Letter 73

Synopsis of Letter 73

Celie has stopped writing to God, no longer believing he cares, which shocks Shug. Although describing herself as a sinner, Shug has a relaxed and enjoyable relationship with God because she sees the deity as being a gender-neutral ‘it’ who created and inhabits everything that can be seen, as opposed to the church-bound, old, white, male construct that Celie envisages. She shocks Celie by declaring that God enjoys his/its creatures enjoying their sexuality, and wants people to recognise and give thanks for what he/it has provided, such as the purple colour of a field of flowers.

Shug reiterates that it is unhelpful to regard God as male, given the domination and corruption associated with the men they know. She advises Celie to think about flowers, wind, water or a rock every time the idea of a male God comes into her head. Celie finds this hard because the idea that God is a man is deeply entrenched, making her feel hostile and unable to pray. When she thinks about a rock, she imagines throwing it at God.

Commentary on Letter 73

The narrative reverts to Celie. This important letter contains the novel’s title phrase, as well as one of the central ideas of the novel.

The depth of Celie’s disgust with men includes her attitude to God, whom she perceives as an old, white male. This not surprising given that, whether white or black, men have done significant damage to her self-esteem.

Shug offers her an alternative concept of God, not as a remote white male, but as an internal force that exists within everyone. Shug’s God is neither gender-based nor judgemental. On the contrary Shug’s religious belief is based on the idea of the enjoyment of creation in all its splendour and the conviction that God is a God of love.

Many characters in the novel disapprove of Shug Avery and her behaviour, but she is consistently shown to be capable of deep love and warmth, not only for Celie, but for others, both male and female. The way that she expresses the relationship with God and humanity is deliberately vulgar but Walker uses this to stress the idea that God is not alien to ordinary to people, but part of everyday existence. Walker’s personal concept of spirituality is panentheism, the idea that God is in all living things within nature, including people, and she identifies her own religious development as the inspiration for the novel, identifying religion and spirituality as two principal themes of the novel.

In this letter the reader can see how Celie is beginning to turn away from conventional religious belief towards the most important areas of spiritual fulfilment in her life - her lover Shug Avery and her sister Nettie.

Investigating Letter 73

  • Do some research on pantheism
  • Prepare an A4 sheet of paper headed ‘Celie’s spiritual development’ with a two column table:
    • In the left-hand cells, write the names of characters who influence Celie’s spiritual life
    • In the right-hand cells opposite each name, write down how these characters bring that influence to bear (include positive and negative influences).
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.