Celie reads another of Nettie's letters. Nettie reports that she has married Samuel, and she begins to explain how this has happened. Over the past year, the British rubber company moved the Olinkans to new land, and destroyed all their roofleaf crop, replacing their roofs with hot tin, which baked in the sun. The Olinkans were terribly upset by the loss of roofleaf, which they worshipped as a god.
The loss of roofleaf is as important for the Olinka symbolically as it is in actual fact. The roofleaf really was a god to them, an embodiment of religious power on earth. When the roofleaf is taken away, it seems, truly, that god has abandoned their people, their village.
Conditions became so unbearable for the Olinkans—they even had to buy their own water from the British—that Samuel, Nettie, and the two children sailed back to England, to figure out what they could do to prevent the village's total destruction.
Samuel and Nettie have finally reached a point where they no longer know whether their missionary services can be of any use. The Olinka may no longer even exist as a tribe.
Nettie and Samuel meet a white woman on the boat back to England named Doris, who has black grandchildren. Doris explains that she was an heiress in England who decided to become a missionary to Africa, and that, after many years in a village, the village chief declared her an honorary man and presented her with "wives." These wives had children who then had their own, making Doris an honorary grandparent of Africans.
Doris is an embodiment of a woman who foregoes traditional gender roles, and who sets out to chart her own path in the world. Unfortunately, Doris' efforts can only be recognized by the African tribe as "manly," rather than, simply, as "successful." But Doris has lived a rich and full life without being married or having biological children of her own.
Samuel begins telling Nettie, on the boat and back in London, where they are visiting, the story of how he met Corrine. Both Samuel and Corrine had aunts who had served as missionaries in the Belgian Congo. As teenagers, Samuel and Corrine used to listen to their aunts' stories of "the bush" in Africa, and laugh about how polite these women now appeared, ensconced in the comforts of Georgia's black society (both their families had small but appreciable amounts of money).
Corrine's and Samuel's family are members of a black upper middle class that was springing up both in the North and in the South around the time the novel follows. In Harlem and in Georgia, educated African Americans were founding churches and universities, traveling the world, and acting as missionaries to all parts of the globe. Corrine and Samuel were excited by the prospect of participating in these missions.
Samuel went to college (at an unnamed school) and so did Corrine, at Spelman Seminary, a school in Georgia created by white women in order to educate black women in the deep south, and train them to help others all over the world. Corrine, with Samuel, did just that, vowing in Georgia that they would make for Africa, and attempt to teach the natives there just as their aunts had done. Only Corrine and Samuel thought that they, unlike their aunts, would be successful—that their missionary work would result in the "modernization" of the ways of life in the Olinka village.
Yet they see their aunts as not actually affecting Africa, as being tourists more than people who made a difference. With the idealism of youth, Samuel and Corrine thought that they would be different.
But Samuel wonders whether the twenty years they have now spent with the Olinka have done any good. He recounts how the natives, even after those twenty years, look at him and Nettie with indifference, feeling that they, the African Americans, are not "real Africans." Samuel is reminded that his ancestors, and Nettie's, were sold by Africans to white slave traders, and he wonders whether the Olinka are aware of this fact.
Another reminder of the horror of the slave trade, which is a dominant undercurrent in the relations between the Olinka and the Reverend's family. The Olinka never address this directly, but it is not far from Nettie's and Samuel's consciousness, when they feel the Olinka are not treating them with dignity.
Nettie and Samuel, after this discussion of Samuel's life, soon fall to confessing love for one another, and they tell the same to Adam and Olivia during their month together in England. The children take to this news quickly and cheerfully, and the wedding is a joyous one. Nettie also tells the children that she is their biological aunt, and that Celie is their biological mother.
Corrine feared that Nettie had designs on Samuel. And here, now, Nettie and Samuel do profess their love. But this love seems to have bloomed innocently, with no intent or action during Corinne's life. And the children's reaction makes clear just how much they care for and feel close to Nettie. Note also how the children now have been told their own stories, and know their own place in the world.
Meanwhile, Adam is upset because Tashi, with whom he has fallen in love, was planning, before Adam's trip to England, to scar her face and undergo female circumcision, as parts of the Olinkan cultural transition from girlhood to womanhood. Adam does not want Tashi to submit to these rituals of a culture he believes oppresses women. But Tashi wants to go through these rituals in order to be considered a "real" Olinka woman.
Just as Celie long believed that the rules set out for her were "the" rules—that a woman was controlled by a man; that God was a white man—Tashi feels that she must follow the customs of her society in order to truly belong. The oppression of women—and the masking of that oppression by saying that is simply the way it is and should be—occurs in both African and African American society.