Since it was first published in 1982, The Color Purple become an icon of literature has become an icon of literature that heals, that enlightens, and that empowers. Its audience has always been broad: the novel garnered major literary awards and dazzled highbrow critics while demonstrating equally strong commercial appeal. Readers from all walks of life have found themselves awed by the novel’s narrator, Celie, a role portrayed onscreen by Whoopi Goldberg in Steven Spielberg’s film version of the story. More recently, producer Oprah Winfrey (who played Sofia in the movie) brought the novel to Broadway in a musical that blends gospel, jazz, blues, and ragtime. Despite these triumphant images, this is a novel that begins with a fourteen-year-old girl’s cry for help. Celie has suffered repeated rapes and brutal beatings by the man she believes to be her father, who tells her, in the novel’s opening line, “You better not never tell nobody but God.” After becoming pregnant by him twice, she is terrified that he has now set his sights on her younger sister, Nettie. Celie’s initial thoughts are shared with us in the form of her letters to God, written in a voice that uses raw realism—the only language she knows—to convey the facts of her life. It is this authenticity that sets The Color Purple apart; critics who feel offended apart; critics who feel offended by Celie’s voice miss the fact that her candor is itself an aspect of her stolen innocence. These opening scenes reveal the dangers of secrecy and misinformation as the heroine pines for one thing: an education. Her tragic home life prevents her from fulfilling that dream. For Nettie, however, fate holds quite the opposite. She joins a missionary family who encourage her in literacy and learning, eventually taking her with them for an exhilarating though dangerous life in colonial Africa. The price of this freedom is that she and Celie are estranged from one another for most of their adult lives. Yet their devotion as sisters never wanes, and, without even knowing whether the other is alive, their mutual and unconditional love sustains them. Set in the Deep South during the first half of the twentieth century, The Color Purple traces the lives of both sisters over a period of decades, and delivers innumerable opportunities for thoughtful classroom discussion. Acceptance and context are the keys to unlocking the novel’s riches. Alice Walker’s classic brings to life American history, world history, women’s history, civil rights history, and the history of one remarkable family—a family that asks us to consider questions about the making of an abuser (what are the true roots of controlling, hurtful behavior?) and the recipe for peace (how can we find the courage to eradicate suffering throughout the world?). We hope that the following discussion topics and activities will enrich your students’ appreciation of this unique, transforming work of modern fiction.