The Color Purple Study and Discussion Guide



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The Color Purple Study and Discussion Guide
The Color Purple is an epistolary, confessional novel set predominantly in rural Georgia spanning the years of 1910–1940, although there are no dates used in the story. As the novel opens, Celie speaks in the first person through a series of private letters she writes to God. The tone is very confessional and uninhibited, as Celie’s letters to God are private, much like journal entries.

Pages 1-15

Setting: Celie writing to God

Characters: Celie,
Nettie,
Celie’s Mama,
Celie’s Papa,
Ms. Beasley,
Mr. ______
, Olivia,
The Reverend, Mrs. ___________
Plot Development

  • Celie’s mama dies.

  • Celie’s papa remarries.

  • 
Mr. ______ asks to marry Nellie.


  • Celie is pregnant.


  • Celie’s papa takes her children away.

  • Mr. ________ marries Celie.


  • Celie sees her daughter at the dry goods store.


Reading Questions

1. Why does Celie write letters to God?

2. What does Celie want from God?

3. Who is the first person to stand up for Celie? What happens? 



Passage for Discussion

But Nettie never give up. Next thing I know Miss Beasley at our house trying to talk to Pa. She say long as she been a teacher she never know nobody want to learn bad as Nettie and me. But when Pa call me out and she see how tight my dress is, she stop talking and go. 
Nettie still don’t understand. I don’t neither. All us notice is I’m all the time sick and fat. (10)
Pages 16-32

Setting: Celie to God

Characters: Celie, Mr.______, Nettie, Harpo, Carrie, Kate, Shug Avery, Sofia

Plot Development

• Nettie runs away to Celie

• Mr.___ kicks Nettie out.

• Mr.’s ____ sisters come to visit.

• Harpo falls in love.

• Shug Avery comes to town.

• Harpo brings Sofia to meet his daddy. 





Reading Questions

4. Why doesn’t Mr._______ have a name?


5. What does the visit of Mr.______’s sisters add to our understanding of Celie?

6. Why is Celie glad to have Shug in the house?


Passage for Discussion

Mr. ______ children all bright but they mean. They say Celie, I want dis. Celeie, I want dat. Our Mama let us have it. He don’t say nothing. They try to get his tention, he hide hind a puff of smoke. Don’t let them run over you, Nettie say. You got to let them know who got the upper hand. They got it, I say. 
But she keep on, You got to fight. You got to fight.
But I don’t know how to fight. All I know how to do is stay alive... (16)

You got to fight them, Celie, she say. I can’t do it for you. You got to fight them for yourself.

I don’t say nothing. I think bout Nettie, dead. She fight, she run away. What good it do? I don’t fight, I stay where I’m told. But I’m alive. (21)
Pages 33-46

Setting: Celie to God

Characters: Celie,
Shug Avery, Mr.____ ,Harpo, Sofia

Plot Development

• Harpo and Sofia get married

Harpo tries to beat Sofia


• Sofia and Celie make up.

• Shug Avery comes to stay.




Reading Questions

7. Why does Celie tell Harpo to beat Sofia?

8. Why does Harpo want Sofia “to mind”?

9. What is Celie’s reaction to Shug’s arrival?


Passage for Discussion

You told Harpo to beat me, she said. No I didn’t, I said.
Don’t lie, she said.
I didn’t mean it, I said.

Then what you say it for? She ast.

She standing there looking me straight in the eye. She look tired and her jaws full of air.

I say it cause I’m a fool, I say. I say it cause I’m jealous of you. I say it cause you do what I can’t.

What that? She say.
Fight. I say.
She stand there a long time, like what I said took the wind out her jaws.

She mad before, sad now.
Pages 47-61

Setting: Celie to God

Characters: Celie
, Shug, Mr._____
, Old Mr.______ ,Sofia, Harpo
, Tobias, Mr_____’s brother

Plot Development

  • Celie gets Shug to eat

  • Celie combs Shug’s hair


  • Mr._____ Daddy comes to visit
.

  • Celie make a “sister’s choice” quilt.

  • Harpo starts overeating.


