Letter 78

Synopsis of Letter 78

In new clothes and with new confidence, Celie visits Sofia and Harpo to attend the funeral of Sofia’s mother. The couple have reconciled and built a new house behind Harpo’s juke joint, where they live with their extended family. Celie overhears their debate about Sofia being a pallbearer before knocking. They are pleased to see Celie again and mention their concern over Mary Agnes, whom, Celie explains, smokes ‘reefer’ (marijuana) which Grady grows and sells. Celie suggests all three try one of his hand-rolled cigarettes and they experience the sensation that the whole earth is humming around them.

Later, at the funeral, Harpo is still uneasy that both brothers and sisters carry the coffin.

Commentary on Letter 78

The phrase ‘fight the good fight (with all thy might)’ is part of the opening line of a well-known hymn about Christian endurance, aided by Christ’s help, the reward of which is eternal life. It is particularly appropriate to the active and forthright nature of Sofia’s family, as well as the context of the death of Sofia’s mother. Many Negro spirituals focused on the future ‘glory’ they would experience beyond the grave in heaven.

Harpo reacts in a fairly stereotypical male way at Sofia being a pallbearer with her sisters at her mother’s funeral, uneasy at women doing jobs which are traditionally seen as masculine. However, Sofia continues to be a strong symbol of African-American feminine independence and it is clear that the couple are able to coexist with a fair degree of harmony, bringing up their extended family and maintaining contact with their stepchildren’s parents. 

Celie’s elegant clothes and loss of timidity make her unrecognisable to Albert and demonstrate how much she has changed since escaping oppression. Even Sofia is shocked by Celie’s assertive attitude (including smoking a joint) and her newfound self-confidence. The strange humming noise, which Celie explains as the sound of the universe, reflects Alice Walker’s own belief in an unnamed Spirit that unites the inner life of mankind with the universe.

Investigating Letter 78

  • Add to your notes on Harpo and Sofia. How far has each changed by this point in the narrative?
  • Add to your notes on Celie, paying attention to the development of her self-confidence
    • What are the reasons for it?
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