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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
That night Celie and Shug sleep together like sisters rather than lovers; they only hug to express their emotions. Celie is too angry to be sexually motivated. Shug tells her that lack of desire is a natural result of anger.
Shug suggests that they make Celie some pants. Celie thinks pants are only for men, and she says that Albert will never let her wear them. Shug points out that Celie does all the work around the place and should, therefore, wear pants while laboring in the field. They decide to get some army uniform material from Odessa's husband. Then they will sew every day while they read Nettie's letters.
Sewing, like quilting, is again pictured as an activity that unites women. Shug has wisely suggested that they sew Celie some pants. It will be a positive way to channel their anger and vindictiveness into a productive activity. The fact that Shug has suggested pants for Celie is very significant. Since Celie is already performing "man's work" by laboring in the fields, she should also wear man's clothing. At first Celie is unsure of the idea. She thinks that Albert will never permit her to dress in pants; then, however, she sees the logic of Shug's argument.
The wearing of pants has been a significant symbol in America. The term, "I wear the pants," was used by men to assert their dominance over family decisions and sexual matters. Since Celie is now making decisions about her life and sexual preference, it is doubly meaningful that she begins to literally wear some pants. Celie's break with the traditional feminine dress code is her symbolic throwing off of roles which no longer fit and which literally stifle her growth and development.
Celie begins to "strut a little" now that she knows Nettie is alive. She dreams about her sister coming home and bringing Olivia and Adam. She worries about the children being conceived from incest, but she loves them anyway.
The next letter from Nettie describes her arriving at the African village where she will live. The village is in the middle of the jungle and isolated from other villages. The only contact with the outside world will be from white missionaries. Nettie also describes the people of the village. One significant physical attribute she notices is the difference between the teeth of the English, which were decayed and crooked, and those of the villagers, which are healthy and strong "like horses." Also the skin color of people of the village is brown, rather than black.
When Nettie and the missionaries arrived, the villagers crowded around them in curiosity. It was obvious they were awed to see missionaries who were not of European descent. They held a welcoming ceremony for them, singing songs and dancing. It centered around the roofleaf, a deity which the Olinka worship, and told the legend about the origin of their village. At the end of the ceremony, the missionaries were given a roofleaf to use as the roof of their dwelling place.
The form of the novel shifts again; now Celie's letters to God are intertwined with Nettie's letters from Africa. The two letters, which form each chapter, are in concert with each other. Before she reads Nettie's next letter, Celie tells God that she is worried about her children being products of incest; but she dreams of the day that Nettie will bring them home to her. It never crosses her mind to wonder how she will be able to take Olivia and Adam away from their adoptive parents, Samuel and Corrine.
Nettie's letter is filled with information about Africa. The village where she lives is patriarchal. The women are used for labor, yet they are later referred to as being lazy. During the welcoming ceremony that she describes, Nettie notes that the men sit in the front, while the women and children sit in the back. It is clear that Walker is drawing parallels between African customs and African- American customs.
Nettie also writes about the Olinka religion. They honor the roofleaf as the symbol of an omnipresent deity; they believe the leaf protects the Olinka people from terrible weather that often ravages their village. They are not, however, primitive people and have been exposed to Christian teachings. They declare that "we know a roofleaf is not Jesus Christ, but in its own humble way, is it not God?"