The Color Purple

The Color Purple Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Why was this novel titled The Color Purple?

    Think about when purple is mentioned as a color and as an attribute of something worth admiring. Should all colors be admired equally, all being features of things created by God? Does rarity really make something more precious--purple seems rare in nature, but does this make other colors any more or less valuable? Consider the same question with regard to racial majorities and minorities in Africa and in the United States, which also are often distinguished by color.

  2. 2

    Can you find Alice Walker as a character in the novel?

    Examine the narrative structure employed by Walker. Remember that ultimately the choices in the narration are all really Walker's. Pay particular attention to the last line in the novel: "I thank everybody in this book for coming." Consider also how Walker might play the role of God in Celie's story, being the one who invests this creation with being and meaning.

  3. 3

    How important is it that Nettie returns at the end of the novel?

    Consider the ways that Nettie is important to Celie and for the whole narrative in terms of female solidarity, communication, and family struggles. Does the novel require a positive ending for it to be a positive story? Does Celie require such an ending to her own story? Is Nettie's return structurally significant in that once Nettie returns, the letter writing stops and so does the novel?

  4. 4

    How do the male characters in the novel shape, break, or have other influence over the females?

    A good way to approach such a question is to examine how the choices made by Celie and the other female characters might have been shaped by their experiences with the male characters in the novel. Consider their choices, thoughts, and feelings with regard to independence, family, entrepreneurship, and the other matters of value to the women. Note also that both positive and negative experiences with various men should be addressed.

  5. 5

    Celie apparently prefers women to men in general, including sexually. In her case, her terrible treatment by men could be a critical factor. What could be going on in her mind?

    There is not necessarily a relationship between Celie's social preferences and her sexual preferences, but there might be. Moreover, there may or may not be a link between her life experiences and her preferences. Use evidence from the text to try out a variety of possibilities to understand why Celie is the way she is. If she has different feelings about different men (likewise for different women), does this mean that we cannot even make a generalization about Celie's preferences? Do her views for or against men and women in general change over the course of the novel?

  6. 6

    Sofia goes on quite a journey in the novel. How significant is it that Sofia ends up as a maid in a white family?

    A good answer to this question will look deeply into Sofia's character. She is a fighter and seems more independent than Celie, but her journey is far less significant than that of Nettie. Consider also Sofia's relationships with her own family members as well as the portrayal of the white community in conjunction with the black community in Sofia's place and time.

  7. 7

    What is the significance of the opening line?

    Alfonso's words permeate Celie's life and her writing. Think about the narrative structure and why it is significant that we are reading letters written to God. Also consider the place of family and of males in Celie's life as well as the importance of communication with others.

  8. 8

    What is the significance of Nettie's life in Africa?

    Consider what themes characterize Nettie's life in Africa and why those themes might be important in Celie's life. Remember that what we know of Nettie's life in Africa is based on what Nettie thought she should communicate to Celie. In addition, Walker might be highlighting significant issues relating to the importance of Africa in black American history and culture.

  9. 9

    Although Doris Baines only appears for a brief instant in the novel, she is an interesting and weighty character. What does she contribute to the novel?

    This question provides an opportunity for a close reading of the section in which Doris appears. Important features here are her identity as an independent English woman who does not have traditional Christian views, her good work in Africa, her desire to leave her home life, her desire to travel, and her African grandson. More generally, consider how her character develops themes about race, gender, religion, and family in the novel.

  10. 10

    Discuss the significance of the written versus the spoken word in this novel.

    Consider which medium lasts longer, who the audience is or can be, the usual uses of letters versus conversation, the stylistic choices available in each medium, accuracy, spontaneity, and the role of direct versus indirect human interaction (such as voice inflection and gesture in the spoken word, and other kinds of emphasis and subtleties in the written word). Which characters or kinds of characters may make use of each medium, and for which purposes? How does storytelling in each medium function, particularly with regard to self-assertion and ownership over one's language as a proxy for ownership of one's story and one's life?