The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 10

The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 10
The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 10

It has been a long time since I had time to write. But always, no matter what I’m doing, I am writing to you. Dear Celie, I say in my head in the middle of Vespers, the middle of the night, while cooking, Dear, dear Celie. And I imagine that you do get my letters and that you are writing me back: Dear Nettie, this is what life is like for me.

We are up at five o’clock for a light breakfast of millet porridge and fruit, and the morning classes. We teach the children English, reading, writing, history, geography, arithmetic, and the stories of the bible. At eleven o’clock we break for lunch and household duties. From one until four, it is too hot to move, though some of the mothers sit behind their huts and sew. At four o’clock we teach the older children and at night we are available for adults. Some of the older children are used to coming to the mission school, but the smaller ones are not. Their mothers sometimes drag them here, screaming and kicking. They are all boys. Olivia is the only girl.

The Olinka do not believe girls should be educated. When I asked a mother why she thought this, she said: A girl is nothing to herself, only to her husband can she become something.

What can she become? I asked.

Why, she said, the mother of his children.

But I am not the mother of anybody’s children, I said, and I am something. You are not much, she said. The missionary’s drudge.

It is true that I work harder here than I ever dreamed I could work, and that I sweep out the school and tidy up after service, but I don’t feel like a drudge. I was surprised that this woman, whose Christian name is Catherine, saw me in this light.



She has a little girl, Tashi, who plays with Olivia after school. Adam is the only boy who will speak to Olivia at school. They are not mean to her, it is just—what is it? Because she is where they are doing “boys’ things” they do not see her. But never fear, Celie, Olivia has your stubbornness and clearsightedness, and she is smarter than all of them, including Adam, put together.

Why can’t Tashi come to school? she asked me. When I told her the Olinka don’t believe in educating girls she said, quick as a flash, They’re like white people at home who don’t want colored people to learn.

Oh, she’s sharp, Celie. At the end of the day, when Tashi can get away from all the chores her mother assigns her, she and Olivia secret themselves in my hut, and everything Olivia has learned she shares with Tashi. To Olivia right now Tashi is alone in Africa. Africa, she came beaming across the ocean hoping to find. Everything else is difficult for her.

The insects, for instance. For some reason, all of her bites turn into deep, runny sores, and she has a lot of trouble sleeping at night because the noises from the forest frighten her. It is taking a long time for her to become used to the food, which is nourishing but, for the most part, indifferently prepared. The village women take turns cooking for us, and some are cleaner and more conscientious than others. Olivia gets sick from the food prepared by any of the chief’s wives. Samuel thinks it may be the water they use, which comes from a separate spring that runs clear even in the dry season. But the rest of us have no ill effects. It is as if Olivia fears the food from these wives because they all look so unhappy and work so hard. Whenever they see her they talk about the day when she will become their littlest sister/wife. It is just a joke, and they like her, but I wish they wouldn’t say it. Even though they are unhappy and work like donkeys they still think it is an honor to be the chief’s wife. He walks around all day holding his belly up and talking and drinking palm wine with the healer.

The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 1


Why do they say I will be the wife of the chief? asks, Olivia. That is as high as they can think, I tell her.

He is fat and shiny with huge perfect teeth. She thinks she has nightmares about him.

You will grow up to be a strong Christian woman, I tell her. Someone who helps her people to advance. You will be a teacher or a nurse. You will travel. You will know many people more significant than the chief.

Will Tashi? she wants to know. Yes, I tell her, Tashi too.

Corrine said to me this morning, Nettie, to stop any kind of confusion in the minds of these people, I think we should call one another brother and sister, all the time. Some of them can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls that you are not Samuel’s other wife. I don’t like it, she said.

Almost since the day we arrived, I’ve noticed a change in Corrine. She isn’t sick. She works as hard as ever. She is still sweet and good-natured. But sometimes I sense her spirit is being tested and that something in her is not at rest.

That’s fine, I said. I’m glad you brought it up.

And don’t let the children call you Mama Nettie, she said, even in play.

This bothered me a little, but I didn’t say anything. The children do call me Mama Nettie sometimes because I do a good bit of fussing over them. But I never try to take Corrine’s place.


And another thing, she said. I think we ought to try not to borrow each other’s clothes.

Well, she never borrowed anything of mine because I don’t have much. But I’m all the time borrowing something of hers. Are you feeling yourself? I asked her.

She said yes.

