Letter 48

Synopsis of Letter 48

Celie’s pleasure at sleeping with Shug is broken into when a drunk Grady and Albert return to the house at daybreak. It becomes obvious that Shug and Grady’s marriage is under a strain: Grady annoys Shug by calling her Mama, making eyes at Mary Agnes, patronising Celie and spending Shug’s money on flashy clothes.

Shug and Mary Agnes become friends, with Shug encouraging the less confident singer to embark on singing professionally. Overcoming Mary Agnes’ reluctance, Shug offers to both introduce and sing with her at Harpo’s juke-joint.

Commentary on letter 48

Shug understands that Mary Agnes is a sexual rival, probably because of the lightness of her skin and her youth. Grady is clearly attracted to Mary Agnes and his use of the word ‘Mama’ to Shug is a reference to Shug’s middle-age. However, Shug’s offer to help Mary Agnes start a professional singing career is an example of the generosity that women show to one another throughout the novel, burying personal rivalries when something important needs to be attended to.

Shug’s description of Mary Agnes’ voice as something that would make the audience think about sex highlights Shug’s ‘masculine’ qualities, as does her assertiveness and pragmatism when Harpo objects to Mary Agnes singing in the juke-joint.

Investigating Letter 48

  • Look again at Shug’s comments about ‘the devil’s music’. Why do you think Shug describes blues and jazz in this way?
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