Letter 74

Synopsis of Letter 74

Meeting at a family dinner at Sofia’s sister Odessa’s house, Sofia has been apart from her children for so long that they barely recognise her. Odessa has raised Sofia’s children, helped by Sofia’s ex-husband Harpo and his partner Squeak (Mary Agnes).

When dinner is over, Shug announces to the company that she, Grady and Celie are leaving Albert and moving to Memphis Tennessee where they will all set up home together. Albert is furious and says this will happen over his dead body at which point Celie takes the opportunity to tell Albert exactly what she thinks of him. She also tells the company that she has two children who are being brought up in Africa by her sister Nettie and that they will all return home soon. She goes on to inform Albert that all of his children are fools, especially Harpo, who in her opinion was the cause of Sofia’s imprisonment, and that Albert himself is worthless. When Albert tries to slap her, she jabs his hand with a knife. Albert and Harpo are outraged, but the only effect it has on the women is to make them laugh. Mary Agnes announces that she too is going north to make a career for herself singing in nightclubs. When Harpo tries to forbid her to leave, using her nickname of Squeak, Mary Agnes defies him and insists that her name is Mary Agnes and that she will sing under that name.

The meal is interrupted by a visit from the Mayor’s youngest child, Eleanor Jane, asking to see Sofia. Where they are outside talking, Odessa and Jack tell the company that the Mayor’s family is in trouble because the son drinks too much, has affairs with women and persecutes black people. Sofia returns and says she has to go back to the Mayor’s house to sort matters out, but that when she comes back she will look after her ex-husband Harpo and his child by Mary Agnes, who is named Jolentha, but is known as Susie Q.

Commentary on Letter 74

This is a dramatic scene as Celie finds the courage to tell Albert that it is time for her to leave and become part of what she calls the ‘Creation’, indicating that she has taken on board Shug’s perception of God (see letter 73). This is the first time that Celie has fought back against dominant men. The location is significant – she is flanked by Odessa and Sofia, both strong female characters who have shown an independence and a determination to stand up for their rights as women in the past.

Celie’s declaration encourages the other women to assert themselves. Mary Agnes declares her intention to leave Harpo and try once more to establish a career as a singer. Sofia tells her ex-husband that she and her sister Odessa will look after Mary Agnes’ child Henrietta (Harpo’s daughter) and also make sure that Harpo and Sofia’s other children are looked after in Mary Agnes’ absence. The effect is that of a mass uprising of the female members of this family group. The men for once are left powerless and can do no more than bluster and threaten, while the women laugh at them.

In terms of plot development, this letter marks a turning point in the relationship between the male and female characters in the novel. Celie is the catalyst, as she becomes more independent and assertive, encouraging others to express strong solidarity against the previously dominant males. Her resistance symbolises all oppressed black women seeking to build a life not defined by patriarchy.

Investigating Letter 74

  • Draw Celie’s family tree. Start with Pa (Celie’s natural father), his wife Maria, and her second husband, Fonso, then fill in Harpo’s mama (unnamed); Albert (Mr_), Celie, Nettie, Harpo, Sofia, their five children (unnamed), Olivia, Adam, Tashi, Corinne and Samuel
    • On the horizontal, show marriage/cohabitation
    • On the vertical, demonstrate parentage
  • Use solid lines for birth children of married people, dotted lines for the offspring of co-habiting people and dashed lines for adopted (whether legally or just in practice) children (you may have to bend a dashed line to indicate adoptive parents).
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.