Reading Questions

10. What does quilting add to our understanding of a theme of the novel?

11. Why does Celie treat Shug so well?


12. Why do you think Harpo is eating so much?


Passage for Discussion

All womens not alike, Tobias, she say. Believe it or not.
Oh, I believe it, he say. Just can’t prove it to the world.
First time I think about the world.
What the world got to do with anything, I think. Then I see

myself sitting there quilting tween Shug Avery and Mr.______. Us three set together against Tobias and his fly speck box of chocolate. For the first time in my life, I feel just right. (57)
Pages 62-75

Setting: Celie to God

Characters: Celie, Shug, Harpo, Sofia

Plot Development

  • Sofia leaves Harpo

  • Harpo turns the house into a jukejoint.

  • Shug sings a song for Celie at Harpo’s.

  • Shug tells Celie she will be leaving soon.

Reading Questions

13. How does Harpo know Sofia isn’t coming back?

14. What “gift” does Shug give Celie?
Passage for Discussion

She say my name again. She say this song I’m bout to sing is call Miss Celie’s song. Cause she scratched it out of my head when I was sick.

First she hum it a little, like she do at home. Then she sing the words.

It all about some no count man doing her wrong, again. But I don’t listen to that part. I look at her and I hum along a little with the tune.

First time somebody made something and name it after me.
Pages 76-89

Setting: Celie to God

Characters: Celie
, Shug, 
Harpo, 
Sofia, 
Squeak, 
The prizefighter, 
The mayor, and his wife

Plot Development


  • Sofia visits Harpo’s.

  • The mayor slaps Sofia.


  • Sofia knocks the mayor down.

  • Police beat Sofia and put her in jail.


Reading Questions

15. Why does Sofia say “thank you” to Squeak?


Passage for Discussion

She toss her head, look over at Harpo. Life don’t stop just cause you leave home, Miss Celie. You know that.

My life stop when I left home, I think. But then I think again. It stop with Mr.______ maybe, but start up again with Shug.
Pages 90 -106

Setting: Celie to God

Characters: Celie, Shug, Squeak, Harpo, 
Mr._____
, The prizefighter, Odessa, 
Sofia’s other sisters, Sofia, 
The Warden

Plot Development

  • Everyone sits down to figure out how to help Sofia They send Squeak to see her uncle.

  • Her uncle rapes Squeak.

  • Squeak tells Harpo to call her Mary Agnes.

  • Sofia gets out of prison to be the mayor’s maid. Sofia teaches Miz Millie to drive.

Reading Questions

16. Why does everyone, including Squeak, come together to help Sofia?

Passage for Discussion
Passage for Discussion

Sofia would make a dog laugh, talking about those people she work for. They have the nerve to try to make us think slavery felll through because of us, say Sofia. Like us didn’t have sense enough to handle it. All the time breaking hoe handles and letting the mules loose in the wheat. But how anything they build can last a day is a wonder to me. They backward, she say. Clumsy, and unlucky.
Pages 107-123

Setting: Celie to God

Characters: Celie, Mr.______, Shug,
Grady,
Mary Agnes, Harpo, Nettie

Plot Development


  • Shug comes ‘home’ with a new husband.


  • Celie and Shug sleep together.


  • Shug finds out about Mr.____ hiding letters.

  • Shug tells Celie about her relationship with Albert


Reading Questions


17. Why did Shug get married?


Passage for Discussion

And when I come here, say Shug, I treated you so mean. Like you was a servant. And all because Albert married you. And I didn’t even want him for a husband, she say. I never really wanted Albert for a husband. But just to choose me, you know, cause nature had already done it. Nature said, You two folks, hook up, cause you a good example of how it sposed to go. I didn’t want nothing to be able to go against that. But what was good tween us must have been nothing but bodies, she say. Cause I don’t know the Albert that don’t dance, can’t hardly laugh, never talk bout nothing, beat you and hid your sister Nettie’s letters. Who he?
Pages 124-137
Setting: Celie to God 124- 125 / Nettie to Celie 125-137

