The Color Purple Introduction
by Alice Walker

The Color Purple book cover
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Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, The Color Purple has been a mainstay of English classrooms for decades. While it poses challenges—vernacular language and a popular film adaptation—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying The Color Purple will give them insight into the intersectionality of misogyny and racism, as well as important themes surrounding religion and identity. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1982
  • Recommended Grade Level: 9th and up
  • Approximate Word Count: 66,000
  • Author: Alice Walker
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Literary Period: Contemporary American
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society, Person vs. Self
  • Narration: First-Person 
  • Setting: American South and Africa, 1920s–1950s
  • Structure: Epistolary Novel, Prose
  • Dominant Literary Devices: Allusions, Symbolism
  • Mood: Bitter, Serious, Hopeful

Texts That Go Well With The Color Purple

Beloved (1987), by Toni Morrison, is a novel about Sethe, a former slave, as she navigates the American South in the aftermath of the Civil War. Like The Color Purple, Beloved portrays complex family relationships and conflicts to demonstrate how black American families were impacted by systemic oppression in a white supremacist and patriarchical society. Both novels explore how the traumas and sins of the past—both personal and historical—can seep into the psyche.

Frankenstein (1818), by Mary Shelley, is a novel about a scientist who animates lifeless flesh, creating a hideous being who questions the meaning and worth of his existence. Like The Color Purple, Frankenstein uses the epistolary form to tell a story from the voices of two central characters. Comparing and contrasting the two novels invites a discussion of the possibilities and attributes of the epistolary novel.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), by Maya Angelou, is a widely-acclaimed autobiography about the author’s childhood and adolescent experiences of racism, abuse, and...

(The entire section is 493 words.)