Letter 14

Synopsis of Letter 14

This is the first of three letters which anticipate Shug Avery’s arrival in town and the effect that she has on Mr_ and on Celie. In this letter the emphasis is on Mr_ ’s preparations to attend Shug’s first performance in the Lucky Star saloon, where she is going to sing with her orchestra. Mr_ ’s preparations for the show reveal that he is in a state of extreme excitement and is anxious about his appearance.

Celie is also in a state of high excitement and is desperate to see Shug perform. Although she knows that she cannot go with Mr_, she carries one of the pink leaflets announcing the performance in her pocket. The leaflet describes Shug by her stage name of ‘Queen Honeybee’, standing beside a piano, dressed to kill and looking supremely confident. Celie is so excited about Shug that she even compliments Mr_ on his appearance, surprising them both.

Commentary on Letter 14

Walker creates a high level of suspense as Mr_ prepares to go to the Lucky Star. Shug’s stage name of Queen Honeybee recalls the titles that were given to top blues singers and jazz musicians of the time. In Letters 33 and 46, Shug reveals that she is a friend of the famous blues singer Bessie Smith, who was called ‘Empress of the Blues’ by her fans, and also of the band leader Edward ‘Duke’ Ellington.

Investigating Letter 14

  • How does the relationship of Celie and Mr_ begin to change with the arrival of Shug Avery?
  • Do some research on jazz and blues in the 1920s and 30s.
    • Why was this music so important to black (and white) audiences at the time?
    • Who were the famous names?
    • What kind of lives did they lead?
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