Letter 89

Synopsis of Letter 89

Although Shug and Germaine cannot find out what has happened to Nettie, Celie retains her belief that her sister will return home and updates her with family news.

Sofia has been hired to work in Celie’s store as a sales assistant to black customers, alongside the white man previously employed by Fonso, who is intimidated by her. Harpo happily takes care of the house. Sofia now earns enough to hire Eleanor Jane to look after Henrietta when needed, much to the fury of the Mayor’s family. However, Eleanor now knows Sofia’s circumstances, so retorts that it was a scandal that Sofia had to work for a ‘white trash’ family.

Celie and Albert are now good friends, even though Celie has refused Albert’s offer of re-marriage. He has continued to develop his sewing skills and is designing a shirt to go with Celie's trousers. He confesses how miserable he had been to not have Shug as his life-partner and questioned why people suffered, why they were black and even existed. He now believes that loving others is the solution and is in turn loved by Sofia, Harpo and the children.

When Shug writes to say she is coming to Georgia, Celie is calm, realising that she will be happy if Shug returns and content if she does not. This, she realises, is the lesson she has needed to learn all along.

Shug finally arrives, without Germaine whom she has sent to college. She admires Celie’s home and décor, and seems worried that Celie and Albert’s closeness could exclude her. However, she is reassured by Celie that she is equally loved by them both and finally relaxes.

Commentary on Letter 89

Several plot strands are finally resolved in this letter. The conflict between Sofia and Eleanor Jane is healed when Eleanor Jane learns the truth about how Sofia came to work in her family home as a prisoner. Eleanor Jane’s opinion that her family is no better than ‘white trash’ is a stinging indictment of any well-to-do Southern white family - working for a black woman marks a significant change in Eleanor Jane’s racial awareness. There is also a possibility that in time Sofia and Eleanor Jane might become true friends as a result of the courageous stand that Eleanor takes against her family’s racist behaviour. Sofia sees that her former ward is aware that she will be accountable for her behaviour to God on the day of judgement and is ‘working out her salvation’ (Philippians 2:12) by trying to redress the injustice done to Sofia.

Celie is now a successful business-woman with a prosperous lifestyle. Although much more self-confident, she is still kind and gentle and able finally to forgive Albert and recognise that their closeness is the result of a shared love for Shug Avery. She no longer has false expectations about life, nor is she overly dependent on another for her well-being. When she hears that Shug is coming back to live in Georgia, she knows that she can be content whatever Shug decides to do in the future. She echoes well known words from one of Paul’s epistles in the New Testament (Philippians 4:11-13) when he expresses contentment regardless of the circumstances.

Albert, too, has changed for the better, having learned to take pleasure from the small things in life; exactly the lesson that Shug taught Celie years earlier when she said God wanted people to recognize the beauty of creation. Note that here and in the final letter, Celie finally begins to call Albert by his given name, rather than referring to him by the impersonal title of ‘Mr_’ as she has done throughout the novel. Using Albert’s first name signifies that Celie has finally accepted her former husband as a friend.

Investigating Letter 89

  • Sofia’s reminder about judgement is a reminder that every character in the novel has to face the consequences of their actions and attitudes
    • Make a table of four columns headed
      • Character
      • Actions/attitudes
      • Consequences
      • Justice?
  • List the main characters and fill out the next two columns for each, then decide which in your opinion are dealt with ‘fairly’ in the novel
    • What do you sense is Walker’s overall message as a consequence?
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