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The Color Purple | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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What do needles and razors symbolize in Section 8 of The Color Purple?

Because of their sharp points, Celie believes needles have the ability to join together various items that are inconsequential on their own, but are worthwhile as a whole. Needles serve as a tool to the success of her pants business and are her safety net. They also symbolize the strength she needs to poke through the layers of petrified wood she uses to insulate her emotions. Needles create products and pester people into positive action. As long as she is sewing, she isn't considering killing Mr. ___ with his shaving tool. Razors destroy. Killing Mr. ___ with his razor might remove him from her life and numb her hatred for him, but it would also obliterate any strides she has made toward her own independence and freedom.

What message is the author imparting by describing the gender roles in Georgia and in the African Olinka tribe in Section 8 of The Color Purple?

Many of the tasks assigned to men and women in Georgia and in the Olinka tribe are quite similar. Men are to complete work that requires muscle and brawn, usually considered outside work, and women are assigned the more creative jobs, those designated as inside, or domestic work. Tending the fields should be considered men's work as fields are outside, but in Africa, they fall into the domestic category because their products are food, a domestic issue. In Georgia, women are permitted, and even pushed, to go to school. Situations that rely on women working in the home, like Celie's and Sofia's, promote domestic skills over learning, though, in the rural South during the 1920–30s. In the Olinka tribe, girls are denied schooling because their identity comes from their husbands, not from an education. The Olinka men argue that their protection and control of their women proves they respect them. The author depicts generally the same responsibilities for women and men in the United States and Africa in this period of time. She shows that the accepted gender divisions are remarkably alike no matter the country, culture, and continent.

What is significant about the story of the roofleaf plant in Section 8 of The Color Purple?

To the Olinka, seeing is believing. The missionaries preach about how God and Jesus will provide for their every need in return for being loved and accepted as their supreme being, but the Olinka want physical results and not words. The roofleaf seeds create their food, and the leaves provide them shelter from the sun, storms, and enemy invasions. They develop into large plants that guarantee them the strength to plant more food crops, to hunt, and to increase their families. All of this results in larger villages and stronger defenses to face their enemies. When the greedy ruler almost caused their tribe to disappear, Jesus's teachings didn't save them. The proliferation of roofleaf did. They worship it because they have seen and experienced how it addresses all of their needs. They have not seen the same results from God or Jesus. Although they have not questioned the reason the plant exists in the first place, they do understand that it offers them a godlike power and protection.

How does the refusal of the Olinka to consider their ancestors' role regarding slavery parallel the rubber plantation owners' destruction of Olinka land in Section 9 of The Color Purple?

Both situations are fueled by economic gain, and both destroy lives. Tribes that delivered men and women to the slave traders were paid well. This money enabled them to feed, clothe, and house their people better. Although inhabitants of the villages destroyed by the rubber manufacturers can obtain work in their fields, the pay is so low, and the housing, food, and water is so inadequate, that the villagers' lives are ruined. In both cases, the people's cultures are irreparably diminished and the myths that define their beliefs are lost. The two incidents create a weak link between the tribe and Nettie's acceptance of them. For her, the love for people—their well-being, culture, and traditions—should always transcend the desire for money and power. Nettie is shocked that some people will choose to harden their hearts and minds and inflict misery on their own people if it means that by doing so their lives will want for nothing. Because she ran away from Mr. ___'s house, she has enjoyed the beneficence of Corrine and Samuel as well as the parishioners at the Harlem churches who were so willing to help the missionaries with funding for their trip. She has yet to see people choose a life of greed over belief in the Bible if the former means their family will eat and not starve. If she wants to be successful on her missions, she needs to understand that greed insinuates itself into all cultures and ethnicities.

How do female friendships among the Olinka women in The Color Purple compare to the ones Celie forms?

The Olinka women feel the precariousness of their positions as wives. Although the men contend they respect their women and consider it their duty to protect them from any harm, this belief ends when the wives' ranks are threatened. The women enjoy an uneasy friendship with each other because they do not fully trust their husbands' other wives. Unfounded beliefs that a child's illness is a result of another wife's spell, or a rumor of infidelity will result in the chief's decision to kill the accused woman or cast her out of the tribe. A woman can never enjoy true female friendships as long as the men control whether they live or die. In contrast, Celie's relationships with the women who touch her life are loving and nurturing. Shug, her husband's mistress, has become her staunch advocate, her confidant, and her lover. Their relationship is strengthened by the trust they share and the understanding that they will never allow a man to destroy them mentally, emotionally, or physically. Celie has asked Sofia to forgive her for supporting Harpo's domineering stance at the start of their marriage because of her cowardice. Sofia has rewarded her with her love and friendship. Both women have taught her how to love, to laugh, and to stand up for herself. They know that their strength comes, in part, from their unity. The Olinka men keep the distrust alive between their women because they have seen the strength women get from each other. That is another reason that they do not allow Olivia and Tashi to be friends.

