Letter 4

Synopsis of Letter 4

Alphonso marries again, this time to a girl of sixteen, the same age as Celie. The girl seems to like Alphonso despite his continuous sexual attentions but she, like Celie, is overwhelmed by the responsibilities of looking after her husband and a large number of dependent children.

Nettie has now attracted the attention of a middle-aged man, known only as Mr_ , a widower with three children, whose wife was killed by her lover, when coming home from church. Mr_ begins to visit Alphonso’s house every Sunday and Celie is worried that if Nettie consents to his offer of marriage, she will find herself in a difficult situation, looking after children who are not her own. Celie tells Nettie that education is more important and encourages her to study hard rather than submit to such a marriage.

Commentary on Letter 4

Celie has not, up to this point, used Alphonso’s name, usually referring to him in the third person, but in this letter she begins to call him Pa. It is not until letter 82 that Celie learns that Alphonso is not her father, but her stepfather.

This letter illustrates not only how young girls are sexually exploited by men, but also the injustice of young inexperienced wives being expected to take on the responsibilities of looking after large numbers of young children. Walker never underestimates what this involves and the negative effects that a life of unceasing drudgery and exhaustion has on these women.

The first mention of Mr_ (Albert), draws attention to the background of violence which runs through the narrative. The bald statement that Albert’s wife was killed by her boyfriend when coming home from church is a stark illustration of this.

 Investigating Letter 4

  • Throughout the novel, Walker questions religious beliefs and behaviour. On a blank piece of A4 create a table with the headings:

    Letter No. / Religious ref. / Expectations / Actuality / Conclusions.

    Fill it in with evidence as it occurs. For example:

    No. Religious ref. Expectations Actuality Conclusions
     4  Church attendance  Moral values e.g. monogamy, respecting life (see Ten Commandments)  Adultery, murder  Demonstrates gulf between outward observance and actual behaviour

    Keep this for future notes.
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