Summary and Analysis Letter 12


After the pain of most of the preceding letters, this letter seems almost like comic relief. Mr.________'s two sisters come to inspect the new bride, and they gossip like a pair of nosy neighbors about what a tacky person their brother's first wife was (the one who was killed by her boyfriend coming home from church). They are inflexibly rigid about a "woman's role." To them, women get married and are supposed to keep a "decent house" and a "clean family." They are a pair of very critical women, and because Celie is sensitive enough to read between the lines of their comments, she surely must feel proud and relieved by their comments; she has favorably impressed the two sisters. She has their approval — as a good housekeeper, as a person who is good with children, and as a good cook. And note how Walker slips a memory of Nettie into Celie's thoughts. Kate says that her brother couldn't have done better in getting himself a wife "if he'd tried." Celie calmly remarks to God, "I think about how he tried." That is,

Mr. ________ wanted Nettie first and foremost; he took Celie only after considering that he'd get a cow in the bargain.

The two sisters' presence, however, is more than comic relief in this scene. These sisters are going to offer more information about this magical creature called Shug Avery. They don't think much of Shug because, according to them, Shug can't sing, she's a homebreaker, and, according to Kate, Shug is "black as my shoe."

The adjective "black" means that not only is Shug a member of the black race, but that she has a very dark black complexion. Because of miscegenation, skin tone among black Americans varies from milky to ebony. Some black people have attached status to being lighter and have avoided darker members of the race. The roots for this colorist distinction come from slavery. Lighter persons who were frequently the offspring of white masters and black women slaves were given the easier work — usually the housework. The rest of the slaves, the darker ones, were given the fieldwork to do.

Carrie's sharp-tongued observation about Shug — "She too black" — means that Shug's skin tone is probably close to ebony. However, all this prejudice refuses to take root in Celie's consciousness; she is more intrigued than ever by the illusive Shug Avery. In fact, now that Shug is the personification of adventure and magic and beauty, Celie associates a shopping trip with the glamorous Shug. It also seems that Celie knows that purple is associated with royalty; that's why she says "purple" aloud when she and Kate are discussing the color of Celie's new dress. Celie is thinking of Shug and simply utters the color that is synonymous with Shug: purple. But just as there is no Shug Avery in Celie's life — not yet — there is no color purple in the dress store. Not yet. For the present, Celie has to make do with blue. But Kate utters one of the central ideas in this novel that becomes a part of Celie's soul. She tells Celie that she deserves "more than this." And Celie timidly agrees with Kate. "Maybe so. I think."

Later, Kate is unsuccessful when she tries to make Harpo share the house chores with Celie, but she doesn't leave before she tells Celie the same thing that Nettie told her: Celie must "fight them." And then she utters words that are more powerful than perhaps even she herself realizes. She tells Celie to "fight them for yourself." Celie, of course, isn't ready to fight yet. For the present, simply not giving up is enough for her. At least she is alive. Nettie, she fears, is dead. But Kate's words have been spoken, and Celie will hear other women tell her the same thing throughout the novel — to "fight them for yourself" — because Celie is worth it. Slowly, Celie will begin to realize the truth of this statement.