Letter 55

Synopsis of Letter 55

Celie’s note at the start of this letter mentions that it is dated two months after letter 54. Nettie has now journeyed to Africa with Corrine and Samuel to join them in their missionary work. Despairing that Celie would ever see them, Nettie destroyed all the letters that she had written to her sister on the long voyage. However, she is writing again as an outlet for her feelings (much as Celie wrote to God).

Nettie mentions having met Miss Millie and her maid, whom the reader knows must be Sofia. The desperation of her situation seems to have persuaded Nettie to join Corrine and Samuel as a missionary to Africa. She is delighted to have found two people who are prepared to encourage her to grow and become educated. 

Nettie ends the letter by telling Celie that Olivia and Adam are Celie’s lost children and that she will bring them up in a loving family.

Commentary on Letter 55

This is one of the few letters where a reference is made to the date that it was written and we can work out that almost a year has passed since the sisters parted company. However, the reference to Sofia would mean that in fact approximately six years have passed between Nettie’s leaving Albert’s house and arriving in Africa to work as a missionary.

There is a childlike tone in Nettie’s comments about her education and her desire to know everything about Africa and the African people which, for a modern audience, may appear naive and over-excited. However, Nettie’s strong sense of duty and family loyalty and her determination to act as a mother to Celie’s lost children also shows her as an understanding and compassionate young woman.

This is the first of a series of detailed letters that Nettie writes to her sister. Her written style is identifiable as being more educated than Celie’s, using longer, more complex sentences and little black idiom. Her paragraphing is more developed, her tone more formal and letters are carefully composed, making points clearly. Some critics of Walker’s novel have suggested that Nettie’s letters are impersonal and unemotional, but this is understandable because Nettie’s life experience is very different to that of her sister.

The African letters broaden the scope of the novel and Walker uses them to illustrate the point that racial oppression is not confined to America but is universal. The abuses and hardships that the Olinka tribe experience in Africa could be said to run parallel to those which affect Celie and her contemporaries in the United States.

Investigating Letter 55

  • Begin a new style sheet for comparing the writing styles of Celie and Nettie. You should examine:
    • Diction
    • Use of dialect
    • Standard and non-standard forms and spellings
    • Sentence construction
    • Figurative language etc.
  • Add other stylistic features you discover as you research further.
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