Celie is an African American woman living in Georgia in the early 20th century. She suffers decades of abuse as she struggles to find love and friendship in her life.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
Margaret Atwood (born 1939) is an award winning Canadian poet, novelist, and literary critic. In “Morning in the Burned House,” Atwood paints a dream-like picture through her use of symbolism and metaphor, describing a speaker who imagines her childhood as a burned house.
Have students read this poem before they start The Color Purple and prompt them to consider Celie’s experiences as a child. As students read the novel, ask them to track how Celie’s childhood has been warped by the abuse inflicted upon her by her father. How could Margaret Atwood’s comparison of childhood to a burned house also be applied to Celie’s childhood? How does the speaker in “Morning in the Burned House” continue to be affected by the memories of their childhood? How will Celie’s experiences likely go on to haunt her, and continue to shape her life as an adult?
In “Advice to the ‘Newly Married Lady’” (1808), a doctor from the 19th century advises new wives to defer to their husbands.
Have students read this text after they finish page 24, when Celie’s father has married her off, to generate a discussion about women’s roles as wives. How do both texts explore the duties that wives have to their husbands? How does this compare to how husbands are expected to treat their wives? Ask students to discuss why Celie caters to her husband. What does she risk if she disobeys or upsets him?
In “Excerpt from Southern Horrors: Lynch Laws in All Its Phases,” historical activist Ida B. Wells discusses the injustice and horrors of Southern lynch laws, focusing on the violence against African Americans following the Civil War.
Introduce this article after students finish page 102, when Sophia is imprisoned and Mary Agnes attempts to free her, to explore African American women’s vulnerability to violence in the South. How does Ida B. Wells portray the justice system in the south? How do Sophia’s experiences in jail reinforce this? How do both Sophia and Mary Agnes suffer physical abuse? Why are they unable to challenge these various injustices?
In this poem, a speaker uses figurative language to describe the exceptional qualities of their love.
Have students read this poem after page 118, when Celie and Shug express their love for one another. Ask students to discuss Celie and Shug’s relationship. How does the love that they have for one another develop? How does this compare to how love develops for the speaker in Neruda’s poem? Ask students to consider the flower imagery in the poem. How does Shug evoke hidden or buried feelings from Celie, as the speaker’s love evokes hidden flowers in the poem?
In Li-Young Lee’s poem “From Blossoms,” the speaker describes eating peaches in the summertime.
Have students read this poem after page 204, when Shug describes simple joys to Celie, and ask students to discuss how both texts explore the theme of appreciating the little things. Why does the speaker in the poem get so much joy from eating peaches? How does this compare to the joy that Shug is able to derive from life? Ask students to discuss how noticing the color purple in this section is a metaphor for appreciating something simple.
In Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use,” a daughter comes home for a family visit with a new understanding of her heritage.
Introduce this short story after page 248, when Olivia and Adam reunite with Tashi, and have students compare the similar themes Alice Walker explores in the two stories. Ask students to discuss how both stories explore cultural identity and the conflict that it can cause within someone. Why do the Olinka people continue to encourage their children to scar their faces and to go through with “female initiation ceremonies”? How do Tashi and Dee struggle to find balance in their identities?
In Gwendolyn Brooks’ short story “Home,” a family may be forced to leave their home.
Have students read this short story after they finish the book, and Celie and Nettie have been reunited, to generate a discussion on family bonds. How do the family members in the two stories express their love for one another? How does Helen keep her calm in “Home,” despite the possibility that they might lose their home? How is this similar to Celie’s reliance on familial love in the face of the obstacles throughout her life?