Letter 22

Synopsis of Letter 22

Shug Avery finally appears in a dramatic fashion, having been taken ill, cast out by her family and condemned by the whole community, except Mr_ and Celie. The preacher at the local church preaches a sermon against Shug and her parents have disowned her because she is suffering from some kind of ‘woman’s disease’.

Mr_¬ and Celie are both present in church but neither of them comment on what is said. After the service Mr_ takes the farm wagon and, five days later, brings Shug back to his own home. Although obviously ill, Shug is also well dressed, making Celie self-conscious about her own appearance. She fears that she cannot do anything to make herself attractive.

Mr_ introduces Shug to Harpo as the woman who should have been Harpo’s mother, and to Celie is an old friend of the family. Sofia is also present with her children but says nothing. Shug’s first response to Celie is spiteful, laughingly telling her that she is ugly.

Commentary on Letter 22 

This is an unflattering introduction to one of the major characters in the book. Despite Shug’s evident strength of character, her initial response to Celie belittles and isolates her - the italic emphasis on the word ‘is’ implies assent with another’s description (probably Mr_). In spite of her name, there is not much that is sugary about ‘Shug’ Avery, who appears to be a harsh and demanding woman.

The letter parallels the world that Shug usually inhabits with the world of churchgoing townsfolk. In a nightclub, Shug is ‘Queen Honeybee’ and the audience loves her when she sings. In the ‘real’ world, people gossip and call Shug a slut or a hussy. Her sickness is rumoured to be a ‘nasty’ woman’s disease, implying sexual transmission (it is not made clear). That the rumour comes from one of the women at church suggests a malicious attitude that is not very Christian.

The description of Shug’s powdered face makes her seem grotesque, but to Celie she still seems to be a beautiful creature, to whom she doesn’t even feel she has the right to speak without Mr_ ’s permission.

Investigating Letter 22

  • What effect does Shug Avery have on the townsfolk?
    • Why do they condemn her?
  • What effect do you think Shug’s arrival has on Fonso and Sofia?
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