Color Purple Essay Prompts

Essay Topic 1

Describe the theme of fatherhood in the novel. Which character do you think is the best father in the novel? Why? Which character do you think is the worst? In what ways can you see parenting styles, specifically fatherhood, affecting characters as they mature into adulthood? Be sure to include examples from the text to strengthen your arguments.

Essay Topic 2

Describe Celie’s relationship with Shug. How does it grow and change over the course of the novel? Would you consider them more like sisters or lovers? Why? What is the difference between these two types of relationships? Be sure to include examples from the text to strengthen your arguments.

Essay Topic 3

What is the main difference between life in Olinka and life in America? How do the Olinka people react to the new missionaries when they arrive? How does this dynamic inform the race relations...

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The 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions focus on varying themes and are each structured differently. For an overview of the three prompt types you may encounter, read The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs. Here we will discuss the third FRQ prompt, which allows you to choose a particular work of literature as the focus of your essay.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel chronicling the struggle of several African-American women in rural Georgia in the early 20th century. The story is widely known as a feminist fable, told through the lens of women dealing with racism and abuse. Herein we will discuss how to determine if the given prompt is appropriate for this particular literary work and give you an idea of what to review before your exam.

The Color Purple AP English Lit Essay Themes

In order to choose a literary work to answer your prompt, it’s important to examine the themes which are outlined in the assigned essay. If the theme is not relevant or well-established in a work, you will do well to choose another title to examine. The following are the main themes which you may discuss in your The Color Purple AP English Lit Essay.

The power of your own narrative is an important theme to the story. Walker illustrates the importance of being able to express yourself and give voice to your struggles. The power that is initially taken from Celie, as she is warned to stay silent about her abuse, is eventually regained through the retelling of her own story.

Strong female relationships are a cornerstone to this novel. The companionship and understanding of fellow women is the essential ingredient which allows women to speak freely about their experiences. This narrative is necessary for them to resist and eventually overcome oppression. These relationships vary in type, but they all play important roles in releasing the women of The Color Purple from the shackles that hold them.

Racism and Sexism are two intertwining themes throughout the book. It’s important to note that Walker does not create characters who are stereotypical or blatantly evil. She communicates that pain begets pain and thus when we suffer, we impart that suffering onto those close to us.

The blurring of traditional gender roles is another continuing theme in The Color Purple. Harpo’s insecurity as a man drives him to beat his wife, Sofia. Shug’s sexual assertiveness leads to her being labeled as a tramp. And there’s the sexual ambiguity which leads to a relationship between Celie and Shug. Walker subverted the traditionally accepted roles of men and women.

How to use The Color Purple for the 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

The Color Purple is a well known literary work, with which you should be familiar. It may well be a viable choice for the AP English Lit free response question. However, that is dependent on the question. Each year the 3rd FRQ is different, and the CollegeBoard supplies a list of suggested books to reference for your essay. The absence of a book from the list does not disqualify it from use, that being said, it’s important to know how to choose which book to use for the given analysis.

In preparation for your exam, it’s a good idea to read previous years’ free response questions posted on CollegeBoard. The following review is for the 2016 FRQ prompt.

2016 FRQ 3: Many works of literature contain a character who intentionally deceives others. The character’s dishonesty may be intended to either help or hurt. Such a character, for example, may choose to mislead others for personal safety, to spare someone’s feelings, or to carry out a crime.

Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character’s deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.

The Color Purple would be an excellent choice to answer this free response question. The following is a suggestion for the thesis. In The Color Purple Mr. ____ hides Nettie’s letters from Celie after she leaves, in an attempt to control and isolate her from the only person who loves her. The effect this deception has on Celie is that she becomes depressed and even more introverted. Celie was never able to defend herself and only found the courage to defy her abusers in the protection of those she loved. However, this deception is eventually discovered, leading Celie to rebel and realize her own power to define her life.

The above thesis can be supported with various scenes from the novel and a well-reasoned analysis. In the first passage, We can see Mr._____’s low opinion of women and appraisal of them as property. In the second passage, we discover that Mr.____ has been hiding Nettie’s letters in order to alienate Celie from the only person whom she loved. After reading Nettie’s lost letters, Celie begins to feel alive again and plots to leave once her sister returns. In the last excerpt we can see that Mr. ____ and Celie have developed a quiet friendship. Whereas during their marriage, he used loneliness and lies to control her, once she found her voice and left, he was able to respect her and treat her like a person.

Harpo ast his daddy why he beat me. Mr._______ say, Cause he my wife. Plus, she stubborn. All women good for—he don’t finish. He just tuck his chin over the paper like he do. Remind me of Pa.” -letter 13

“Saturday morning Shug put Nettie letter in my lap. Little fat queen of England stamps on it, plus stamps that got peanuts, coconuts, rubber trees and say Africa. I don’t know where England at. Don’t know where Africa at either. So I still don’t know where Nettie at.

