself. Shug cannot believe that Albert, the man she knew, could turn into this monster, and she also cannot believe that she loved him.
Celie and Shug realize that there might be more letters hidden in Mr.____’s trunk, and they search the trunk the next time Grady and Mr.____ go out on the town. They find dozens of letters from Nettie hidden in the bottom of the trunk. They steam open the letters and place the empty envelopes back into Mr.____’s trunk. Shug begins to arrange the letters and Celie begins to read them.
The action of the novel takes an unexpected turn with the surprise return of Nettie. The effect on Celie is profound, affecting her even when years of cruelty and abuse could never provoke a response.
Celie first receives a mild shock when she thinks that Shug has gone back to Mr.____. She deals with this betrayal with the same ineffective method that she uses for all her crises: praying. This use of prayer has always been ineffective because she has never truly believed in it. Once she receives Nettie’s letter and hears how Mr.____ has kept her sister from her all these years, she finally reacts as she wanted to when she was first abused. Her repressed anger comes forth, and only the interference of Shug keeps Celie from doing something drastic. The visions of murder that Celie sees are not only a result of the abuse she has received from him but from the men in her life since she was born.
(The entire section is 680 words.)