Characters: Celie, Shug, Nettie, Olivia, Adam, Samuel, Corrine


Reading Questions


18. Why does Nettie think she was ignorant about her own self?


Passage for Discussion

I remember one time you said your life made you feel so ashamed you couldn’t even talk about it to God, you had to write it, bad as you thought your writing was. Well, now I know what you meant. And whether God will read letters or no, I know you will go on writing them; which is guidance enough for me. Anyway, when I don’t write to you I feel as bad as I do when I don’t pray, locked up in myself and choking on my own heart. I am so lonely, Celie. (130)

Pages 138-154

Setting: Nettie to Celie138-143 / Celie to God 143-148 / Nettie to Celie 148 -154

Characters: Nettie, Samuel, Celie, Shug, Mr.____, Grady, Nettie, Joseph, Samuel, Corrine


Reading Questions

19. Why do the Olinka not identify with Samuel, Corrine, and Nettie on the basis of race?

20. For the first time, on page 145, Celie calls Mr_____, Albert. Why is this significant?
Passage for Discussion

Can you handle it? Ast Shug?
How I’m gon keep from killing him, I say.
Don’t kill, she say. Nettie be coming home before long. Don’t make her

have to look at you like us look at Sofia.
But it so hard, I say, while Shug empty her suitcase and put the letters inside. Hard to be Christ too, say Shug. But he manage.
Remember that. Thou Shalt Not Kill, He said. And probably wanted to

add on to that, Starting with me. He knowed the fools he was dealing with.
But Mr.____ not Christ. I’m not Christ, I say.
You somebody to Nettie, she say. And she be pissed if you changed on her while she on her way home. (144)
Pages 155-167

Setting: Nettie to Celie

Characters: Nettie, Olivia, Tashi, Corrine


  • Olivia makes friends with Tashi.


  • Tashi’s parents get upset that she spends so much time with Olivia.

  • The road is coming.


Reading Questions

21. How are women treated in the Olinka tribe? How do you know this? (specific incidents or information)



Passage for Discussion

There is a way that the men speak to women that reminds me too much of Pa. They listen just long enough to issue instructions. They don’t even look at women when women are speaking. They look at the ground and bend their heads toward the ground. The women also do not “look in a man’s face” as they say. To “look in a man’s face” is a brazen thing to do. They look instead at his feet or his knees. And what can I say to this? Again, it is our own behavior around Pa. (162)
Pages 168-183

Setting: Nettie to Celie 168-176 / Celie to God 177 / Celie to Nettie 178-183

Characters: Nettie, Samuel, Corrine, Celie, Shug, Celie and Nettie’s ‘Pa’, Daisy

Plot Development

  • The road reaches the village.


  • Nettie tells Samuel the children are Celie’s.

  • Celie finds out her “pa” is not really her father.

  • Celie goes to see her “pa.”


Reading Questions


22. What is the effect of all these people keeping secrets?

23. Why does Celie think God must be asleep?
Passage for Discussion

But I feel daze.

My daddy lynch. My mama crazy. All my little half-brothers and sisters no kin to me. My children not my sister and brother. Pa not pa.

You must be sleep.
Pages 184-197

Setting: Nettie to Celie 184-191 / Celie to Nettie 192-197

Characters: Nettie, Corrine, Samuel, Celie, Shug

Plot Development


  • Corrine dies.

  • Samuel gives Nettie all Corrine’s things.

  • Celie and Shug discuss God.


Reading Questions


24. Why is it significant that Celie is now writing to Nettie instead of to God?


Passage for Discussion

Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit.

It? I ast? (195)
Pages 198-214

Setting: Celie to Nettie

Characters: Celie, Shug, Grady, Harpo, Sofia, Mr.____

Plot Development



  • Celie and Mary Agnes announce they are leaving.

  • Celie goes to Shug’s house in Memphis.

  • Celie makes Shug some pants.


  • Shug puts Celie in business.


Reading Questions

25. Why does Mary Agnes continue to insist on being called that?


26. How does the tone of Celie’s letters change once she leaves Mr.______?
Passage for Discussion

“Shit, he say. I should have lock you up. Just let you out to work. The jail you plan for me is the one in which you will rot, I say. (206)


Pages 215-225

Setting: Celie to Nettie

Characters: Celie, Darlene, Jerene, Harpo,
Sofia, Mr._______

Plot Development

  • Celie visits Harpo and Sofia
Sophia’s mother dies.


