Summary and Analysis
The notion of "chance" plays a major role in this novel; already we have seen that Fonso's chance perversion of values caused Celie, and not Nettie, to be married to Albert. But Albert's mistress was (by chance) Shug Avery, who was, first, responsible for slowly instilling in Celie a sense of self-worth, and second, responsible for intercepting one of Nettie's letters and helping Celie find the rest of her letters. There is so much almost pre-determined mean and brutal behavior and suffering in this novel that chance, being an antithetical element for good, seems to be drawn by some unnamed natural force to help counter the immense weight of all of the injustice and unhappiness in Celie's life.
Likewise, in a parallel way, we see that chance also enters into Nettie's life. By chance, Nettie is able to find Celie and Albert when she runs away from Fonso's brutal sexual attacks; later, when she is confronted by Albert, she is able to escape only, we gather, by chance. Then, by chance, Nettie is pointed in the direction of Samuel and Corrine's house, a couple who, by chance, bought both of Celie's babies. By chance, also, both Celie and Nettie are intuitive; like Celie, Nettie immediately recognizes Corrine's babies as being Celie's. Likewise, when Nettie sees Sofia and Miss Millie, by chance, Nettie perceives immediately that Sofia is not maid material. In addition, it is by chance that one of the missionaries can't go to Africa, and so there is a free ticket available for Nettie to go along and continue to look after Celie's children.
Besides the theme of chance, this set of letters is also infused with Nettie's hopeful, fighting spirit and her joy of learning. Nettie fought against Fonso's advances and escaped; then she fought against Albert's advances and escaped. Now, despite Albert's threats, she continues to write to Celie, and her first message to Celie is: fight! Defying all the odds, Nettie plunges forward, fighting, into life. She plans to do missionary work despite the fact that she's very young and despite the fact that the white men "in charge" at the Missionary Society of New York are discouraging. Nettie believes that, with God, all things are possible. A key phrase in one of these letters to Celie is: "if you believe . . ." Nettie's faith never wavers, and because of that, she grows stronger and stronger.
Nettie is obviously a born teacher: we saw her teaching Celie earlier, she teaches in Africa, and here in her letters to Celie, she continues to do so. She tells Celie about all the marvelous insights that she has had into their black heritage.
For example, it was Africans (and not white men) who sold blacks into slavery; Jesus had lamb's wool-like hair (i.e., kinky); the Africans had, at one time, a more advanced civilization than the Europeans had at a comparable period; truly black — dazzlingly blueblack — Africans have made Nettie admire anew her black skin and her black race; and Nettie vividly describes the profoundly moving emotion that she felt on seeing the African coast for the first time.
We read Nettie's letters and realize that for the first time, Nettie has experienced great pride in being a black woman. She is delighted to learn that her people are beautiful and diverse. She is joyous because she now knows that she is a part of something greater than she ever imagined: Africa. She is ready to help "uplift black people everywhere."
Nettie is, as we shall continue to see, a part of history. Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican black, immigrated to New York in the late 1930s. He was the founder of black nationalism and pan-Africanism; he wanted blacks to go back to Africa and create a powerful empire. His movement, often called Garveyism, was especially popular in Harlem, the predominantly black section of New York. Nettie's prose reflects some of his ideology. "We and the Africans will be working for a common goal: the uplift of black people everywhere." Africa opens Nettie's eyes to possibility. Nettie has always believed in the notion of possibility, but now the word takes on enormous importance in terms of black people on two continents.