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The Color Purple
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Color Purple is a moving, inspirational novel told in letters that includes an abundance of mature content -- explicit sex, rape, incest, sexism and violence toward women, and a lesbian relationship. The book vividly portrays the harsh life of rural, poor African Americans -- especially women -- in the pre-civil rights South, and has been criticized for its negative depiction of African-American men. It ranked No. 17 on the American Library Association's list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books 2000-2009 due to its sex, violence, and strong language. The novel was adapted for Steven Spielberg's successful 1985 film version and a 2005 Broadway musical.
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What's the story?
In rural Georgia in the 1930s, 14-year-old Celie is an uneducated African-American girl who is sexually abused and impregnated twice by her father. In desperation, she starts writing letters to God. Her father eventually marries her off to a man Celie refers to only as "Mr.," who really wanted to marry Celie's prettier sister, Nettie. After Nettie escapes her father's house and runs to Celie's, Mr. tries to force himself on her, and Nettie runs away and is presumed dead. Mr.'s mistress, Shug Avery, a beautiful blues singer, comes to stay at their house and Celie finds herself sexually attracted to her. Soon Celie and Shug discover a cache of Nettie's letters -- which Mr. has kept hidden form her for years -- describing her life among missionaries in Africa. The story is told in alternating letters from Celie and Nettie, showing each sister's evolution and charting Celie's journey of self-discovery toward happiness and independence.
Is it any good?
THE COLOR PURPLE gives a vivid, wrenching portrayal of the harsh circumstances and limited opportunities of poor, uneducated African-American women in the South before the civil rights movement. It also chronicles a woman's inspiring journey from abuse to independence and self-actualization. The novel won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and was the breakthrough work for author Alice Walker. It was a bestseller when it came out in 1982, has continued to sell well ever since, and is sometimes assigned in high school, although it has been the consistent target of censors due to its mature content, including sex, violence, and strong language. Steven Spielberg's 1985 film version was popular with critics and audiences alike, earning 11 Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture. And a 2005 Broadway musical versions earned 11 Tony Award nominations in 2006.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how gender roles and opportunity for people of color have changed in the years since the novel took place (1910-1940). How different are things today?
Why might Celie have been more drawn to a romantic and sexual relationship with a woman than a man?
How do the white characters, such as Miss Millie, appear condescending through supposed kindness to African Americans?
Themes & Topics
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For kids who love historical fiction and tales of African-American experience
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.