Letter 90

Synopsis of Letter 90

Celie’s final letter is written in a spirit of celebration, thanking God for bringing Nettie and the children back home. At the end of June, just before the national holiday of Independence Day on the fourth of July, a car deposits people Celie doesn’t recognise, with their belongings, who come towards the house. Albert identifies the elderly woman as Nettie and there is an emotional reunion between the sisters. Then Nettie introduces Celie to Samuel, Olivia, Adam, and Tashi and Celie introduces Albert and Shug.

On the fourth of July, there is a joyful family celebration. Mary Agnes is also at the party, having left Grady in Panama. She has come to Georgia to pick up Suzie Q and plans to move back to Memphis to live with her sister and her mother. She has stopped smoking reefer and plans to resume her singing career now that she is in better health.

Everyone admires Tashi and thinks she is beautiful as they ask her questions about Africa. While enjoying the reunion, Celie feels strange being with her grown up children and realises that to them her generation must seem elderly. However she feels young at heart on this happiest of days and ends this last letter to God with the word Amen.

Commentary on Letter 90

Spiritual and physical reconciliation

The final letter is a prayer of thanksgiving addressed to God and all of creation and ending with ‘Amen’, as Walker brings her theme of reconciliation and regeneration to a close. Walker give a physical example of this by having strangers described from an external perspective as ‘elderly’, tall, ‘dumpy’, ‘youngish’ and ‘robust’ revealed to be those who we have come to know intimately through their correspondence. The external and internal realities are thereby integrated, just as Celie and Nettie hug, fall and then stand ‘re-born’ into their new, shared life. Now Celie, fully reconciled with her family and friends and most significantly with herself, is free to embrace and enjoy the rest of her days.

Like Shug and, to an extent, like her sister Nettie, Celie has found an interpretation of God that encompasses the entire everyday world. No longer a distant masculine figure with whom the women have little or no connection, God is seen as a benevolent spiritual presence who inhabits every part of the world in which they live.

The significance of literacy

By using the act of writing letters as a key element in the novel, Walker emphasises the importance of literacy and makes an implicit reference to African-American slaves, who were oppressed by being forbidden to learn to read or write. Through the sisters’ correspondence, Walker asserts that the written word can be both liberating and redeeming and should not be seen as a barrier that divides those who are educated from those who are not.

Hard truths

Despite the novel’s emphasis on reconciliation, Walker also leaves several unresolved differences at the end of the narrative. The conflicts between the Olinkas and the white colonialists, and those between the indigenous Africans (or Native Americans) and the American missionaries remain unresolved. There is little likelihood that Sofia and Eleanor Jane can ever be truly reconciled and even Eleanor Jane’s stand against her family’s treatment of Sofia is unlikely to change the hard facts of racial oppression.

Celie’s development

Celie’s self-confidence has grown to the point where she is able to accept life as it is and the people around her as they are. Her love for Shug Avery is deep, but no longer an emotion that fills her with the fear that it might not endure. She is now also strong enough to understand and accept Albert’s presence in her life, treating him as a friend and companion.

This letter also illustrates the development of Celie’s intellect. Her early letters simply related events with little attempt to understand or interpret them. As she has matured, her letters have contained accurate observations about other characters as well as analysis of her own feelings. In the final letter’s comments about age and experience, Celie acts as a voice not only for herself but also for all her contemporaries.

Through her transformation, Celie wins many kinds of freedom:

  • She abandons her false perception of God as a dominating white patriarch, in favour of a belief in a universal Spirit that unites the inner lives of all human beings, white or black, with the universe
  • She comes to recognise God in the mystery of nature, particularly in the colour purple and with this understanding comes her acceptance of sexuality and sexual pleasure
  • Her business venture gives her financial independence and greater self-esteem and this in turn enables her to accept and appreciate the joy of a life that is lived in the company of loving friends and family. 

Walker does conclude the novel with a conventional ‘happy ending’ but every reader must acknowledge that for Celie, that ending is well deserved.

Investigating Letter 90

  • In what ways does Walker help to keep the story’s ending believable rather than simply ‘fairy-tale’?
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