Letter 6

Synopsis of Letter 6

Mr_ asks Alphonso for permission to marry Nettie, but it is refused on the grounds that Nettie is too young; Mr_ has too many children and the circumstances of Mr_’s first wife’s death were too scandalous. Alphonso also mentions the rumours about Mr_’s relationship with a woman called Shug (Sugar) Avery.

Celie’s stepmother acquires a photograph of Shug Avery and shows it to Celie. Celie is fascinated by Shug’s sophistication, though she thinks her eyes are sad. Celie retains the photo, dreaming about Shug each night after gazing at her before she falls asleep.

Commentary on Letter 6

The importance of this letter is the introduction of the character of Shug Avery and the immediate and strong attraction that Celie feels to the as yet unknown woman in the photograph. Shug is glamorous and obviously very different to Celie in appearance, but Celie is attracted not only by Shug’s beauty, but also by the sadness that Celie sees in her eyes.

Celie’s aversion to men and her fear of them, caused by the abusive treatment she has received from Alphonso (Pa), has already been foregrounded by Walker in the first five letters Celie has written to God. The introduction of a woman character who seems to be the complete antithesis of Celie marks the beginning of a shift in the narrative.

Investigating Letter 6

  • Celie compares Shug and Celie’s dead mother
    • What does this imply about Celie’s earlier life with her mother?
    • What messages do you think Walker is conveying about female appearance?
  • In what way is Alphonso being hypocritical with regard to Mr _ ?
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