Letter 13

Synopsis of Letter 13

At this point in the novel Celie has been married to Mr_ for five years and Harpo is now a young man of seventeen. Harpo asks his father how wives can be best managed and Albert tells his son that wives must be beaten. Celie is regularly beaten by Mr_ because she is stubborn. Whenever this happens, Celie tries to imagine that she is made of wood, like a tree. She says that this is how she knows that trees are afraid of men.

Harpo confides in Celie that he is in love with a fifteen-year-old girl and plans to marry her, although he has not spoken to either her or her parents.

Commentary on Letter 13

The regular beatings that Celie endures at the hands of Mr_ emphasise her powerlessness as a woman. Celie’s remark that trees are afraid of man foreshadows the theme which is later developed in the novel with Nettie’s account of ‘roofleaf’ and the destruction of trees in Africa (see letters 61 and 80).

Harpo’s wish to marry, confided to Celie, could be seen as an indication that their relationship has become less hostile and shows that Harpo is not bad-natured. Unfortunately, he is encouraged by his father to follow the custom in that society for men to show aggression towards women.

Investigating Letter 13

  • On a blank piece of paper, start a spidergram about the character of Harpo, making deductions about his character, with evidence to support each one. (Keep this for future notes.)
  • On a fresh sheet of paper, make a table where you can note references to nature throughout the novel
  • What new information can you now add to Celie’s character sheet?
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