Though younger than her sister, Nettie often acts as Celie’s protector. Nettie is highly intellectual and from an early age recognizes the value of education. However, even though Nettie is smart and ambitious, Mr. ______ effectively silences her by secretly hiding her letters from Celie. In her letters to Celie, Nettie writes that she is lonely, showing that like Celie, Nettie needs a sympathetic audience to listen to her thoughts and concerns.
Critics have faulted Nettie’s letters for being digressive and boring in comparison to Celie’s. Although Nettie’s letters are indeed quite encyclopedic and contain less raw experience and emotion, they play an important role in the novel. As a black intellectual traveling the world in pursuit of “the uplift of black people everywhere,” Nettie has a vastly different experience from Celie. Yet her letters, which recount the problems Nettie encounters in Africa, broaden the novel’s scope and show that oppression—of women by men, of blacks by whites, and even of blacks by blacks—is universal. The imperial, racial, and cultural conflict and oppression Nettie encounters in Africa parallel the smaller-scale abuses and hardships that Celie experiences in Georgia.