The Color Purple

The Color Purple

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The Color Purple Letter 44 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sofia continues in her conversation with Celie by wondering how white people manage to do anything—Sofia believes white people are ignorant and unlucky. Sofia tells Celie another story of the mayor and Miss Millie. Recently, the Mayor bought his wife a car but didn't teach her to drive it, and because Miss Millie had no friends, she asked Sofia to teach her.
Miss Millie is, in many ways, a character deserving of pity. She does not have any friends, and appears only to be close to Sofia, with whom she has an employer-employee relationship. Although Sofia is more capable, and probably more intelligent, than Millie, Millie benefits from her superior social position.
Themes
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
Sofia demonstrated for Miss Millie how to drive, then Millie practiced on her own until she felt she had got it down. One day, Millie asked Sofia if she'd like to go home and see her family. Despite living in the same town, Sofia had not been home to see her family in five years, since the fight with the mayor. Sofia is not permitted to leave the mayor's property—she is forced to look after the children, and care for the house, 24 hours a day. This is why, if Celie wants to see Sofia, she must visit Sofia on the mayor's property.
It is hard to imagine, since Sofia's work is probably only a few miles from her home and children, but Millie and mayor claim that Sofia's services are so important, Sofia is not permitted to leave their sight, even for a moment. Of course, Sofia is still technically serving out a jail sentence, and so Millie and the Mayor are, in effect, her wardens.
Themes
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
Sofia agreed eagerly to riding with Miss Millie to see her family. But Miss Millie first told Sofia that she must ride in the back of the car—that, in the South, a black woman cannot ride on the front seat with a white woman, even though Sofia had been teaching Millie to drive from the front seat.
Another indication of social and racial rules in the South. Sofia is good enough to teach Millie how to drive, but her blackness means she is not good enough to simply ride with Millie, when Sofia is not serving as Millie's teacher.
Themes
God and Spirituality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
Millie drove Sofia to Celie's and Mr. ____'s home. Sofia's children had not seen her in so long, they barely recognized her. But Sofia ended up having only a short time with her children, before she learned that Millie was still in front of the house, in the car—Millie did not know how to put the car in reverse. Sofia went out front to attempt to show her how to drive backward, but Millie stubbornly refused help, grinding the gears and eventually breaking the car.
Another instance of Millie's lack of skill and intelligence—also, of her stubbornness. Sofia attempts to help Millie, but Millie insists on driving the car her own way. This has terrible consequences for Sofia, who must then help out Millie, at the expense of seeing her own family.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon
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Sofia said that Odessa's husband, Jack, could drive Millie into town to get a mechanic, but Millie refused, saying she could not ride with a "strange black man." Sofia then had to ride with Jack to take Millie home, get a mechanic, and have the car fixed. Sofia finally drove Millie's car home by five, meaning Sofia only had fifteen minutes with her family, whom she had not seen in five years. Sofia ends the story by saying that Millie was angry with Sofia, afterward, for not thanking Millie for those fifteen minutes she was allowed to spend with her children.
Once again, Southern social customs rule the day. Millie will not ride with a "strange black man," thus Sofia's vacation is cut short. This section makes it very difficult to sympathize with Millie. Millie's final anger with Sofia points to the deep perniciousness of racial attitudes in the South, where Millie acts with incredible lack of empathy toward Sofia and sees herself as doing a favor for Sofia for which she deserves to be thanked.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Violence and Suffering Theme Icon