Nettie writes Celie to tell her that she married Samuel in England. The Olinka were forced from their homes when the rubber plantation headquarters arrived there. They noticed that it seemed like sheets of corrugated tin were to be used for the roof. They left for England to try to get relief for the Olinka from the churches and the Missionary Society. On the voyage to England, they met the white missionary woman about whom they had heard years before. She was traveling with an African boy whom she called her grandson. Wanting to get away from all the milk-fed upper-class men her parents hoped she would marry, the white lady had decided to become a missionary when she was young so that she could travel the world, and to this end she pretended to be holy. In Africa she built a hospital, a grammar school, a college, and a swimming pool. Thinking she was a man, the chief presented her with two wives. She sent them to England so that they would be educated, and she looked after their children as her own grandchildren.
They returned to Africa, disappointed that their appeal failed. The children try to find Tashi but cannot. Tashi is hiding, ashamed of her scars and the initiation ceremony she endured. When Adam finds her with her scars, he turns around and leaves.
Celie writes to Nettie that Pa is dead. The house now rightly belongs to her and Nettie. Celie has gone to look at the property and the dry goods store that goes with it.
Celie is heartbroken because Shug is in love with somebody else. This young man, Germaine, is nineteen and plays in her band. Shug says the fling will only last six months, and after that she will try to rebuild their life together. Shug leaves with Germaine.
Celie now asserts that the only thing keeping her alive is watching Henrietta fight for her life. She sometimes meets Mr. ______ while he is visiting Henrietta. He is different now. He has taken to collecting shells. He takes Celie back to the house one day to see one in particular. They talk about the shell and about the things she loves: birds, her life now, and her new business.
Mr. ______ puts a letter directly in Celie’s hand. It is a letter from the United States Department of Defense. It says that the ship Nettie and her “family” were traveling in was sunk by German mines. That day, all the letters Celie wrote to her come back unopened.
Another letter comes from Nettie. She recalls that it is nearly thirty years since she last heard from Celie. Nettie explains that God is different to her now. She feels the presence of God internally and does not fix an image of God in her mind anymore. Tashi and her mother have joined the rebels, and Adam and Olivia are heartbroken because they love Tashi. Nettie now must stop writing because she has learned that Adam is missing—he must have gone after Tashi.
Celie wonders if Shug ever loved her as she looks in the mirror at herself, feeling ugly. Mr. ______ seems to be the only one who understands how she feels. Harpo and Sofia try to set Celie up with a man, but Mr. ______ rescues her, telling the prospective suitor that she is his wife—he knows that Celie is not interested in men. Celie gets a letter from Shug saying that she ended up in Arizona with Germaine. There is no mention of when she might return, which makes Celie sad. Mr. ______ and Celie share a common heartache over Shug. They hug. They also become friends. Celie tells him about the things Nettie wrote to her.
Sofia is still tied up with Eleanor Jane, who visits every time something happens. She takes her husband to see her and then her newborn baby Reynolds. She asks Sofia about him, but Sofia says that she has her own problems “and when Reynolds grows up, he’s going to be one of them.”
Nettie’s letter to Celie explains that after two and a half months, Adam and Tashi returned. Adam and Tashi have made up. Adam accepts her scars and has gotten some himself to show his support. Samuel marries them. The letter says that they will be home in a few weeks.
Shug goes to the State Department to find out about Nettie and her family. They find nothing. Celie hires Sofia to be a clerk in her shop. Harpo is happy to stay and look after Henrietta while Eleanor Jane cooks special yam food to help her in her illness.
Mr. ______ and Celie talk about big issues now: why humans need love, why they suffer, why they are black. Celie is happy and gets used to life without Shug. One day Shug returns.
Celie’s last diary entry is written to God. She thanks him for bringing Nettie home to her. She imagines that Nettie really has come home and that everyone is hugging each other. Or is it real? There is so much detail that we are persuaded that Nettie really did come home.
Celie’s generation now is all old, and while the younger folks think the old folks do not know what is going on, they really do, and they feel as young as ever.
It is of great significance that the road builders unload sheets of corrugated tin. This change from the roofleaf is foreign and seems unnatural, even though rubber and tin are natural resources. The Olinka people and their roofs are being traded for new materials and new people with different values. When Nettie first went to Africa, the full force of it hit her: her ancestors were from this continent and were then dispersed throughout the New World. Now another generation of Africans is being dispersed as change invades the world these people know.
