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SUBJECTS — Literature/U.S.; Literary Devices: motif, theme, symbol,
        characterization; U.S./1865 - 1913, 1913 - 1929; & Diversity/
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Breaking Out; Self-esteem;
Age: 15+: MPAA Rating-PG-13; Drama; 1985; 154 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

Description: Adapted from the prize-wining novel, The Color Purple chronicles the story of Celie, a young black woman living in poverty in rural Georgia who is subjected to racism, sexism, sexual abuse, and family dysfunction. At first submissive and treated as a slave by the man she was forced to marry, Celie grows in relationships with the women in her life who show her love and respect. She becomes assertive as she develops self-esteem and the burdens of her past are lifted.

Most of the events in the story center upon associations among black people rather than the interaction between blacks and whites. It thus reveals African-American culture as more than a reaction to white oppression. Still, racial injustice is an important part of the story as is the triumph of the individual over oppression.

Rationale for Using the Movie: The novel is frequently assigned to students in high school English classes. Shown in conjunction with reading the book, the film enables students to access difficult text and to conceptualize theme. Through comparison, students can learn how literary techniques such as symbol, motif, and imagery are applicable to film. Moreover, students can begin to develop respect for visual media as a serious art form, increasing their critical viewing skills.

Viewed without reading the book, the movie provides ELA teachers considerable opportunity for assignments requiring research and argumentation as well as analysis and narration.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide:

    ELA Classes: Students can learn how literary techniques such as symbol, motif, and imagery are applicable to film and begin to develop respect for visual media as a serious art form. Assignments requiring research and argumentation as well as analysis and narration can sharpen skills as they contribute to understanding aspects of the lives of African-Americans during the first decades of the 20th century.

    American History Classes: The Color Purple will introduce students to aspects of the lives of African-Americans during the first decades of the 20th century. The book or the movie are valuable additions to a list of works to be read or watched as homework to explore the genre of historical fiction. See TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project

Possible Problems: Moderate: Although the film plays down the sexuality expressed in the novel, most notably the lesbianism suggested in the relationship between Celie and Shug, this element is still present in the movie.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Using the Movie in Class:
      Discussion Questions


Additional Discussion Questions:
      Additional Helpful Background
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Other Sections:
Bridges to Reading
Links to the Internet
Selected Awards & Cast

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.

Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes; and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.



Discussion Questions:

After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

1.  Celie says she doesn't know how to fight, she only knows how to stay alive. What does this line reveal about Celie? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Any well-supported response is acceptable. Basically the line points out Celie's lack of confidence and the fact that she is reduced to simply enduring rather than living a life in which she is able to make choices on her own behalf. She is saying that she is equipped to submit rather than resist those who dominate her.

2.  Letters and a mailbox are important motifs in this story. They represent communication and contact with the outside world and suggest the necessity of expressing oneself in order to live fully. What example can you find that shows letters to be a source of strength to Celie? Suggested Response: Albert holds back Nettie's letters from Celie, isolating the sisters from one another. This causes a deep loneliness in both women. The discovery of the letters brings hope as Celie learns that her sister is still alive and her children are with Nettie in Africa. The communication helps build the confidence Celie needs to break out of the restrictions and behavior patterns that hold her down.

3.  The story shows the power of forgiveness. Which of the examples of forgiveness do you see as most instructive? Suggested Response: Answers will vary according to personal experience. Some students may decide that Shug's father is able to embrace her and forgive her for her sinful ways when she comes into the church singing the same song being sung by the choir. Shug says to him, "See, Daddy. Sinners have souls, too." This points to the idea that the best way to forgive is to see past the offense to the heart of the offender.

4.  The story shows redemption in several characters. Which do you see as most instructive? Suggested Response: Answers will vary, but will most likely point to Albert who takes the money he has been saving to the Office of Immigration and facilitates the return of Nettie and Celie's children from Africa. He stands in the background watching the reunion rather than coming forward to accept praise for his actions, thus showing how redemption is reward enough in itself.

For 10 additional discussion questions, click here.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1.  Since the film, as well as the book, can be seen as epistolary in its presentation, it offers opportunity to exercise writing skills in the informal style of letters. Imagine an adventure requiring several months or even years of your time. Write letters to a friend from any place along the path of that adventure which will make clear where you are, whom you are meeting, what events are happening and what you are learning. Space the letters out over the course of the imaginary adventure. Write at least six letters and take care that they show a story in themselves. Convey your story using action, dialogue, comparison, thoughts, and descriptive language

2.  Research and write an informative essay about the culture traits, both material and non-material, of the Olinka people. Describe the location and characteristics of the land in which the tribe resides, its history and its politics. Trace the culture from the time indicated in the story to the present time.

3.  Sofia is an important character whose change from feisty and strong to submissive and finally to an individual regaining some of the strength of her youth. Write an essay in which you track these changes; explain why they occur and what message is revealed in her recovery.

4.  Write an opinion essay in which you either support or disclaim the idea that with better communication people are able to live more freely and independently than in times past. Be sure to include cell phones, text messaging, and e-mail in your argument. You may want to discuss the informative power of having hundreds of channels of television and easy access to film as a part of your discussion about communication.

See also Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction and TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays..


Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Parenting Points: Seek to discover if your child has been assigned to read The Color Purple in his or her English class and be sure that the film is not seen as a substitute for reading the book.. Tell them that much has changed in the lives of both black Americans and women as a whole with the many social movements that have occurred since the years in which the story is set.

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

This Learning Guide was written by Mary RedClay and James Frieden and was last revised on August 25, 2012.


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