Letter 84

Synopsis of Letter 84

Celie finds some comfort when she returns to Georgia in helping to look after Sofia's youngest daughter, Henrietta, who has a blood disease (probably sickle-cell anaemia) that causes her to have painful swollen joints and attacks of fever. The family try to help her by feeding her yams which she dislikes, though Albert is most successful at disguising them.

Celie slowly begins to re-establish a relationship with her former husband, who keeps their marital house clean and well-decorated. He has begun to collect shells and one evening, they begin to speak about Shug, which draws Celie and Albert closer together. Albert tells Celie that when they were first married, he used to think Celie looked like a frightened bird, but that he was too much of a fool to treat her gently. He reminds her that they are still legally man and wife and even makes a tentative suggestion that they could reunite. He compliments Celie on her successful business and she confesses that she began to make trousers to stop herself from killing him when she found out what he had done with Nettie’s letters. Finally, Celie admits to Albert that she finds all men physically repulsive, especially when they are naked. Yet she laments that she can never again be pregnant.

Commentary on Letter 84

Typically Celie buries her unhappiness at Shug’s betrayal by helping Sofia and Harpo take care of Henrietta. It is this generosity in Celie’s character and her concern for others that sustains her through a difficult time. Sickle-cell anaemia is particularly prevalent with the Negro population and the illness may be the cause of Henrietta’s ‘difficult’ personality (though she is her step-father Harpo's favourite child).

Albert’s genuine concern for his son Harpo and his family demonstrates a gentler side to his character to which Celie can respond. As with Harpo, social conditioning made him repress more tender feelings which he now admits to. He admires the fact that the ‘frightened bird’ he married has now taken flight running her own business and is ashamed at how poor a husband he was. He seeks to understand why Celie is not attracted to him and seems to accept the truth of her feelings about men in general.

Note the way that Walker uses the fairy-tale motif of the Princess and the frog, with a clever reversal when Celie uses the same image to explain her version to the sight of men’s genitals. She tells Albert that no matter how much a woman might kiss a man, as far as she’s concerned he will remain a frog and never become a prince. Albert’s understanding of Celie’s aversion to men is significant - in a later letter we hear he has carved a small stone frog, giving it to Celie as a memento of this.

Investigating Letter 84

  • Add to your character notes on Albert
  • How far does Walker succeed in making him a more sympathetic character at this point in the narrative?
  • Celie’s sadness reflects her sense of loss – list all the reasons for her tears.
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