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The Color Purple | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Section 1 of The Color Purple, where does Celie find the strength to survive the misery that is her life?

Celie finds strength in her sole emotional outlet: writing letters. Writing about her sorrows, her pain, her fears for Nettie as well as their love for each other, is cathartic to her and gives her the courage to face another day. Celie also finds strength in her mission to protect her sister Nettie. She accepts her two pregnancies as her due, and endures the disappearance of her babies because protecting Nettie from their father is more important than her own well-being. When she is forced to marry Mr. ___, another brutal man, and his oldest son hits her in the head with a rock, she knows that she still has to be strong for Nettie's sake, and to be a refuge to her.

Why does Celie address her letters to "Dear God" throughout the majority of The Color Purple?

Celie has no one else with whom she can share her fears, sorrows, and concerns. God is the one being she trusts, and whom she feels will listen to her without judging her. After the first time Alphonso rapes her, he tells her to "shut up and git used to it." God is the only person Alphonso says she can tell. Alphonso also symbolically threatens her not to tell anyone, and figuratively cuts off her voice by choking her. Before her mother passes away, she glares at her oldest daughter with contempt and demands to know who fathered her babies. This terminates any chance for mother and daughter communication. In addition, Celie doesn't want to burden her younger sister with her misery or add to her fears of living with Alphonso.

How does Alphonso manipulate Celie with his warning, "You better not tell nobody but God. It'd kill your mammy," in Section 1 of The Color Purple?

In this line of dialogue, Alphonso is threatening Celie to keep her silence about the rapes as well as the physical abuse he inflicts on her. Although the demand is backed by his superficial concern that knowledge of his molestation would cause the death of Celie's mother, it is part of the pattern of his abuse. He uses the young girl's concern over upsetting her sick mother and sister, Nettie, if she confides in them to mentally exploit her. This order implies he is not afraid to physically and sexually abuse her if she disobeys and tells someone.

In Section 1 of The Color Purple, how does Alphonso's management of Celie's babies, her schooling, and her marriage to Mr. ___ intensify her subjugation?

Like any tyrant, Alphonso is a harsh ruler who forbids Celie the opportunity to know any world other than the one he creates. He generates an atmosphere of fear, and he suppresses her emotions to keep her under his control. For example, Alphonso not only devastates Celie by taking her daughter and son from her, but he also demonstrates complete control over her life by denying her the role of motherhood. Celie's subservient behavior proves to him that she fully comprehends how he can make her disappear, too. Alphonso knows Celie wants to earn an education. He squashes her hopes when he disregards her longing to learn and when he uses her pregnancy to humiliate her in front of her teacher. With her confidence already in tatters, he deepens her feeling of powerlessness when he tells her, "You too dumb ... Nettie the clever one." When he forces Celie to marry Mr. ___ without regard for her feelings, he solidifies Celie's belief that his will is the law.

What qualities does Shug Avery project in Section 1 of The Color Purple that attract Celie so powerfully, and how does this fascination reflect Celie's age?

Shug Avery, a blues singer, represents many aspects of life Celie covets. Shug is an an alluring woman who exudes wealth with her fine clothes, furs, styled hair, impeccable makeup, and shiny automobile. To Celie, Shug's pose suggests a sensual, confident, and talented woman who enjoys luxury, independence, love, and happiness—everything Celie has never experienced in her life. Celie is still close to, but not yet done with, adolescence. Even though her life is more typical of an older woman's, like many teenagers she dreams of a glamorous future cushioned with money and surrounded by people who are attracted to her. Shug's image haunts Celie, and she is eager to meet this object of her infatuation. Even though Celie must physically submit to her husband, her mind is free to consider the "What ifs?" her future holds. While she is scrubbing their home, untangling the children's hair, picking the crops, or submitting to Mr. ___ sexually, her imagination transports her to a life where she is admired for her comforting nature, surrounded by the accoutrements of glitz and glamour, and where she is cherished and protected. Not yet 20, her life of submission and physical bondage has not yet snuffed out her spirit of hope for a world where she is a survivor like Shug, and not a victim.

In Section 1 of The Color Purple, how do two events in the dry goods store where Celie meets Olivia foreshadow future conflicts for the characters?

