Letter 8

Synopsis of Letter 8

Four months later, Mr_ decides to accept Pa’s offer of Celie as a wife, instead of Nettie, although Mr_ is clearly not pleased with the proposal. Celie is anxious but sees marriage as a way of protecting Nettie and hopes they can then escape together.

To prepare for this the sisters study hard, trying to make themselves well enough educated to survive in the world on their own. Although naturally intelligent like Nettie, Celie struggles, partly due to anxiety and partly due to having been barred from school since she was first pregnant, despite the intervention of her teacher, Miss Beasley.

Mr_ comes on his horse to make a final inspection of Celie as his prospective wife, who has to turn round as though she is a slave at an auction. Alphonso sits on the porch, offering comments whilst reading a newspaper. Mr_ agrees to take Celie as a wife only when reassured that the cow is still included in the bargain.

Commentary on Letter 8

The narrative has already mentioned that Celie is not considered to be clever; on the contrary she is perceived as ignorant by her stepfather, who regards Nettie as the clever one in the family. Yet here we find out that Celie does love learning and is regarded as intelligent by Nettie and also by her former teacher, Miss Beasley.

Alphonso’s response to Miss Beasley shows the contempt that Alphonso feels for women in general, as well as his disregard for the importance of education. His assertion that Nettie is the clever one in the family is not made because he believes that to be so, but because he sees Nettie as the next target for his sexual abuse once Celie has married Mr_ and left home.

When Mr_ comes to make his final inspection of Celie, she is made to turn around in front of him like a farm animal, while he sits on his horse and Pa reads a newspaper. The incident is ironic because all the characters are black but the situation resembles the buying and selling of a black female slave, negotiated between two white masters.

Both Alphonso and Albert treat women like slaves and this is reflected not only in what they do, but in the way they speak when Alphonso tells Albert that he will let him have Celie because he has a fresh young wife in the house. Although he does not specifically refer to Nettie in the same way it is obvious that she, too, will be expected to fulfil a similar role once Celie has left the household.

Celie accepts the marriage because she has no choice, but she also believes that marriage to Mr_ might offer an opportunity for herself and Nettie to escape sometime in the future. The truth, however, is that both women are helpless to resist the power of the men who control their lives.

Investigating Letter 8

  • In what ways is Miss Beasley a threat to men like Alphonso?
  • What does the detail about the flatness of the world tell us about the two sisters?
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