Letter 72

Synopsis of Letter 72

Both Samuel and the children are deeply saddened by Corinne’s death. Nettie is also lonely but finds consolation in her continuing love for Celie, Olivia and Adam. She reflects on Corinne’s good qualities, who is given a traditional Olinka funeral.

Nettie is suffering from painful periods, although she continues with her heavy workload. Olivia has started her menstrual cycle, as has her friend Tashi. Nettie wants Olivia to avoid a painful Olinka ritual that is done to young girls at this time.

Some white engineers arrive to survey the village and its surroundings. They are rude or patronising to its inhabitants and Nettie fears that the village’s future is bleak.

Samuel gives Nettie all of Corinne’s clothes and Nettie tells him about the letters that she has written to Celie over many years. Samuel apologises that he did not visit Albert and Celie before he left for Africa, as it could have helped the sisters to remain in touch with one another.

Commentary on Letter 72

It is obvious from this letter that Nettie is extremely lonely after Corinne’s death, her compassionate nature forgiving Corinne’s behaviour towards her. Initially she finds consolation only in her love for her niece, nephew and absent sister, but now Walker begins to develop an attraction between her and Samuel. At this stage in the narrative it is no more than conversation between the two, but it leads eventually to Nettie finding an honest and upright husband in Samuel. Some critics feel that Walker’s neat removal of Corinne, in order to facilitate a happy ending for Nettie and Samuel, is somewhat contrived and that all three characters (Nettie, Samuel and Corinne) are less convincing as a result.

Nettie remains compassionate and understanding of the Olinka people, although horrified by the ritual of female genital mutilation. Walker merely alludes to the custom in this letter, but uses it as the central theme in a later novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992).

This short cycle of letters dramatises the Christian doctrines of the need to confess sin and offer forgiveness, ideas that are sometimes lacking in the American side of the narrative. Corinne’s suspicion has been destructive but she is able to make peace with Nettie before dying. Nettie, in turn, forgives Corinne for her hostility and Samuel apologises for not intervening between Celie and Albert when previously asked to by Nettie.

Investigating Letter 72

  • Compare the characters in America with the characters in Africa
    • What are their similarities and differences?
    • Describe their strengths and weaknesses.
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