The Color Purple

by: Alice Walker

Letters 61–69

Summary

It must have been a pathetic exchange. Our chief never learned English beyond an occasional odd phrase he picked up from Joseph, who pronounces “English” “Yanglush.”

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Celie’s spirits rise now that she knows Nettie is alive. Celie decides that she will leave Mr. ______ as soon as Nettie returns to Georgia, and she wonders what her children look like. She continues to read Nettie’s letters in the order in which they were sent.

In her letters, Nettie tells the following story. She, Corrine, Samuel, the children, and their guide, Joseph, travel for four days through the jungle until they reach an Olinka village, their final destination. The Olinka villagers crowd around them because they are unaccustomed to the sight of African-American missionaries. One woman contends that Olivia and Adam must be Nettie’s children and asks if both Nettie and Corrine are wives of Samuel’s. Together, the group is ushered into a hut with no walls, and the Olinka serve them dinner and palm wine.

Nettie befriends a woman named Catherine, whose daughter Tashi quickly develops a friendship with Olivia. Corrine, meanwhile, grows increasingly uncomfortable with Nettie’s nebulous role in the family and is frustrated that the natives think Nettie is Samuel’s other wife. Corrine requests that Nettie not allow the children to call her “Mama Nettie.” Eventually, Corrine also requests that Nettie no longer invite Samuel into her hut alone and that she and Corrine no longer wear each other’s clothes.

Because, as girls, Tashi and Olivia are not allowed to enter the local school, they join Nettie in her private hut to talk, tell stories, and share secrets. Tashi is the only one of the Olinka villagers who wants to hear about African-American slavery, and it angers Nettie that the Africans fail to acknowledge even partial responsibility for the slave trade. Consequently, Nettie begins to feel that Africans are just as self-centered as white Americans.

The village soon experiences a turn for the worse when road builders working for an English rubber company plow through the middle of the village with orders to shoot anyone who opposes them. They destroy village homes and crops and force the Olinka to start paying rent on their own land since the company claims the Olinka no longer own it.

Corrine continues to fear that Nettie is encroaching upon her family and threatening her identity as a wife and mother. Corrine becomes ill with a fever and, wondering if Nettie might really be Olivia and Adam’s biological mother, demands that both Nettie and Samuel swear on the Bible that they had never met before Nettie came to their home for help.


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