Summary and Analysis
Celie's trip into town with Mr. _______ is exciting and stimulating for her because, as a country woman, she has a chance to observe these seemingly sophisticated townspeople: "I never seen so many even at church. Some be dress too."
The townspeople, however, are not sophisticated. They drive into town in wagons, and we don't see them buying readymade clothes; they buy material and thread. And their attitudes are certainly not educated ones. Likewise, the whites in town are not sophisticated either. Specifically, the clerk's demeaning treatment of Olivia's mother and Celie reflects his contradictory and self-defeating behavior: he needs their business, but he clearly hates blacks, for his words to them are rude and pushy: "You want that cloth or not? We got other customers sides you."
Although little Olivia's mother is a woman, the clerk calls her a "girl," and he calls Celie a "gal." His forcing the woman to purchase unneeded thread is linked to his treating her like a child. To him, the woman has no judgment. "You can't sew thout thread."
One of the most telling sentences in this letter is Celie's saying, "I don't have nothing to offer and I feels poor." Ironically, Celie offers the woman a great deal. She offers her friendship and a kind word, and she generously offers them to this woman who is holding Olivia, the baby who Celie feels is her own baby. In addition, Celie offers the woman a seat in Mr._________'s wagon when the woman can't see the Reverend's wagon. In turn, Olivia's mother offers Celie a joke about Celie's "horsepitality." Celie's joy soars. She laughs until her face feels ready to split, "laughing like a fool," Mr. ________ calls it. She laughs because she feels almost certain that she has found her baby.
Olivia's mother also laughs, which is a relief for us after we have seen her overly submissive behavior earlier. But the woman acts so passively in this scene because she knows that she has no choice. In a confrontation with a white man, the black man, or woman, must act passively. Their survival depends upon not angering whites. In fact, the woman's over-politeness is proof of this point, as is the fact that she allows the clerk to humiliate her and take her money.
In contrast to the clerk, Celie is careful to keep the woman's pride intact. She compliments her on the fabric. But Celie is too curious about the baby to be quiet for too long. She asks about the baby's father and learns that he is a Reverend. Celie doesn't tell God his name; she leaves him nameless. Walker first employed this technique in Letter 4 to express a lack of personal identity. Celie again repeats the notion that a man's name is not worth knowing — because "mens look pretty much alike to me." There is a certain element of irony in this scene, inherent in the fact that an allegedly incestuously begotten child is now the daughter of a minister.
Celie's second question to the woman reveals her intuitive nature even more clearly. She asks her, "How long you had your little girl?" and here, note the verb "had." This question is not the usual way to ask someone how old a child is. The verb "had" carries the idea that the baby was gotten from somewhere besides the womb of the woman who holds her.
In addition, there is the matter of the baby's name being Olivia or Pauline. The name "Olivia" is a secret, private name that both women have for the baby. Celie, of course, embroidered Olivia's name in her underwear, which went with her when Fonso sold her. Olivia's mother has no real answer as to why she calls the baby Olivia; rather embarrassed, she says that the baby simply "look like a Olivia."
We have some evidence, then, that this baby may be Celie's baby, discovered by chance; but for the present, Celie cannot be absolutely sure. Yet, she feels that the baby is hers. She tells God, "My heart say she mine." This notion of Celie's listening more and more to her heart and trusting her feelings will take on increasing importance throughout the rest of the novel.