Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Celie finally receives a letter from Nettie, given to her by Shug. The letter explains how Albert has not allowed her correspondence to go through, but she has continued to write, hoping someday that Celie will get a letter and learn that she is alive and well. Nettie also tells Celie that Olivia and Adam, her two children adopted by the minister, are both doing well. Shug tells Celie that she walked out to the mailbox with Albert and saw him stuff an envelope with funny stamps into his inside coat pocket. She later took the letter, the one written by Nettie, from his coat pocket.
Shug asks Celie all about Nettie. There are so many questions to answer that Celie's voice starts to hurt. Finally she asks Shug why she wants to know so much about her sister. Shug tells her it is because "she the only one you ever love . . . sides me."
For the first time in the novel, the speaker changes. The letter in this chapter is written by Nettie to Celie. Celie prefaces the letter with a one-line note to God, telling Him she has amazingly been holding a letter from Nettie in her hand. After the letter, Celie gives a brief narrative to relate her conversation about her sister with Shug.
It is very significant that Celie has finally received one of Nettie's letters. She has assumed that her sister had forgotten her or was dead. Now she learns that her cruel husband has been keeping the letters from her. It is Shug that makes the discovery and recovers the letter to give to Celie. It is also Shug who understands that Celie has only really loved two people in her life - Nettie and herself.
The shift in the storytelling is also quite significant. With the discovery of her sister's steadfast love for her, Celie begins to speak openly, not hiding her thoughts in letters to a distant God.
Shug and Albert are good friends again, spending a lot of time together. Now it is Grady and Celie who are upset; to forget their sadness, Grady smokes marijuana and Celie prays.
Before long, Shug drops another letter from Nettie in Celie's lap. She confirms that Albert has been hiding all the letters through the years. Celie cannot believe he could be so cruel, knowing how much Nettie means to her. Celie feels murderous for the rest of the day. That evening, Shug tells Albert that Celie has a fever which might be catching. She suggests he sleep somewhere else. Shug then sleeps with Celie and talks to her; Celie lies on the bed, trying to think of nothing.
Shug tells Celie about her past. Her mother did not like anything that involved touching. When she tried to give her a kiss, her mother would push her away. In contrast, her father wanted to touch her too much. She explains how she met Albert, fell in love, and had his children. Then his family would not let him marry her because she had children, even though they were his. They pushed him to marry Annie Julia, a beautiful woman Shug knew from school. While Shug and Albert were having an affair, Annie had to take care of the children physically and financially. Annie finally got fed up and found herself a boyfriend; unfortunately, he got mad at her and killed her.
Shug then explains how jealous she was of Celie when she first realized Albert was married to her. As a result, she treated Celie badly. Shug admits she never wanted Albert for a husband, but she wanted him to want her above all other women. She also says that "what was good tween us must have been nothin but bodies." Shug says she is shocked at the changes in Albert; she cannot believe he has beaten Celie and hidden Nettie's letters.
In this chapter, Shug Avery reveals her past history, which echoes the life of Celie. Shug's mother rejected any physical contact with her daughter, and her father abused her. Instead of turning her into a submissive woman like Celie, Shug's past turned her into an independent woman. It also caused her to seek assurance that she was loved and to sexualize her relationships.
Shug also reveals that she is full of remorse for previously treating women poorly. She was cruel to Annie Julia, Albert's first wife, and she was also cruel to Celie. She admits it was out of jealousy. Although she did not want to be Albert's wife, she wanted to be the most important woman in his life. His being married threatened that position for her, and she took it out on the two women, rather than on Albert. Now she realizes that her relationship with Albert has never been anything other than sexual and she is ready to break away from him.
It is important to note that Shug's release from her ties to Albert coincides with Celie's reuniting, at least in spirit, with her sister. Shug has ingratiated herself to Albert in order to steal the letters from him. She is now working fully with Celie to break Albert's control over her. Celie's growing sense of identity and independence can be seen in her uncontrollable anger towards Albert after discovering his deceitful actions concerning her sister's letters. She is almost Sofia-like in her rage, but Shug manages to calm her down by explaining what she will lose if her temper gets the best of her.
Albert's attempt to obstruct communication between Celie and Nettie speaks to the larger theme of how patriarchy attempts to disarm any solidarity between women; if women find power in numbers, the men know their power will be diminished. As a result, they try to set women against each other. This is seen in the relationships between Shug and Annie Julie, between Sofia and Mary Agnes, and even between Shug and Celie.