The Color Purple is a novel that invites group discussion. Its construction is such that the absence of an omniscient narrator forces readers to piece together the gaps in the narrative. In a sense, reading this novel is a little like quilt making. And group discussion of the novel's narrative should enrich the individual's reading.
This novel could be viewed as a set of instructions on how to build a self starting at the bottom of American society with no self-esteem and with no advantages. (Could a character have fewer advantages being black, female, poor, and lesbian?) Celie ends up financially independent, psychologically healthy, and a fully realized human being. Certainly the importance and possibility of Walker's prescription calls for discussion.
There are few places, if any, in literature where so many strong female characters are assembled in one novel. It is as though Walker wanted to present as many different, powerful role models for women as possible. These strong characters' individual responses to patriarchal society's domination of them should stimulate discussion of appropriate reactions to violence and oppression.
Discussion groups will inevitably confront the war between the sexes at center stage in the novel. Walker has set forth strong views and a dramatically compelling case for them. The black American male characters seem driven by their desire to dominate the women around them. Their world does not seem right to them unless they are in control. Through Nettie's letters, African men seem much the same. Ditto for white men. Nettie writes, for example, "I think Africans are very much like White people back home." A question perhaps to begin with is, if the novel is to be used as a lens with which to view society, does this lens seem be a clear and accurate one?
1. In what ways are sex roles often inverted in The Color Purple?
2. Although love triangles usually spell trouble in most novels, that does not seem to be the case in this one. How are love triangles different in this novel?
3. Albert seems to despise Celie as his wife from the start. Is his sexism the only reason?
4. What is the significance of quilt making in the novel?
5. Why does Celie tell Harpo to beat Sofia?
6. This novel is about male/female relationships, but Nettie's letters are about African and black American relationships. How are they at odds?
7. Sofia and Tashi are two women continents and cultures apart. How are their fates alike?
8. What allows Albert to change?
9. Each of the central female characters in the novel is a fighter. In what ways is each a different fighter from the others?
10. Celie struggles through the novel creating her concept of god. How does her concept of god evolve?
11. What is it about Shug that makes her a role model for Celie?
12. What is the significance of the title, The Color Purple?