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The Color Purple | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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In Section 11 of The Color Purple, in what ways are Shug's singing tours negatively and positively affected by prejudice?

Once Shug decides to build on the adulation she earned in the Southern black juke joints by moving into white venues, she experiences prejudice. Like the famous African American musicians Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, she is admired for her performing talent, and, therefore, is accepted into white venues. Her popularity with whites has made her a financially secure national success. Yet she and her band are not spared the humiliations other blacks suffered in the South during this time period, no matter their economic achievements. They are directed to separate drinking, food, and rooming establishments and even to isolated entryways. The places that offer them facilities for these needs are so few and far between that she often returns to Memphis in desperate need of a proper bathroom, decent food, and a comfortable bed. She becomes more appreciative of the comforts of home.

How does Celie's successful pants business add to her personal confidence in Section 11 of The Color Purple?

In the early- to mid-1930s period, women were still expected to wear dresses or skirts according to society's standards. Since her own empowerment, Celie wants other women to experience independence, even if this rises from wearing a pair of pants. Her personal satisfaction stems from her acceptance of her creative talents, her sewing expertise, her business sense, and society's acceptance of her designs. With Shug's support, she has found a demand for her product and knows how to make it successful. She is able to feed her emotional and spiritual growth because she is offering females a symbol of emancipation from social demands, not just an article of clothing.

What is the cause of Mr. ___'s transformation in Section 11 of The Color Purple?

Celie's public condemnation of Mr. ___, followed by her abandonment of him, causes him more pain than he had felt during the times Shug left him. Harpo's love pulls Albert from his realization he has been an unbearably selfish husband and father. He has never experienced unconditional love from his father, Shug, his children, or either of his wives. Nor has he treated anyone with love. He feels love for the first time from his son, Harpo, and this changes him. When he sends Celie the rest of Nettie's letters, he shows his capitulation to her independence and his fledgling respect for her as a woman. Scrubbing his body, clothes and home, and taking responsibility for his fields represents his desire to cleanse himself of his oppressive and authoritative traits. To be a whole person and someone worthy of her, he wants and needs her forgiveness. Up to this point, his life has mirrored the oppressive male husband and father roles that his father showed to him. These gender roles have been a part of his lineage all the way back to Africa as Nettie describes in her letters. They reveal that the men there adhere to a similar dictatorial rule with their wives and daughters. Mr. ___ accepts the responsibility for his actions and wants to break the mold that conditioned him to be so brutal. When he met Celie and later when he married Sofia, Harpo leaned toward his father's teachings because he wanted to be an obedient son. He shook them off, though, when he chose to support Sofia and her independence instead of perpetuating the role of bully. His love for his father when the man was so lost showed Mr. ___ that a man gains strength when he allows those he loves to be the people they are meant to be, and not just property who must submit to his rules. Gender and race roles are the cause of Mr. ___'s oppressive ways, but he shows that they will not form his future.

In Section 12 of The Color Purple, contrast the effects of communication and experience on the relationships of Nettie and Samuel, and of Adam and Tashi.

In the years since Corrine's death, Nettie and Samuel have become close friends. Back in London when he expresses his feelings of failure with the Olinka to Nettie, she realizes that she loves him. After he declares that he shares her love, they marry and enjoy a union based on the friendship, love, and open discussions they have long experienced together. In contrast, Adam and Tashi love each other, but their relationship does not yet acknowledge an acceptance of differing traditions or the importance of honest communication. Each one is afraid that the other will abandon the fledgling attachment they have forged before they learn how to accept, confront, and discuss their cultural and emotional differences and fears. This is also a first love for each of them. They need to welcome their similarities and differences, and to allow these factors to open their minds and hearts to shared experiences, for their relationship to flourish.

What do Corrine's and Nettie's educational experiences reveal about the progress of women's rights compared to Tashi's learning activities in Section 12 of The Color Purple?

