Harpo tells his father that he cannot get Sofia to "mind" him, or obey him. Mr. ____ asks if Harpo beats her; Harpo says that he has not tried. Mr. ____ says that he only way to get a woman to understand, and to obey, her husband is to beat her.
Harpo has not managed to eradicate every aspect of Mr. ____'s personality, however. His desire to make Sofia obey him becomes, essentially, an obsession of his.
It is revealed that three years have passed since Harpo's wedding. Harpo seems happy with his Sofia, but still wants her to "mind" him. Harpo asks Celie what to do; Celie says that, to make Sofia listen, Harpo must beat her. It is not initially clear while Celie wants Harpo to beat Sofia.
Time in the novel is often difficult to follow—and it is clarified by specific events referred to in the letters. The three years that have gone by, here, elapse only in a few pages of written text.
Harpo returns to Mr. ____'s home one day, looking cut-up and bruised. Harpo explains to Celie that he got in a tussle with an obdurate mule, but Celie knows that Harpo has tried to beat Sofia, and that Sofia beat him back.
One of the novel's small moments of levity. Harpo knows, of course, that Celie recognizes Sofia cut and bruised him. But he is unwilling to show that he has been "dishonored" and beaten by his own wife.