Summary and Analysis
"Unbelief is a terrible thing. And so is the hurt we cause others unknowingly," Nettie writes in an insightful and meaningful revelation. Corrine refuses to believe that Celie is the mother of Olivia and Adam; she says that she cannot even remember meeting Celie (Letter 10). In addition, Nettie realizes that Corrine is physically very ill. "She gets weaker and weaker and unless she can believe us . . . [she will die ignorant of the truth]," Nettie emphasizes to Celie. Nettie reaches out to Celie, as Celie once reached out to God, asking for help in carrying a terrible burden. If Corrine is to die, Nettie wants her to die knowing the truth about the children's true mother. The truth, Nettie hopes, will give Corrine peace and will make Nettie no longer a socially accepted missionary "sister," but an emotionally love-linked sister, bonded by their sharing of Olivia and Adam.
Throughout the novel, as we have noted, quilts have been a source of collaboration and sisterhood. The purpose of a quilt is to take various scraps and transform them into a single, colorful, unified blanket. The tradition of making quilts is ancient. In West Africa, intricate designs and patterns were developed, and the craft was carried across the Atlantic on slave ships and transplanted in the New World. Just as creating quilts unifies Africans and Americans, and just as it unified Sofia and Celie (Letter 28), the memory of Corrine's quilts now reconciles Nettie and Corrine. Nettie searches until she finds a quilt that she hopes will remind Corrine of days long ago, when Olivia was a tiny baby and when Celie first saw her and Corrine. Nettie desperately wants "to save" Corrine from dying unhappy.
Corrine is not a bad woman, of course; she is merely dishonest and weak. In Letter 10, when she first met Celie, she lied about her reason for calling the baby Olivia. She even confesses, eventually, that she was afraid that "she'd [Celie would] want her [Olivia] back. So I forgot her as soon as I could." Being a good Christian by nature, Nettie loves and forgives Corrine for her selfish, possessive love of the children.
In Letter 49, Celie gave Shug a detailed account of Nettie; she shared this painful, precious information about Nettie with Shug because they were close, deep friends. In a similar way, Nettie now tells Samuel about Celie. Samuel and Shug are fortunate that they have been offered a chance to share in the two sisters' enormous love for one another, despite the fact that for the present, "Only the sky above us do we [Nettie and Celie] hold in common."
The bonding of women, extending even to shared sexual pleasure, has been noted earlier. Here again, in Letter 72, in a parallel to Celie and Shug's earlier intimacy, Olivia and Tashi also seem to be involved in a physical relationship. Significantly, Nettie does not think that it is morally wrong because she is sophisticated enough to realize that everyone needs intimacy, and when men are incapable of fulfilling a woman's emotional needs, there is nothing wrong in a woman turning to another woman for love and friendship.