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The Color Purple | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


How do Sofia's perceptions of a slave and a captive differ from her son's description in Section 5 of The Color Purple, and why does his response make her happy?

Sofia mentions "slaving away cleaning" because the mayor and Miss Millie treat her like a drudge. For five years, she has answered their every order and has lived in their crude attic. She is rarely permitted to spend time with her family. In Sofia's opinion, her life is very similar to her ancestors' accountings about slaves' lives on plantations: "What would you call it," she asks. Her son puts a different spin on his mother's incarceration in Miss Millie's home. He says she is "a captive," meaning she is imprisoned by the mayor and his wife, but she is not owned by them. A fine line exists between the definitions of slave and captive. No, Sofia wasn't bought on an auction block, a negative connotation her son cannot accept with regard to his mother. She is forced to work for the mayor's family for no salary, though, and this factor is the most important facet of both slavery and captivity. Whatever his reason for calling her a captive, her son's description of her situation pleases Sofia. Although being held prisoner in the mayor's home is soul-crushing, she is satisfied to know that her son does not see her as the mayor's property. The denotation between slave and captive blurs with regard to Celie's marriage to Mr. ___. He does consider his wife his chattel, or property. As her husband, he owns her and she is expected to follow his every demand. A synonym for chattel is slave, and that is exactly how Mr. ___ sees Celie. Like Mr. ___, Harpo and Alphonso both regard women as their property, and hold them in the same regard as slave owners did the women they bought. The author makes the point that slavery can be the result of gender and societal standards, not just ethnic differences.

In Section 6 of The Color Purple, how do Celie's and Shug's confessions detailing their lives with men build a foundation for their friendship?

Both women realize friendship functions on multiple levels and serves many purposes. They have more to gain by being present for each other rather than allowing certain differences to come between an otherwise fulfilling friendship. For example, when Celie tells Shug about her life of misery with Alphonso, Shug is reduced to tears by the brutality and incest Celie describes. She hugs Celie when her friend says, "Nobody ever love me," and responds, "I love you, Miss Celie." After Celie explains Mr. ___ beats her, Shug's anger toward the woman that she saw as her rival for Mr. ___'s affection evaporates. While Shug's description of her loving relationship with Albert upsets Celie, she realizes that staying with Shug means bearing some hurt over the woman's talk of love with the man who never loved her. Their confessions allow them to air the hurts that have revolved around their separate relationships with Mr. ___, and to understand that their friendship is worth much more than any connection that they have with him. With their revelations behind them, they can move on to creating a pure and honest bond that blossoms with trust. They understand that men have hurt them and that society expects them to bend to its strictures, and not vice versa. Each of them have assets and resources that the other one needs to stand up to the adversities life throws their way. These qualities along with the unconditional love they offer each other will allow them to prepare a solid foundation on which they can build the lives that they want for themselves.

Why does Shug support Mary Agnes's desire for a singing career in Section 6 of The Color Purple when she knows this will bring Grady and the young woman together?

Although Shug craves adulation from men, she is also a staunch advocate for women who pursue their dreams. Her conviction that women must support each other is what drew her to Celie. Shug realizes the importance of women supporting women and believes that it transcends relationships with men. Shug has heard Mary Agnes sing and knows that the young woman needs some encouragement; Mary Agnes has the talent and looks to become a famous singer. In addition, Shug doesn't really love Grady; she only married him for the sake of having a husband. Her relationship with him is not as important to her as her need to support Mary Agnes.

In Section 6 of The Color Purple, what makes Celie's discovery that Mr. ___ has been hiding Nettie's letters for years the climax of her story?

When Celie finds out that Mr. ___ has been hiding Nettie's letters for many years, she holds a shaving razor to her husband's head, "crazy for Mr. ___'s blood." At this point, she has two choices: To turn her back on Mr. ___ and choose a life with Shug, one where she is loved and valued, and free. To kill Mr. ___, removing him from her life forever. If she is lucky enough to be awarded life in prison, she will become an invisible woman like Sofia, and a victim of society's laws. Once she makes her decision, she cannot turn back. Her ability to appreciate her worth to herself and to society and to put herself first for once sways her. She decides to choose life with Shug and enjoy the life she has sacrificed so much to attain. She now controls her destiny and sheds her victimized role forever. With her heart and mind liberated from the cloak of misery and humiliation that has shrouded her since she was 14 years old, she is prepared to strive for the independent life she craves.

In The Color Purple, why does the author introduce Nettie as a secondary narrator of the story?

The information she provides in her letters give Celie a role model—proof that another life is possible—and support Celie's journey to a fulfilled life. Nettie's candid viewpoints, anecdotes, and concern for her sister compel Celie to reach for the emotionally and spiritually fulfilled life she has yearned for from the first letter to God. Nettie's letters create word pictures composed of facts and opinions so Celie can learn about her own life. Nettie is also quite candid about Celie's oppressed life and how her sister must take steps to change it.

How does the mastery of writing skills feed into the development of voice and identity in Nettie's and Celie's letters in Section 7 of The Color Purple?

