Letter 39

Synopsis of Letter 39

Sofia’s friends and family meet to try to decide how to help Sofia, because her sanity seems to be threatened. Harpo and Buster want to break her out of jail, while Celie dreams that God will carry Sofia home to Heaven.

A more practical plan is suggested when it is revealed that light-skinned Mary Agnes is the niece of the white prison warden, Bubber Hodges. Albert decides that Mary Agnes should try to persuade him to do something for Sofia.

Commentary on Letter 39

This chapter is important, for it shows how Sofia’s family and friends have been brought together by her suffering in prison to work together, rather than be at odds with one another. They are united by their admiration, love or respect for Sofia and their resentment against the white power structure which has tried to destroy her. 

Celie’s picture of God and the angels rescuing Sofia shows her naivety. It also reflects the religious imagery taught to black people by way of a centuries-old white power structure. As a result, Celie and probably many other African-Americans, are convinced that God and his angels are all white men.

Squeak has little choice but to accept Albert’s instruction to visit Hodges to try to intercede for Sofia. Note the matter of fact tone of the discussion about the warden’s brother, Jimmy, and his three mixed-race children. As a mulatto, a person of mixed black and white ancestry, Squeak highlights the complex nature of racial identification in the American South. Jimmy Hodges is Squeak’s ‘daddy’ and Warden Hodges is her uncle.

Investigating Letter 39

  • Look up the word miscegenation
    • What does Letter 39 reveal about the hypocrisy of miscegenation laws in America at this time?
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