Summary and Analysis Letter 13


About five years have passed. Harpo was twelve when he gashed Celie's head on her wedding day; now he is seventeen. Celie is about twenty-five, and Mr. ________ has just beaten her again. Mr.________'s answer about why he beats Celie is tyrannical; in essence, he states that Celie is stubborn and she is a woman, and all that women are good for is for beating, and wives are especially good for beating.

Harpo is confused, and Celie is reminded of her father's own irrational, unexplainable cruelty. She, however, has no alternative, seemingly, than accepting her "role" as a black woman: she is merely a black man's "property"; accordingly, she is an available target for all the abuse that her husband has boiling inside himself. Mr. ________ suffered frustration and unhappiness from his late wife, Annie Julia, and now he suffers frustration because of Shug Avery, his current mistress. And, of course, he suffers frustration because he is a black man, a man of little value in the white man's world.

Celie feels humiliated because she is treated worse than even his children. But Mr. _______ unknowingly articulates a quality of Celie's that will grow into full-fledged revolt one day: her stubbornness. He says, self-righteously, that Celie is "stubborn." He is not punishing Celie for any specific act she has done, but because she stands up to him and to life and reminds him of times when he himself was not stubborn and resilient to life's injustices. Celie only knows that, as she said at the end of Letter 12, "I don't fight . . . but I'm alive," and then she reveals to God how she manipulates her emotions while being abused by her husband. She imagines that she is as strong and as unmoving as a tree. "I make myself wood. . . . Celie, you a tree."

Celie, then, is still uncertain about why she is physically abused, and there is another person who is also "uncertain" in this chapter: Harpo. He thinks that he's ready to get married, but he is as ignorant about love and sexuality and courtship as Celie was when she first began writing her letters to God. Harpo is seventeen, but he seems much younger because he is so certain that he loves a girl whom he has never even spoken to; indeed, it is his very certainty that makes him seem all the more immature. The two young people, as we pointed out, have never even spoken; they have merely exchanged a wink and returned a scared, shy look. Yet, to Harpo, this is "love," and he is sure that he's ready to be a husband. But with Harpo's having a fierce father for a role model as a husband, we can be fairly certain that Harpo will probably become another womanizer and a wife beater. Another cycle of brutality, it seems, is innocently and ignorantly being set in motion.