Summary and Analysis
Only one matter deeply worries Celie now — the matter of incest; she believes that her own father is the father of her two babies. According to folklore, Adam and Olivia may grow up to be retarded. This fear will be alleviated eventually, but because Celie can now hope to reclaim her babies someday, the possibility of brain-damaged children preys on her hopes for a perfect, joyous reunion with Nettie, Adam, and Olivia.
At this point, Celie considers Olivia and Adam to be her and Nettie's children. "Her and me and our two children," she says. Celie hasn't taken time to reflect on the fact that she can't suddenly claim the children as hers. Even they consider themselves to be Samuel and Corrine's children.
In the meantime, we return to Celie's transformation from a meek, submissive woman into a woman filled with fury. The cause for the transformation, of course, is found in Nettie's letters to Celie. Celie, you should realize, was not able to read through her sister's letters as quickly and as comprehensively as we can. Nettie's letters are unusually lucid to us, but Celie and Shug have trouble with Nettie's vocabulary. It would have been unrealistic to expect Celie and Shug to understand everything that Nettie wrote about. But what the two women can't understand literally, they understand emotionally because Nettie's letters are powerfully written. Celie and Shug understand what Nettie means. They understand, most of all, that Albert deliberately chose to sever Celie from the one human being in the world whom she loved most.
Celie's outrage is immediate — and rightfully justified. For all these years, Albert has lived with festering hate and vengeance in his heart, and he has beat Celie for no reason — other than the fact that Celie wasn't Nettie or Shug. No wonder Celie is now ready to kill him. She has the certain knowledge of Albert's theft and concealment, as well as a brand-new feeling of power. Celie is filled with a sense of righteous vengeance, and she wants to act — immediately and violently.
Ironically, it is Shug, the "notorious," sinful woman, who reminds Celie of the biblical commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill." And it is Shug who tells Celie, in essence, that she must rise above the black male code of rage and headstrong brutality. Celie, Shug insists, is better than the black men who have physically abused her for so long. Celie is "somebody" now, and she is especially somebody to Nettie. Celie owes it to Nettie to act maturely with this new and certain knowledge of Albert's mean-spirited, long-lasting vindictiveness.
Therefore, Celie's new strength begins to articulate itself in more peaceful ways; she orders Shug to tell Albert to start sleeping alone. Shug complies and begins sleeping with a new, angry, and proud black woman named Celie.
Shug is proud of Celie and wants to make her comfortable, less frustrated in her new role. For that reason, Shug decides to make Celie a pair of pants. Initially, Celie objects, but Shug explains that Celie will have more freedom of movement, literally, if she doesn't wear dresses. On a symbolic level, of course, Shug has decided to introduce Celie to options and practicality. There is no reason for Celie to be confined in a dress (a symbol of female oppression) when she can explore the possibilities that exist for a person who wears pants. Remember that in Letter 28, Celie watched Sofia — strong in her role as an independent-minded woman, dragging a ladder and "wearing a old pair of Harpo pants." In addition, making pants with Shug is similar to Sofia and Celie's joint effort in making the "Sister's Choice" quilt.
Returning to the matter of Nettie's letters, Nettie continues to be Celie's teacher, anxious to share with Celie some comparisons that she has made between black Africans and black Americans. The Olinka people have never seen black Americans. To them, missionaries have come mostly from the white European world. Remember that in this regard, black Americans are at least a dozen generations removed from Africa, but there is still a link. The two black peoples have the same common ancestors and the same dark skin.
At one point, Joseph, the spokesman for the Olinka, says poignantly:
The white missionary before you would not let us have this ceremony. But Olinka like it very much. We know a roofleaf is not Jesus Christ, but in its own humble way, is it not God?
Joseph's intuitive knowledge about the Christian religion is strong and intense. Joseph has grasped the central Christian tenet that God is omnipresent and can therefore only be represented symbolically. A cross is no better than a roofleaf. The wood of the cross was sacred to early Christians, just as a roofleaf is sacred to the Olinka people. Joseph also has made the distinction between Jesus Christ and God. He knows that Jesus Christ is the "person" of the Holy Trinity and that God is not only the father, but the creator. God made the roofleaf, and it is therefore part of him.
The origins of modern-day American soul food are also of interest in Nettie's letters. Soul food, we discover, originally came from West Africa, and later, during the era of slavery, the slaves were given the scraps of the butchered pig — that is, the feet, the neck, and the back. Slave owners also gave them overly ripe tomatoes. They added sugar and vinegar to the tomatoes and barbecued the pork. This cooking practice of barbecuing, so familiar in America, is like the open pit roasting and flaming and flavoring that goes on in West African villages. Nettie had probably never thought of any place but the South as being the original source of barbecuing. "Yes," she says, "a barbecue. They remind me of folks at home!"
You might also enjoy noticing something else in this letter that could easily be overlooked. Remember that after the dedication page in the novel, there are the words, "Show me how to do like you, Show me how to do it." This is quoted from musician Stevie Wonder's 1980 album, Hotter than July. The song, "Do I Do," is about a young boy burning with the desire to sing and dance onstage at a talent show. His mother prohibits him, but he goes and does a smashing performance. The message of the song is that performing is learning. Walker has placed the words "Hotter than July" in Letter 61. A few sentences prior, Celie writes, "What they look like, I wonder." Seemingly, Walker is inserting here her appreciation of Stevie Wonder and his music.