Reverend Samuel

A good man

Alone of all the novel’s major male characters, Samuel is from the start an intelligent and sensible man who has a positive attitude towards women. He is a minister, although Walker does not tell us to which denomination of Christianity Samuel belongs. He is a compassionate man, which motivates his desire to be a missionary as well as his adoption of Olivia and Adam at the request of his acquaintance Alphonso. Generally wise and mature, Samuel is an educated man who is committed to improving the lives of all black people. When he becomes aware of his errors, such as his refusal to ‘interfere’ in Albert and Celie’s home life, he apologises and seeks forgiveness.

As Nettie spends time with Samuel, she realises that not all black men are aggressive, lustful and bent on dominating women, which had been her experience with Alphonso and Mr_. In fact Walker conspicuously removes any reference to Samuel’s male sexuality, despite the close proximity in which Nettie and he find themselves. This is important as it emphasises Samuel’s integrity and makes Corrine’s jealous anxiety clearly groundless. Walker uses these suspicions simply as a device to create dramatic tension and rather clumsily manipulates the narrative so that after her death the couple are free to marry.

Faith and disappointment

Along with Corinne, Samuel represents the well-meaning but ineffectual efforts of Westerners to impose their values on other people. Their expectations are shown to be naive and often unrealistic. Samuel is far more accepting of tribal customs than previous missionaries such as those who made African women wear ‘Mother Hubbards’, but ends up in despair at the way in which the Olinka tie Christianity in with the wider Western culture of economic prosperity and colonial oppression.

In Letter 80 Samuel finally breaks down, unable to hold together the tension of the good things his faith has motivated him to do and the reality of failure in so many areas. It is this soul-sharing that breaks Nettie’s boundary of friendship and admiration so that love can flourish between them. Some critics have commented that both Samuel and Corinne are unconvincing characters and they certainly lack the dynamism of characters who figure in the primary narrative storyline, but Samuel provides a useful contrast in attitude to the novel’s other black males.

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