Letter 83

Synopsis of Letter 83

Celie writes of her distress on learning that, while she’s been sorting out her new house, Shug has fallen in love with a young male musician called Germaine. She struggles to accept that Shug is stimulated by a man and is so upset she withdraws from Shug and can only write short responses to her on pieces of torn up pattern-paper.

Shug has been relieved that Grady left her to go to Panama with Mary Agnes, where they make money from growing reefer and her singing. Initially oblivious to the effect on Celie, Shug finally realises how tactless she has been and becomes upset in her turn, begging Celie to allow her to have six months with Germaine as a last fling, before Shug becomes too old and fat to attract a man.

Eventually, Celie agrees but tells her that, even though she still loves Shug, she cannot stay in Memphis any longer. Although Shug begs Celie not to leave, when the doorbell rings, Shug departs with her caller (presumably Germaine).

Commentary on Letter 83

The joyful tone of the previous letter contrasts sharply with this revelation of Shug’s affair with a man one third her age (nineteen to her fifty-seven). Despite gaining in self-confidence and independence, Celie is still emotionally vulnerable, demonstrated by the way in which she closes down on Shug (as she had previously when being abused or beaten).

It is characteristic of Shug that she has chosen such a young lover. Shug seems to have a preference for men she can dominate - Albert, Grady and now Germaine. Shug has a strong sense of independence and has lived a life characterised by her need for intense experiences. The fact that she tells Celie that this fling will probably be her last, suggests that she knows that she is beginning to grow old and that she may no longer be able to sustain the hectic sexual activity she has enjoyed in the past. On the other hand, she may see the affair with Germaine as a way of ending her heterosexual relationships in order to settle down with Celie.

The insensitivity she displays to Celie’s feelings helps us understand how she has also been insensitive to the men in her life. Capable of compassion, Shug can also be cruel in her selfishness.

Walker uses the circumstance of Celie’s abandonment of her to initiate a new phase in her development. Up to this point, Celie has been dependent on Pa, then Albert, then Shug. Left alone for the first time, she must rely on her own strength of character and learn to stand up for herself, symbolised by her decision to move back to Georgia.

Investigating Letter 83

  • Trace back through Shug’s relationships with men and explain what you think motivates them
  • What might be Walker’s reasons in distancing the reader from Shug at this point?
  • On a fresh sheet of paper, list all the ways in which Celie has been liberated through her relationship with Shug Avery.
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