I wish you could see my hut, Celie. I love it. Unlike our school, which is square, and unlike our church, which doesn’t have walls—at least during the dry season—my hut is round, walled, with a round roof leaf roof. It is twenty steps across the middle and fits me to a T. Over the mud walls I have hung Olinka platters and mats and pieces of tribal cloth. The Olinka is known for their beautiful cotton fabric which they hand-weave and dye with berries, clay, indigo, and tree bark. Then there is my paraffin camp stove in the center, and my camp bed to one side, covered with mosquito netting so that it almost looks like the bed of a bride. Then I have a small writing table where I write to you, a lamp, and a stool. Some wonderful rush mats on the floor. It is all colorful and warm and homey. My only desire for it now is a window! None of the village huts have windows, and when I spoke of a window to the women they laughed heartily. The rainy season makes the thought of a window ridiculous. But I am determined to have one, even if a flood collects daily on my floor.

I would give anything for a picture of you, Celie. In my trunk, I have pictures donated to us by the missionary societies in England and America. Pictures of Christ, the Apostles, Mary, and the Crucifixion. Speke, Livingstone, Stanley, Schweitzer. Maybe one day I’ll put them up, but once, when I held them up to my fabric and mat-covered walls they made me feel very small and unhappy, so I took them down. Even the picture of Christ which generally looks good anywhere looks peculiar here. We of course have all of these pictures hung in the school and many of Christ behind the altar at the church. That is enough, I think, though Samuel and Corrine have pictures and relics (crosses) in their hut as well.

Your sister, Nettie

The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 2

Tashi’s mother and father were just there. They are upset because she spends so much time with Olivia. She is changing, becoming quiet and too thoughtful, they say. She is becoming someone else; her face is beginning to show the spirit of one of her aunts who was sold to the trader because she no longer fit into village life. This aunt refused to marry the man chosen for her. Refused to bow to the chief. Did nothing but lay up, crack cola nuts between her teeth, and giggle.

They want to know what Olivia and Tashi do in my hut when all the other little girls are busy helping their mothers. Is Tashi lazy at home? I asked.

The father looked at the mother. She said, No, on the contrary, Tashi works harder than most girls her age. And is quicker to finish her work. But it is only because she wishes to spend her afternoons with Olivia. She learns everything I teach her as if she already knows it, said the mother, but this knowledge does not enter her soul.

The mother seemed puzzled and afraid. The father is angry.

I thought: Aha. Tashi knows she is learning a way of life she will never live. But I did not say this. The world is changing, I said. It is no longer a world just for boys and men.

Our women are respected here, said the father. We would never let them tramp the world as American women do. There is always someone to look after the Olinka woman. A father. An uncle. A brother or nephew. Do not be offended, Sister Nettie, but our people pity women such as you who are cast out, we know not from where, into a world unknown to you, where you must struggle all alone, for yourself.

So I am an object of pity and contempt, I thought, to men and women alike.

Furthermore, said Tashi’s father, we are not simpletons. We understand that there are places in the world where women live differently from the way our women do, but we do not approve of this different way for our children.



But life is changing, even in Olinka, I said. We are here.

He spat on the ground. How are you? Three grownups and two children. In the rainy season, some of you will probably die. You, people, do not last long in our climate. If you do not die, you will be weakened by illness. Oh, yes. We have seen it all before. You Christians come here, try hard to change us, get sick, and go back to England, or wherever you come from. Only the trader on the coast remains, and even he is not the same white man, year in and year out. We know because we send him women.

Tashi is very intelligent, I said. She could be a teacher. A nurse. She could help the people in the village. There is no place here for a woman to do those things, he said.

Then we should leave, I said. Sister Corrine and I. No, no, he said.

Teach only the boys? I asked.

Yes, he said, as if my question was in agreement.

There is a way that the men speak to women that reminds me too much of Pa. They listen just long enough to issue instructions. They don’t even look at women when women are speaking. They look at the ground and bend their heads toward the ground. The women also do not “look in a man’s face” as they say. To “look in a man’s face” is a brazen thing to do. They look instead at his feet or his knees. And what can I say to this? Again, it is our behavior around Pa.

Next time Tashi appears at your gate, you will send her straight home, her father said. Then he smiled. Your Olivia can visit her, and learn what women are for.

I smiled also. I thought Olivia must learn to take her education about life where she can find it. His offer will make a splendid opportunity.

Goodbye until the next time, Dear Celie, from a pitiful, cast-out woman who may perish during the rainy season.

Your loving sister, Nettie

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The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 3

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