Letter 58

Synopsis of Letter 58

When Nettie and the family first saw the coast of Africa, they knelt down to give thanks to God for bringing them to do his work in what felt like their homeland. Nettie also delights in the proud blackness of the Senegalese. However, stops in the French colony of Senegal and Monrovia uncover more disturbing elements. Nettie notices with surprise the many white men in Africa who are not missionaries. She reflects on the gulf between Liberia’s black president and his people, between the tired workers on a cocoa plantation and the white business people in Holland, who own the land and produce chocolate.

Commentary on Letter 58

This is the last of this series of letters from Nettie to Celie based on her journey. At this time, there were white Christian missionaries working in West Africa, together with civil servants, administrators and representatives of foreign companies such as the Dutch owners of the cocoa plantations which Nettie mentions in the letter.

Nettie describes African customs, scenery and the economy in great detail. Despite her joy on sighting the coast of Africa, she, Corrine and Samuel are not immediately accepted by the Senegalese, even though they have the same skin colour. In fact they are treated in much the same way as the white French people are who live in the country.

This letter begins Nettie’s criticism (later developed as she writes about the Olinka tribe) about bad government and commercial exploitation by white absentee landlords in colonial West Africa.

Investigating Letter 58

  • Reread and revise the first half of the novel. How favourable is the view of organised religion presented so far in the narrative? Put your points and evidence into two columns, positive and negative
  • How do you account for the attitude of the Senegalese towards Nettie, Samuel and Corrine?
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