Letter 19

Synopsis of Letter 19 

Three years have passed and Harpo and Sofia’s marriage seems to be a happy one. Trouble begins when Harpo develops a fixed idea that Sofia ought to obey him. Harpo is so used to the idea that women should be subservient that he finds it difficult to accept Sofia’s independent behaviour. His father’s advice is that he beat his wife so as to gain the upper hand. Celie’s advice is the same, as she is resentful because Sofia seems to pity Celie because she cannot stand up to Mr_.

The next time Celie sees Harpo, he has obviously been beaten himself. He tries to explain that his bruises are the result of a difficult mule and a collision with a barn door, but it is obvious that it is Sofia who has done the damage.

Commentary on Letter 19

Walker continues the male/female role reversal she has introduced in the preceding chapter, making Harpo into a victim and Sofia into an aggressive spouse. Ironically, up to this point in the story, both characters’ strengths and weaknesses have complemented one another and their marriage has been quite successful. Harpo’s mistake is in following his father’s advice and behaving like other black men who mistreat their wives.

Celie’s advice to Harpo about beating Sofia is uncharacteristic, voiced in a moment of weakness, but to an extent it is also understandable. Because Celie has been a victim of violence for so long, she seems not to be able to resist the temptation to see someone else punished as she has been. In addition, she is resentful because she thinks that Sofia pities her, so in a way Celie is paying Sofia back. Celie later regrets what she has done, when Sofia confronts her angrily after Harpo has tried, and failed, to chastise his disobedient wife.

Investigating Letter 19

  • How would you describe the relationship between Harpo and Sofia?
    • How does it compare to that between Celie and Mr_ ?
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