Letter 85

Synopsis of Letter 85

Celie has received a telegram from the United States Department of Defence saying that Nettie, Samuel and the children are missing, presumed drowned, as a result of their ship having been sunk by a German mine off the coast of Gibraltar. At the same time, all the letters that Celie has written to her sister over many years are returned to her unopened. Celie is alone in her house trying to sew but now she feels that she no longer has any reason to continue living.

Commentary on Letter 85

It is possible to date the narrative at this point to somewhere between 1939 and 1941. The letter from Celie to Nettie is very short – a sign of her desperation, as earlier in correspondence. The fact that Albert directly hands the telegram to her reflects his compassion and a reversal of his previous, controlling behaviour.

This reversal might appear to mark the end of Celie’s happiness. Some critics of the novel suggest that Walker goes too far in contriving a rather implausible and unlikely plot twist at this stage in the novel, but others suggest that the shipwreck is a device that Walker uses to show Celie’s newfound stability and strength of character. Despite the dreadful news she has received, Celie sits alone in the house and still attempts to carry on her sewing. The undelivered letters to Nettie could be seen as a symbolic representation of the many letters that Celie wrote to God earlier in the novel which, she feels, never reached their destination.

As a device to heighten suspense in preparation for the happy conclusion in Letter 90, it could also be said that Walker is following a fairly standard literary convention here.

Investigating Letter 85

  • What is the effect on the narrative structure of Walker suddenly withholding happiness from Celie?
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