Letter 64

Synopsis of Letter 64

A tarmac road is being constructed through the forest, which the Olinka welcome, giving the construction workers gifts of food and drink.

Olivia and Adam have grown up and are now young adults who have adapted to the African lifestyle and are firm friends with Tashi, whose father has died of malaria. 

Corrine is steadily growing more jealous of Nettie and asks her not to spend time with Samuel. Nettie values the company of her niece and nephew and also of Tashi, who was heartbroken at the death of her father, but has now established a good relationship with her mother and plans to continue her education with her mother’s blessing.

Nettie continues to be concerned about the lives of the female members of the tribe who are not allowed to have men as friends and often have to share husbands, because of the custom of polygamy. She also comments on the fact that the Olinka women indulge their husbands, which makes the men behave like children.

On a more sombre note, Nettie also comments that the Olinka men literally have the power of life and death over their wives. Any woman who is accused of being unfaithful, or of practising witchcraft can be killed. This has not happened since Samuel, Corrine and Nettie arrived in the village, but Nettie is obviously afraid that if they were not present, the custom would be practised regularly.

Commentary on Letter 64

In the five years since the last letter, the reader can see the extent to which the African world is changing. The new road which is being built seems harmless enough at first but ironically it is not a sign of progress, but something which will harm the Olinka’s lifestyle and their livelihood.

The theme of Corrine’s jealousy of Nettie is reinforced in this letter, as is the strength of the friendships which exist among the women of the Olinka tribe and between Nettie, Adam, Olivia and Tashi.

Note the reference to ‘Uncle Remus’ who was a character in a collection of African-American slave stories, published in 1881. Ironically, Tashi already knows an oral version of one of the stories, which further emphasises Walker’s linking of African-American and native African culture in the novel.

Walker develops the theme of female solidarity, referring to the way in which the Olinka women enjoyed close friendships and cooperation, treating their husbands in the same way that they treat their young children. Samuel feels uncomfortable about the practice of polygamy and how women prefer spending time with one another than with their husbands, ideas which run counter to the Christian doctrine of the sanctity of marriage.

Investigating Letter 64

  • Do some research on polygamy and monogamy
    • Why do you think Samuel is uneasy and confused about his duties as a Christian minister with regard to these issues?
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