It is also important that the missionary Nettie meets on her trip to England is not religious. In fact, she is blasphemous. She became a missionary in order to escape her original life and to see the world. But the novel presents her in a very positive light, practically speaking, for she has helped the African people and has accepted them as her people. God is not just a white man with a white beard for white people, as Celie, Shug, and Nettie have all decided. If God is within, perhaps this woman has something divine within her after all.
Change comes along very quickly in Celie’s life once Shug leaves her for a young man. Celie is quickly drawn to Henrietta, who is fighting for her life. Even though she is not very well, Henrietta has some fight in her as well, despite the odds against her. The women in the novel have been developing a much more positive outlook, particularly with regard to the next female generation. Sofia, though, is not so sure, thinking about baby Reynolds.
When Celie receives all the letters she sent to Nettie, is it true that all hope must go? The news that Nettie communicated to Celie, most of it at least, has arrived. We have the letters, and they are recorded. Besides, having the letters back means that Celie can copy them into the diary or into this novel, which gives them the same near-permanence of Nettie’s letters to Celie. From our perspective, the communication succeeds because we have the letters. From Celie’s, though, it seems tragic that Nettie has not received Celie’s letters, which also means that Nettie never knew whether any or all of her communications to Celie have gone for nothing.
Although Adam was furious that Tashi went through the scarring ceremony, he comes to understand why she did it. He understands that it is not the marks that tell the story but the motivation behind the scarring. He thus learns to accept Tashi’s marks and learns to love them as he loves her. Note that the themes of gendered violence and blood are especially rich here.
Keep tracking color in these last parts of the novel. Pink, purple, red, black, white, and blue continue to appear from time to time. Likewise, themes regarding clothing continue to appear. For instance, “missionaries have they own ideas bout dress. But left to themselves, Africans wear a little sometimes, or a lot, according to Nettie. But men and women both preshate [appreciate] a nice dress.” This passage demonstrates the continuing symbolic and social meanings of dress in various cultural traditions. Finally, we see that Adam is an intentional name when we see the amount of attention put on the Bible and the Adam and Eve story in particular, and the Olinka are interested to debate the missionaries over who really counts as naked—“their word for naked is white.” This line unifies the themes of color and clothing in an interesting way that also involves race and the clash of cultures.
When Celie looks at herself in the mirror once again (remember that she has done so earlier) and wonders what Shug could have loved about her, it is a powerful, ironic moment because we understand what Shug loves about Celie. Celie does not yet feel as beautiful and empowered as we know she is. What Celie looks like on the surface is mostly irrelevant to our perception of her personal qualities although color is central to the hierarchy in Celie’s society.
A serious complication arrives very late in the novel, when Celie gets the letter from the United States Department of Defense. She apparently receives false information. The official letter she receives tells her that Nettie is dead, but these official words mean nothing when Celie feels Nettie in her arms after thirty years apart. If Nettie’s return is real, then even the Department of Defense can be wrong. Letters might not tell the truth even when the writer intends to tell the truth. Now the reader ought to go back to the beginning, knowing the whole story, to try to figure out what is true and what is not. Is Celie a reliable narrator in her letters? Is Nettie? And what about the final letter of thanks to God? Did Nettie really return, or is it only the most hopeful, ideal, wishful outcome that Celie can imagine? Which letter is more likely to have the true story, the one from the Department of Defense or the one from Celie to God about Nettie’s return? In any case, Celie truly does feel Nettie with her, one way or another.
This novel marks the dawning of a new voice of hope in these women, reflecting Walker’s own hope for a new generation of black women who will find a greater measure of love, acceptance, and empowerment than the generation before. Celie’s misspelled, poorly constructed language, what Walker labeled “folk speech,” is Celie’s own, genuine voice. She speaks on her own behalf and is thus less disempowered than she thinks. Walker’s choice to write colloquially expresses her recognition of a latent power even within this generation to tell its own story. In appreciating Celie’s voice and Celie’s story as much as we appreciate Nettie’s more educated language, we might reshape our views about successful writing and successful expression. Celie gives us a personality that jumps off the page and remains with us. She has been happy and successful and is on a path to even greater happiness and success after all this time. In her old age she understands quite well not only where she and her ancestors have been, but also where she and her descendants intend to be going.