The Color Purple Letters 86–87: Summary and Analysis
by Alice Walker

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Letters 86–87: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Stanley Earl: Eleanor Jane’s husband

Reynolds Stanley: the baby son of Stanley Earl and Eleanor Jane

James: Shug Avery’s son

Nettie writes that Tashi has run away with her mother to join the mbeles. Although Nettie is upset, there is nothing more that she or her family can do in Africa. The rest of the tribe is dying out due to malaria and other diseases, as a result of the lack of yams that were once plentiful in the region. The family decides to return to America, where Nettie hopes to find Celie. Nettie cannot believe that it has been 30 years since they have last met, and she hopes that living with Mr.____ has not changed her character or her spirit. As she finishes her letter, however, she hears that Adam has left the village, presumably in search of Tashi.

Celie, meanwhile, continues to write to Nettie because she feels her sister is still alive. Shug has been traveling with Germaine around the country, longer than the six months that she asked for. She has met one of her children in Arizona, and is spending time with him. Her other children refuse to see her. Now that she is reunited with family, Shug writes Celie once a week, and Celie has accepted the fact that she loves another. Celie hopes that Shug will one day return, and even if “she want to come back dragging Germaine I’d make them both welcome or die trying.”

With Shug gone, Celie spends a lot of time with Sofia and Harpo, although Henrietta is still battling sickness. Eleanor Jane’s constant visits with her new baby start to become a nuisance to Sofia. Finally, Sofia tells Eleanor Jane that she is tired of the baby’s interference and Eleanor Jane’s presence. Eleanor breaks down because she always thought that Sofia was her friend, not understanding that Sofia was only there under threat of a jail sentence.

Celie also spends more time with Mr.____; surprisingly, Celie cannot bring herself to hate him. Since he loved Shug, the two do have something in common. Mr.____ takes advantage of this by asking all of the questions about her childhood that he never bothered to ask when he was married to her. He is shocked to learn that she was damaged by her stepfather, and admits that he used to beat her because she was not Shug. However, he feels sorry for Celie because Shug left her. He remembers how bad he felt when Shug left him.

Celie and Mr.____ act like “two old fools left over from love, keeping each other company under the stars.” Celie tells him about her pants business, mentioning that what makes her pants so special is that “anybody can wear them.” Mr.____ thinks only men can wear pants but then remembers how fond he used to be of sewing. Celie gives Mr.____ a needle and thread and asks him to help her sew a pocket together. She notices that Mr.____ “ain’t Shug, but he begin to be somebody I can talk to.”

Samuel and Nettie’s world has dissolved almost completely, and the illusion under which they have lived has vanished as well. The tragedy of the Olinka tribe has caused Samuel and Nettie to decide that it is time for them to leave Africa. Although they valiantly struggled against the forces of progress, the Olinka are ultimately at fault for their own destruction; their self-centeredness doomed them to be unprepared for such a disaster. Nettie and Samuel’s union, however, has prepared them for their next struggle. They have come to the same conclusion about the nature of God that Shug had extolled; God is a free spirit rather than an object to them, and this thinking frees them to find and worship God in all things.

Unfortunately, another rift occurs in the family with the disappearance of Tashi. Tashi is in the center of two conflicting philosophies—the way of the Olinka and of the missionaries. Her shame comes from feeling the need to be subjected to the scarring and the circumcision. Tashi was always an independent girl, and was one of the first girls to enter the Olinka school. To subject herself to...

(The entire section is 1,227 words.)