  • Celie shows Harpo and Sophia how to smoke reefer.

  • Sofia tells Celie how Mr._____ has changed.



Reading Questions


27. Why do Harpo and Sofia make up?


Passage for Discussion

After that, I start to feel again for Harpo, Sofia say. And pretty soon us start work on our new house. She laugh. But did I say it been easy? If I did, God would make me cut my own switch.

What make him pull through? I ast.

Oh, she say, Harpo made him send you the rest of your sister’s letters. Right after that he start to improve. You know meanness kill, she say. (224-225)

Pages 226-240

Setting: Nettie to Celie

Characters: Nettie
, Samuel, 
Doris Baines, 
Samuel, Corrine’s aunts, Adam
, Olivia

Plot Development



  • The Olinka are driven from their village.

  • Nettie and the family go to England for help.

  • The Doris Baines saga...

  • Nettie tells Celie the story of Samuel and Corrine as Samuel 
told it to her.

  • Samuel and Nettie fall in love.


Reading Questions

28. Why does the ritual scarification of women cause conflict between Tashi and Adam?


Passage for Discussion

It is a way the Olinka can show they still have their own ways, said Olivia, even though the white man has taken everything else. Tashi didn’t want to do it, but to make her people feel better, she’s resigned. She’s resigned. She’s going to have the female initiation ceremony too, she said. (239)
Pages 241-251

Setting: Nettie to Celie 241-243 / Celie to Nettie 243-251

Characters: Adam, Olivia, Tashi, Celie, Shug, Germaine

Plot Development

  • Nettie calls Africa “home.”

  • Alphonso dies.

  • Celie inherits his house and store.



Reading Questions


29. On page 241 Nettie calls Africa “home.” Why?




Passage for Discussion

Then she took some cedar sticks out of her bag and lit them and gave one of them to me. Us started at the very top of the house in the attic, and us smoked it all the way down to the basement, chasing out all the evil and making a place for good.

Oh Nettie, us have a house! A house big enough for us and our children, for your husband and Shug. Now you can come home cause you have a home to come to! (246)
Pages 252-258

Setting: Celie to Nettie 252- 255 / Nettie to Celie 256- 258

Reading Questions

30. Did Nettie ever get to read any of Celie’s letters? Does this matter?


Passage for Discussion

The only piece of mail Mr.____ ever put directly in my hand is a telegram that come from the United States Department of defense. It say the ship you and the children and your husband left Africa in was sunk by German mines off the coast of someplace call Gibralta. They think you all drowned. Plus, the same day, all the letters I wrote to you over the years come back unopen.

I sit her in the big house by myself trying to sew, but what good is sewing gon do? What good is anthing? Being alive begin to seem like a awful strain. (255)
Pages 259 - 276
Setting: Celie to Nettie

Characters: Celie, Mr._____

Reading Questions


31. Why does Celie keep writing to Nettie even though she knows she is dead?


Passage for Discussion

But I don’t hate him, Nettie. And I don’t believe you dead. How can you be dead if I still feel you? Maybe, like God, you changed into something dfferent that I’ll have to speak to in a different way, but you not dead to me Nettie. And never will be. Sometime when I git tired of talking to myself I talk to you. I even try to reach our children. (260)
Pages 285- 288
Setting: Celie to Nettie 277- 285 / Celie to God, everything

Reading Questions


32. So, why are we here?



Passage for Discussion

Anyhow, he say, you know how it is. You ast yourself one question, it lead to fifteen. I start to wonder why us need love. Why us suffer. Why us black, Why us men and women. Where do children really come from. It didn’t take long to realize I didn’t hardly know nothing. And that if you ast yourself why you black or a man or a woman or a bush, it don’t mean nothing if you don’t ast why you here, period.

So what you think? I ast.

I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder, To ast.. And that in wondering bout the big things and asting bout the big things, you learn about the

little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, he say, the more I love. (282)


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