He been keeping her letters.” -letter 52

“Now I know Nettie alive I begin to strut a little bit. Think, when she come home us leave Bete.” -letter 61

You know, he say, you use to remind me of a bird. Way back when you first come to live with me. You was so skinny, Lord, he say. And the least little thing happen, you looked about to fly away.

You saw that, I say.

I saw it, he said, just too big a fool to let myself care.

Well, I say, us lived through it.

We still man and wife, you know, he say.

Naw, I say, we never was.”- Mr. ____ and Celie, -letter 84

2015 FRQ 3: In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation or a major social or political factor. Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.

For this prompt, The Color Purple is an apt choice for your essay. A possible thesis is as follows. In The Color Purple Celie has only known cruelty from the men in her life, beginning with her father and continuing with her husband. Her acceptance of this cruelty is mainly due to feeling alone and afraid of speaking out. She feels that it’s better to suffer and survive than to die for fighting back. However, her eventual development of close personal bonds with other women helps her to develop an identity and fight back for her rights and happiness. The novel is a journey towards finding her voice in order to escape the cruelty perpetrated on her.

This thesis can be supported by several scenes from the story along with a well-reasoned analysis. In the first letter we find out that Celie was abused by her father; emotionally, sexually, and physically. In the second passage, we see how accepting of her father’s vengeance Celie is. She doesn’t fight back or cry out, only states the facts and asserts she has no interest in men. In the third passage we can see how Celie’s own experiences cause her to advise Harpo to beat his wife, Sofia, out of jealousy. Celie wishes she had the courage to stand up for herself, as Sofia does, and she later regrets this advice. The fourth excerpt showcases how a life of cruelty and violence has hardened Celie. She describes herself as feeling numb to everything. Nettie expresses to Celie that not everyone in the world is as cruel as they have both endured, giving her a glimmer of hope in the fifth passage. In the last passage, Walker illustrates Celie’s anger with God for all her hardship. She feels she is not allowed to hold anger at those who have wronged her, so she lashes out at the Lord.

“He [Pa] never had a kine word to say to me. Just say You gonna do what your mammy wouldn’t. First he put his thing up gainst my hip and sort of wiggle it around. Then he grab hold my titties. Then he push his thing inside my pussy. When that hurt, I cry. He start to choke me, saying You better shut up and git used to it.

But I don’t never get used to it. And now I feels sick every time I be the one to cook” -letter 1

“He beat me today cause he say I winked at a boy in church. I may have got somethin in my eye but I didn’t wink. I don’t even look at mens” -letter 5

“I think bout this when Harpo ast me what he ought to do to her to make her mind. I don’t mention how happy he is now. How three years pass and he still whistle and sing. I think bout how every time I jump when Mr.________ call me, she look surprise. And like she pity me.

Beat her. I say.” -letter 19

“I think. I can’t even remember the last time I felt mad, I say. I used to git mad at my mammy cause she put a lot of work on me. Then I see how sick she is. Couldn’t stay mad at her. Couldn’t be mad at my daddy cause he my daddy. Bible say, Honor father and mother no matter what. Then after while every time I got mad, or start to feel mad, I got sick. Felt like throwing up. Terrible feeling. Then I start to feel nothing at all.” -letter 21

“Oh, Celie, there are colored people in the world who want us to know! Want us to grow and see the light! They are not all mean like Pa and Albert, or beaten down like Ma was. Corrine and Samuel have a wonderful marriage. Their only sorrow in the beginning was that they could not have children. And then, they say, “God sent them Olivia and Adam.” -letter 55

“Yeah, I say, and he give me a lunched daddy, a crazy mama, a lowdown dog of a step pa and a sister I probably won’t ever see again. Anyhow, I ay, the God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all the other mens I know. Trifling, forgetful and lowdown.” -letter 73

To sum it all up, The Color Purple has many themes you may find helpful for the last Free Response Question on the AP English Literature Exam. When reading the prompt and deciding on what literary work to use for your essay, remember to choose a subject where the theme outlined in the given instructions is prevalent.

In the case of The Color Purple, the power of your own narrative, strong female relationships, racism, sexism and the subversion of traditional gender roles are a few of the more prominent themes discussed. However, as we saw with the above prompt examples, this story has many underlying themes which you may examine for your The Color Purple AP English Lit Essay.

For more help preparing for your AP English Literature exam we suggest you readThe Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs and The Ultimate Guide to 2015 AP English Literature FRQs. And, for writing advice for the AP English Lit free response questions,’s AP English Literature section has practice free response sections with sample responses and rubrics.

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