Celie's letters reflect the education she was denied. Her grammar, writing, and vocabulary choices all point to very basic proficiencies. She doesn't use punctuation that would differentiate narratives from direct and indirect dialogues. Even so, it is easy to understand who is speaking due to her clear descriptions of the characters; she shows that a formal education is not necessary for effective storytelling. Her simple, matter-of-fact writing style paints clear word pictures of her stark existence. Although her grammatical skills show little growth over the three decades, the fluidity in her text improves, and her voice gains strength. Once she feels safe expressing herself honestly in her letters to God and Nettie, her thinking matures and she is able to freely elaborate on the causes, effects, and emotional aspects of a situation. Nettie's letters are the opposite of her sister's with regard to grammar, writing, and vocabulary choices. They reveal an educated person with a talent, like her sister's, for making the people and places she describes vivid. In every anecdote she writes, Nettie makes it easy for Celie to see her life and feel her emotions. Although Celie and Nettie reveal opposing writing styles, their letters reflect each woman's personality and experiences, and allow the sisters to understand each other's journey through the years.

In Section 7 of The Color Purple, how do Nettie's discussions about faith in God and opinions about the Bible affect Celie's beliefs?

Nettie does not hesitate to express her opinions about how God guides her, even when she is miserable. She explains her absolute need to have Him share her joys and sorrows. A faithful believer, she urges Celie to share the shame she feels for her life because God will not judge her. Nettie is upset with the Bible because so many of the stories take place in Africa, but the pictures show only white people. In her lessons, she has learned that the black population in that part of Africa in the Old Testament was predominant. Her faith in God and the Bible come from her studies, not from reality. It doesn't matter to her whether the Bible's stories are from a white or a black perspective. To her, all that matters is that they are God's word and that he trusted the interpreters, so she should, too. Unlike Celie, she has lived a protected life where she has been respected and where her education was nurtured. She never suffered the abuse and degradation that her sister has. If Celie is affected by these stories, she never mentions it. She cannot empathize with the issues about God that Nettie discusses, because He has ignored the misery she has suffered since she was 14, and He doesn't bring Nettie to her when she so needs her sister's love and support. At this point, He is merely the being that she has been addressing her letters to for these many years.

How does the author use Nettie's analyses of the Harlem blacks and African blacks to shed light on contemporary intraracial issues in Section 7 of The Color Purple?

Nettie falls in love with the generosity, warmth, and kindness of the blacks she meets in Harlem. She is astounded at their material wealth and thrilled with their poise and self-respect. Along with Corrine and Samuel, she visits numerous churches to collect donations that will fund their African mission and is in awe of their love for Africa. In contrast, although she finds the Senegalese to be physically beautiful, she writes that their attitudes are ugly. Only money seems to move them, and they snub anyone, black or white, who aren't buyers. On a stop in Monrovia, Liberia, they meet with President Tubman. Instead of supporting the blacks in his country, he chooses many whites and light-skinned blacks for his cabinet. This is the first time that she has witnessed racist attitudes within the same ethnicity. The author includes Nettie's appraisals to speak to the fact that injustice and prejudicial thoughts and actions occur within an ethnicity as well as between races. Acceptance or rejection of people is more dependent on the stands people take on political, economic, religious, moral and familial values, beliefs and traditions than on race.

What reason other than Mr. ___'s hiding Nettie's letters makes Celie want to kill him in Section 7 of The Color Purple, and how does Shug's response break the tension?

The news that Mr. ___ has kept the existence of her children and Nettie from her by concealing the letters enrages her. Her sister's letters open Celie's mind to a world that she has never known existed. Through them, Nettie teaches Celie about New York City and Harlem, about England and Africa, and about all of the people she has met from diverse social stratas. Mr. ___ has not only taken her children and sister from her, but also the world, and this ignites the anger at his abuse simmering in her mind and heart. Shug warns her not to kill Mr. ___ for Nettie's sake. Celie's sister has expressed her alarm about Sofia's transformation from a vital woman to an invisible one. "Don't make her have to look at you like us look at Sofia," Shug advises. When Celie still wants Mr. ___ dead, Shug plays the humor card: "Miss Celie, think about me a little ... if you kill Albert, Grady be all I have left. I can't stand the thought of that." Celie laughs and thinks about Grady's "big toofs." Their laughter knocks out Celie's murderous thoughts at the very moment when she promises herself to never allow men to separate her from those she loves, to blind her to a world that offers so much to enrich her, and to kill her spirit. Mr. ___ symbolizes all of the oppression that has almost made her a shadow woman. As she feels the heft of the razor in her hand, she blocks out the reality that the consequences she would face for murdering her husband would be far more brutal than Sofia has endured. Shug's comment is just enough disruption for Celie's common sense to break through the film of fury cloaking her mind. Celie has watched Shug and Sofia deal with the domineering attitudes of needy men and understands that restraint, patience, and the ability to find laughter in the most trying situations will bring her the life she so desperately desires.

In The Color Purple, how does Nettie serve as Celie's foil, or opposite, while also benefiting from Celie's differences?

Nettie is her sister's opposite in several ways. She is considered more attractive than her sister and, unlike Celie, is an active participant in her life's path. At the same time, she owes her successes to her sister's sacrifices. Celie has given up her girlhood, her independence, her education, and her self-respect to save Nettie. Even when Nettie tries to bring some happiness to her sister in Albert's home by sharing her lessons with her and helping her around the house, Celie again willingly forfeits her own life so Nettie can enjoy a future where she can find love and personal fulfillment. She would rather live vicariously through her sister, than for Nettie to experience the misery she has been forced to endure. Nettie does not want Celie to be an invisible woman, and ultimately serves as a model for what Celie might become.

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