The child's resemblance to her causes Celie to ask the little girl's mother a number of personal questions. After they leave the store, Celie finds out that the baby's name is Olivia, the same name that she gave her baby. Unknowingly, the woman confirms Celie's notice that the baby, "Got my eyes just as they is today," when she says, "Somebody ole would have eyes like that. I call her ole Livia." Celie yearns for the two children that she thought were dead. Now that she has seen the baby that she knows is her firstborn, she is happy that the child is not dead but has a better life than she could have given her. For the first time in her story, she is joyous. Mr. ___ even asks her, "What you setting here laughing like a fool fer?" Now, at least she can dream that because the woman and her minister husband live in the same town, she will be able to enjoy watching Olivia grow up. On a darker note, while the lady and Celie are first talking in the dry goods store, the white clerk's rude behavior pushes the black woman to choose the material she wants, saying, "Girl, you want that cloth or not? We got other customers sides you." Distressed, the woman hurriedly pays for the material and thread Celie helps her select and leaves. His words reveal a racist attitude that reflect the white-ruled town's standards. The author's inclusion of this racially charged scene introduces the subplot between whites and blacks and reveals the prejudice that occurred in that Southern society during this time period. Because everything an author includes in a story is purposeful, this scene foreshadows more conflict ignited by racism.

How does Nettie's disappearance and Harpo's abuse of Sofia in Section 1 of The Color Purple reflect the causes of society's perpetuation of male dominance?

Each of these situations illustrates a world where men are permitted to exert psychological and physical force to dominate their families without any punishment. Women are not permitted to question this code. Mr. ___ shows his power when he ignores Celie's plea to allow her sister to stay and then tries to rape Nettie. When Kate implores Celie to combat her brother's control, Celie doesn't because she has no experience fighting a man verbally or physically. Kate's upbringing has never given her the mental tools to fight this standard, either, so even though she asks Celie to oppose it, she is powerless to do anything, either. Harpo is a victim of his father's repressive teachings. Mr. ___'s domination over his wives and children conditioned Harpo to accept this philosophy. Harpo continues the same practice by abusing his wife. These social standards perpetuate male dominance because men are never punished for their behavior and women's complaints fall on deaf ears.

How is Harpo's inability to stand up to his father in The Color Purple paradoxical both in his own situation and in his relationship with Sofia?

Harpo's inability to stand up to his father demonstrates a contradiction between his muscular strength and mental timidity. Although he questions his father about the man's lack of a worth ethic by leaving the field work to Celie and him, he never pushes his father to change. His father's callousness often wounded him before, which makes him hesitant to challenge the man again. This inability also creates a paradoxical situation in Harpo's relationship with Sofia. When Harpo doesn't stand up to his father for disrespecting Sofia, she says to him, "When you free, me and the baby be waiting." After the baby is born, he opposes his father and marries Sofia. He still can't disobey his father, though, and not only demands Sofia's submission, but also beats her when she asserts herself. This is a paradox because one of the reasons he loves Sofia is due to her independent attitude.

In The Color Purple, why does Celie, a victim of long-term abuse, recommend that Harpo beat Sofia?

Celie's subservient behavior in her marriage reveals her acceptance of traditional gender roles: husbands wield power and control over their wives. She adds fuel to Harpo and Sofia's conflict when she tells Harpo to "beat her" in response to his question on how he can curb his wife's rebellion. On one hand, Celie seems in awe of Sofia's powerful and forceful nature, but on the other, she can only speak from experience, because she has been raised to accept dominant men and submissive women in marriages. Celie believes Sofia's rudeness to Harpo intensifies their conflict because females are to obey the rules, not defy them. Only when Celie can find self-confidence and understand that gender roles can be revised is she able to fight them as Sofia is trying to do.

In Section 2 of The Color Purple, how does Celie and Sofia's budding friendship reflect the need for women's solidarity in a male-dominant world?

When Sofia demands to know why Celie told Harpo to abuse her, Celie apologizes, admitting she is a "fool and is jealous" because she feels too small mentally and too powerless physically to advocate for herself. Sofia explains her mother is like Celie and has never tried to crawl out from under her husband's thumb, either. Celie explains that her own mother was powerless to confront her husband and Celie's father. She admits that she never thought about being angry at her mother's lack of protection because submission was all either of them knew. Their confessions clear up their misunderstandings and open their minds to the realization that if they want to overcome the male dominance barrier, they must work with and not against each other. Separately, neither of them is strong enough to fight a two-front battle, so they agree that in spite of their differences in countering male oppression, they will support each other's opinions and decisions. Both women show bravery with their confessions to each other as these admissions imply feelings of guilt. They understand that showing any vulnerability to their husbands will only open the door to more abuse because the men interpret softness as a failing for them to persecute. In contrast, revealing vulnerability to each other helps to build connections between the women and gives them strength.

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