Why does the knowledge that Alphonso is really her stepfather and not her biological father erase Celie's shame in Section 9 of The Color Purple?

Celie has always felt ashamed of her relationship with Alphonso. She blames herself for being the victim of the abusive and incestuous union. Incest is a sin, and the way in which Alphonso has victimized her has allowed her to see herself as a participant in this sin. Her mother also treats her with contempt and accepts her husband's lies about another boy instead of seeking the truth from her daughter, increasing Celie's feelings of shame. Alphonso even tells Mr. ___ that she has been "spoiled twice," a disparaging description that again puts the blame on Celie. Finding out the man she always believed was her father is not a blood relative absolves her of the sin of incest in God's eyes, allowing her to once again turn to Him for support.

How do Corrine's suspicions about Olivia and Adam in Section 10 of The Color Purple reveal her acceptance of traditional gender roles?

Corrine distrusts Nettie's reasons for joining their family. Not knowing Nettie's backstory, she worries Nettie will take Olivia and Adam from her because of the resemblance between Nettie and the children. Although she has no basis for her suspicions, Corrine fears Samuel could be Olivia and Adam's father. If this is the case, she would have to reject either her husband or her friend. Because single women of her generation are considered to be inferior to their married sisters, Corrine must value her identity as a wife of a minister and missionary over her bond with Nettie. The two main gender roles for women of this generation are as a wife and mother. To keep these identities, Corrine feels she has no choice but to disbelieve Nettie's explanation and to terminate their friendship.

In Section 10 of The Color Purple, how does Shug's interpretation of God reveal a feminist philosophy of religion, one that looks at religious traditions in light of gender studies?

Many feminist philosophers have rejected the idea of a male God as oppressive. Shug reveals this philosophy in her refusal to accept the belief that God is a man; "Man corrupt everything," as she tells Celie. She asserts no man has ever made her life easier. All the men she has known only want something from her, or they hope to catch some of the glow from her fame as a singer. Not one loves her for who she is—except the God whom she believes to be an It. To Shug, It is present in every magnificent person, place, and thing It created and unconditionally loves its host. It lives to please humans, whether with a newly budded rose, a crimson sunset, or a majestic snow-capped mountain. Unlike men, who take from others selfishly to satisfy their own needs, It gives magnanimously. It's lack of gender is freeing in contrast to the gender restraints that plague other women characters. As Shug tells Celie, she must "git man off your eyeballs before you can see anything a'tall."

In what ways does Celie's confrontation with Mr. ___ in Section 10 of The Color Purple serve to establish her visibility and her voice?

When Shug announces she is moving back to Memphis and Celie and Mary Agnes are going with her, Mr. ___ scorns his wife by sighing, "What wrong now?" In response to his annoyed tone, Celie erupts in a verbal tirade, detailing all of his mistreatment: from his lack of respect for her, his behavior that chased Nettie away, his deception by hiding her sister's letters to her along with the news of her children, to accusations about how Harpo's demands to Sofia led to his wife's lengthy imprisonment. Her outburst stuns everyone into silence. Before her rant, she was invisible to the men—another female who would not stand up to men or even to the women in her life. Celie reveals she is a person with ideas, emotions, dreams, and a desire to make her life what she wants it to be. Never again will she be a shadow woman. By finding her voice, she airs her concerns and stands up to be heard and demand the treatment and respect she deserve.

How do Shug's love of turtles, elephants, and round houses add another level of understanding to her character in Section 11 of The Color Purple?

Shug identifies with turtles because they both have to endure many hurdles to reach their goals. Like a turtle, she must plod through a life that often overlooks her persistence. Both of them must absorb the indignity of invisibility from those who perceive them as insignificant. Elephants represent power to Shug. They will never be ignored, and neither will she. Although she doesn't have their physical strength, she is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually tough. Round homes appeal to her because they suggest continual movement. Square buildings have angles that people must negotiate, and corners that fall into shadow, removing the clarity she wants with relationships.

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