Letter 77

Synopsis of Letter 77

This short letter to Nettie explains how happy Celie feels now that she has friends who love her, work to do and money in the bank. She has employed two women, Jerene and Darlene, to help her run Folkspants. Darlene is trying to teach Celie how to use more conventional grammar in conversation, so that she will not be thought of as ignorant or a figure of fun. Darlene explains that the way black people speak influences how they are perceived by people around them, both black and white. She brings Celie some children’s reading books and tries to persuade her to use them for speaking practice, but Celie is not convinced that it is a good use of her time. Shug does not mind the way Celie speaks and feels only a fool would want to speak in what she recognises as a white form of language.

Commentary on Letter 77

There’s an interesting comparison here between the attitude of Darlene, who obviously believes that black people should make an effort to integrate into white society, even if only by their choice of language register, and Celie and Shug who do not seem to think it important. Note here the way in which Celie’s self-confidence has improved to the extent that she is now able to accept the mild criticism of her own language style from Darlene, without feeling resentful or belittled.

Investigating Letter 77

  • Compare and contrast Darlene’s attitude towards language with that of Shug and Celie. What does it tell you about the divisions between white people and black people?
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