Letters 61-63: Summary and Analysis
Joseph: the guide of the missionaries
Tashi: a young Olinka girl and best friend of Olivia
Tashi’s mother (Catherine) and father: the parents
Celie starts to feel a little better now that she knows that Nettie is alive, but she still wonders about her children. Shug had told her that children that are born from an incestual relationship turn out to be “dunces.”
After a long, difficult journey, the missionaries arrive at the Olinka village. The Olinkas are surprised that the new missionaries are black and that there are two women among them. Samuel is asked by the villagers if Corrine or Nettie is the mother of the children, and then asked if he has two wives. After Samuel tells them about himself and his family, the missionaries are invited to watch a special ceremony welcoming them. The greatest part of the ceremony is a dance and story which pays homage to the roof-leaf, a thick plant which is abundant in the village and covers every hut.
Nettie is told a legend, in which a greedy chief starts to hoard all the crops and wives in the village. There was always an overabundance of crops, so there always seemed to be enough for everybody. However, when a storm blew away all of the roofs of the villages, they discovered, to their dismay, that there was no more roof leaf to cover their houses. Their village is almost wiped out during the rainy season. The greedy chief is banished from the village, and once the roof-leaf is abundant again, the people worship and pay homage to the crops. Nettie wonders what Celie “will make of all this.”
Nettie soon becomes adjusted to her daily routine, which involves a lot of work teaching the children and adults. Olivia is the only girl in these classes, since the Olinka do not believe in educating girls. In their system, a woman can strive only to be “the mother of [her husband’s] children.” Olivia wonders about her best friend, Tashi, and if she will be able to join her at school. They spend a lot of time together, which worries Tashi’s parents, who fear that their daughter “knows she is learning a way of life she will never live.” They ask Nettie to keep Tashi from seeing Olivia. When Nettie pleads that Tashi might become something more than the tribe expects of her, Tashi’s father replies that “our people pity people such as [Nettie], who are cast out, into a world...where you must struggle all alone.” Tashi will always have “someone to look after” her, whether it is a husband or a father. Nettie is surprised that she “is an object of pity and contempt...to men and women alike” in the village.
As time passes, Corrine starts to change as well. She becomes jealous of Nettie because the tribe considers her to be Samuel’s wife as well. First, she asks that the children not call her “Mama Nettie” anymore. Eventually, she asks her to stop borrowing clothes. Nettie is hurt by this and asks Corrine if she is feeling all right.
The missionaries find out that they must adjust to a different social system in Africa. The oppression of women in Africa is just as obvious and distasteful to Nettie as it was in America. The differences in the social system in Africa seem to be cosmetic. While the bigamy is legally recognized here, Mr.____ and Harpo practice what is in effect bigamy in America. Women are generally considered second-class citizens in Africa, and their dreams and desires are suppressed to give men control. Walker has already established this sort of treatment in Celie’s town. Walker now puts Nettie in the same sort of situation that Celie was in to establish the independence of Nettie’s character. Nettie is a bit upset by these developments, but never stops believing that she is correct. While she is surprised that she is looked upon with pity in the village, she jokes about it to Celie, calling herself a “pitiful, cast-out woman who may perish during the rainy season.” Her self-worth is not affected by this pity or this...
(The entire section is 1,111 words.)