Corrine's parents have always supported her educational goals. When her Aunt Theodosia offers to pay for her college education, her mother agrees to this opportunity for her daughter. At Spelman College, females are not denied any aspect of learning. In a similar vein, Nettie receives a decent public education, which Samuel and Corrine encourage her to expand after they become her guardians. In the United States and in Africa, they help her to reinforce her academics and her life experiences. They even require her to teach the Olinka children. On the other hand, Tashi is not permitted to go to school. Her responsibility is to learn how to take care of her future husband's every need. When Nettie mentions that Tashi can become a teacher or nurse, the young girl's parents scoff at this idea. Corrine's and Nettie's access to education reveals the importance of educating women as a means for ending their subjugation. In Africa during the time period of the novel, women's rights are nonexistent and so women's education is not a priority.

In Section 12 of The Color Purple, how does Samuel's explanation for the Olinka's rejection of the missionaries' beliefs and traditions offer a foundation for cultural prejudice?

Samuel tells Nettie the Olinka never wanted the missionaries to join their village in the first place. They do not welcome the Christian God or American customs and traditions and have no desire to learn about them because they will never accept them. Their revulsion toward Western teachings and customs regarding education, gender issues, male and female relationships, ceremonial rites, and belief in one God of the universe overshadows any type of genuine dialogue. The Olinka's willingness to accept the stereotypical stories they have heard over the years abets their beliefs. When people fear what is different or what they don't understand, they often choose to shutter their minds and hearts to any new concepts or ideas. Samuel feels this type of narrow-mindedness is the keystone to a foundation built on prejudice. It is ironic that the Olinka accuse Samuel of being just as narrow-minded by favoring American values and traditions. They believe that their myths, legends, and beliefs are the correct path to follow and that Samuel is being too dogmatic to appreciate their perspective.

What is the profound meaning to Celie of inheriting her stepfather's home in Section 13 of The Color Purple?

Home ownership is a common American symbol of financial and social independence, and to Celie, inheriting her stepfather's home is proof that she has emerged as an independent woman who is loved by many and controlled by no one. The home is also proof that she has survived the miserable life that began with her stepfather's abuse; she recognizes Alphonso's gesture as his way of absolving himself for the abuse and brutality he forced on her. In addition, inheriting her stepfather's house allows Celie to provide a home for Nettie, her husband, and Celie's children. While she sees the inheritance as a magnanimous but empty gesture Alphonso can have inscribed on his grave monument, it is truly a profound gift.

In Section 14 of The Color Purple, how does Celie's friendship with Mr. ___ reveal the evolution they both have attained in their understanding of male and female relationships?

Celie and Mr. ___ have learned to listen, to agree to disagree, to respect each other's viewpoints, and to accept their differences. Neither expects the other to live up to society's standards or to bend to each other's bidding. Mr. ___ admits loving to sew, so Celie hands him a pair of pants to stitch. After a while, he designs and makes his own shirts. He finally feels free to air his deepest concerns because Celie knows how to listen without interruption or judgment. From watching the women in her circle, Celie has seen that living with a man is possible when terms are equal. To her, the choice of a mate isn't nearly as important as the right to choose and the strength to do so.

In Section 14 of The Color Purple, why does the author include the scene between Sofia and Eleanor Jane and the Olinka myth about the color white?

In this part of the novel, the author shows that people must recognize prejudice as a tradition if they are ever to end it. Eleanor Jane does not understand Sofia's coldness toward her son, especially because Sofia's love for her crosses the color barrier. The young mother refuses to accept Sofia's belief that Reynolds Stanley will grow up to be a bigot because of traditional prejudices. The Olinka also show the power of tradition with their story about ancestors who killed albino babies because they were white. In their language, white means naked. They feel Adam and Eve's eviction from the Garden of Eden due to their nakedness supports their ancient story. By relating these stories, the author is showing how overcoming beliefs that are embedded in cultures requires time, education, openmindedness, and effort.

How does Albert's ideas about asking "Why?" in Section 15 of The Color Purple serve as a model for the quest for personal meaning?

Mr. ___ says that only by asking and answering tough life questions can people find meaning in life and recognize their places in the world. He explains to Celie people must first wonder, "Why?" before they can find answers, even though the responses may be hard to endure. The character's own "Why?" questions reveal he has been a weak and mean man. He must find the strength to overcome his weaknesses if he wants to accept himself and be accepted by others. His journey shows that questioning leads to learning, and learning leads to tolerance, compassion, love, and contentment.

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