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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
In this letter Celie informs God that Fonso has been trying to seduce Nettie since his new wife has been sick. Celie has tried diligently to persuade him to take advantage of her instead of her younger sister. She even tried to dress up in feminine clothing in order to attract him and protect Nettie. Fonso's reaction was to beat her and tell her she was dressed like a tramp. She does, however, save Nettie from being raped, even though she must offer up herself as a sexual object to be used and manipulated.
Celie also explains that Albert has visited with Fonso in order to persuade him to let Nettie get married. Fonso tells him that he cannot have Nettie because she is too young; he plans for her to finish school and become a teacher. Fonso then offers Celie to Albert in place of Nettie. He tells him that Celie is already used and that she is very ugly, but that she takes care of children, cleans, and can be used without producing offspring. When Albert does not respond, Fonso explains that Celie would make a good wife because she is not smart and will work like a man. He also explains that he needs to get rid of her, for she is too old to have around the house and is a bad influence on his other children. Celie overhears the conversation and is shocked to hear she is being offered to Albert as a commodity. She pulls out her picture of Shug Avery and stares at it.
Celie's lack of control of her life is reinforced in this letter. She listens as her father offers her as a wife to Albert, a man to whom she has never even spoken. As if Celie were livestock, Fonso lists the advantages of her attributes: she is ugly, but hardworking; she is sterile, so he can have sex without producing the burden of children; she is not too smart, but can clean, cook, and care for children. In order to make the "deal" more attractive to Albert, Fonso is willing to throw a cow into the bargain.
The exchange between the two men reveals the sordid and mercenary approach these men have towards women. Both are eager to get their hands on Nettie, the pretty, smart, and unspoiled young woman. In contrast, they see Celie, at the young age of twenty, as nothing more than a used up woman, who can be used as a laborer and sex object. This attitude is typical of the limited role that Black women play in this novel. Only Shug Avery seems to have escaped the patriarchal system. That is why Celie longingly looks at her picture when she hears Fonso bargaining her off as a wife. In Shug, Celie sees the possibility of another world where women are no longer commodified but can act and do rather than be victims of an oppressive system.
Celie tells God that it has taken Albert the entire spring to decide to marry her instead of Nettie. In order to protect her sister, she wants to take Nettie with her to Albert's farm. She knows that Albert would be so enamored with Nettie's presence that she would be able to plan their escape together without being detected.
Nettie continues to try and teach Celie what she learns in school. It is hard for Celie to concentrate on anything with the issue of having to marry Albert looming before her. In her letter, Celie tells God that she does not think she is as intelligent or as pretty as Nettie; however, Nettie reassures her sister that she is not dumb. Celie then tells how Fonso has convinced her that she is stupid. When she became pregnant for the first time, he took her out of school, fearing his incest would be discovered. She was dressed up for the first day of class, along with Nettie, but Fonso would not let her leave the house. He told her that only Nettie could go to school, for she was the smart one. Nettie defended Celie, saying how Miss Beasley, one of the teachers, had said that she was smart. Fonso responded by saying that Addie Beasley talked too much; that is why no man wanted her. The next week Miss Beasley came to Celie's house in order to persuade Fonso to let his daughter stay in class; however, when she saw that Celie was pregnant, she left.
Even though Celie noticed that her stomach was getting bigger and that she was sick a lot, she did not understand why; after all, she was only fourteen and had never been pregnant before. When Nettie would come home from school and try to teach her sister the lessons, Celie felt too bad to concentrate or understand. When Nettie explained to her that the world was round, Celie acted like she understood; but when she looked around, she only saw the world as flat.
After her flashback about school, Celie returns to more recent events. She explains that Albert came back to look at her again, for the woman who had been working for him had quit. Fonso has Celie come outside and turn around so that Albert, who is still on his horse, can inspect her. As if he were trying to sell her, Fonso reminds Albert that Celie is good with children. After thinking for awhile, Albert asks Fonso if he will still get the cow along with Celie. When Fonso answers in the affirmative, Albert decides to marry Celie.
This chapter again depicts Celie's sad plight, largely through a flashback to the time she was fourteen years old. Celie wanted to go to class and learn, but Fonso would not let her, for he feared his incest would be discovered if his daughter was in school. As a result, he simply told the girl that she was not smart enough to attend class any longer. Celie reacted with determination; it is the first time she has shown this characteristic in the book. Even though she cannot go to school with Nettie, she can have Nettie teach her everything she learns. Unfortunately, tired, pregnant, and lacking confidence, Celie cannot concentrate on Nettie's lessons.
Walker clearly shows that it is impossible for a person to learn while being as embattled as Celie is. Although she knows that education is a way of escaping her miserable existence, her situation is so pressing that she cannot apply herself to her studies. Her sister, Nettie, remembers Celie's sacrifices for her and perseveres in trying to teach Celie.
It is clearly Celie's pregnancy that stands in the way of her education. Fonso will not let her go to school because she is pregnant. When Miss Beasley comes to Celie's house to convince Fonso to let the girl return to class, she realizes that Celie is pregnant and says no more. Then when Celie tries to study at home with Nettie, she cannot concentrate because she is always sick at her stomach and often vomits due to the pregnancy. One of the tragic ironies of the situation is that everyone seems to know that Celie is pregnant before she knows it herself. Young, naïve, and largely uneducated, she has no clue that she is carrying a baby, even though her stomach is getting larger and she is constantly nauseated. When she later finds out what is happening to her body, she accepts it with a stoic resolution that seems almost beyond belief.
Back in the present, Nettie is still trying to teach Celie the lessons she learns at school. Now the girl cannot concentrate because her mind is preoccupied with terrible thoughts about having to marry Albert. When his hired help leaves him and he is desperate for someone to help with his many children, Albert decides to come back and take a second look at Celie. Fonso calls the girl outside and has her turn around in front of Albert, who is still seated on his horse. The two men negotiate in front of Celie, and finally Albert agrees to marry her if Fonso agrees to throw in the cow. Once again Celie is horrified and made to feel worthless that she is being traded off like a commodity, with no regard for her feelings.