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Approaching essays and exams » Engaging with the text

Reading and working with The Color Purple

What kind of novel is it?

The Color Purple tells not only a story about oppression, injustice, bigotry and discrimination, but also one of courage, determination, self-empowerment and resilience. Walker’s novel examines:

Become accustomed to the language

The novel was written in an epistolary form, as a series of letters from the principal character, Celie, first addressed to God, then later to her sister Nettie, who writes a series of letters to Celie, describing her own experiences as a missionary in Africa:

Put yourself into the novel

Reading and notes

Get to know the text

Read the text in different ways. Once you have a firm grasp of the overall narrative, you may wish to:

Pa, for example, is portrayed from the outset of the narrative as an abusive monster who uses women for sexual gratification, and seems to have no sense of right or wrong. His marriage to a young girl shortly after his wife’s death and Celie’s pregnancies could indicate that Pa, like many other African-American males at that time, had little regard for women other than as domestic chattels. You might want to research this topic further and think about Pa’s relationship with Albert and his behaviour after Celie and Nettie leave the family home. An interesting exercice might be to think about what being someone’s ‘people’ really signifies throughout the novel.

Know the complete text

This requires a separate section because examiners often report that students know the start of a play or novel well, but not the end. Classroom study often emphasises the beginning of a book or play, where the author introduces characters, themes and imagery, and is then less detailed about the remainder of the text. So:

Keep a record of your reading

Describing a work of literature written in the form of letters.
The Bible describes God as the unique supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.
Someone sent on or engaged in a religious mission.
The language or idiom native to a particular country or area
The set of rules governing the organisation of language.