The Color PurpleThemes, Symbols, and Motifs

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for The Color Purple

Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in The Color Purple


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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes to Look For and Discuss


Celie does not think much of herself at all. She was raped by her stepfather, her two children were taken away, she is passed to Mr. as a piece of property, she is no longer bale to have kids, and her sister Nettie is sent away from her. Throughout all of this, Celie tries to maintain some sort of connection with a higher power by writing to God each day. When Celie finally gets to meet Shug, she feels unworthy; however, her friendship with both Shug and Sofia begin to build her up into someone who is eventually able to stand up to Albert, walk away, find her true talent in sewing, and a sense of content even away from Shug.

Overcoming Adversity

The novel focuses on the many ways in which the characters, particularly women, overcome adversity in their lives. Celie’s upbringing, her marriage, and her husband’s children are all adversities that drag her down inside of herself so that she can’t see a lot of hope in her future. Shug Avery is faced with having to be a stronger version of herself in order to fight for how she wants to live her life in a male-dominated society. Sofia fights Harpo’s attempts to control her and “make her mind”, and her temper eventually gets her an 11-year-sentence with the white mayor’s family, separated from her own. Nettie faces her own obstacles in Africa, with the new roads and rubber farms destroying the Olinka land, and losing Corrine. Each woman lives under the adversity of discrimination in the South during the Jim Crow era. Each woman overcomes her adversities and comes out stronger and more content with her life by the end of the novel.

True Loyalty

Despite the many years of distance and lack of communication between Celie and Nettie, their bond does not break. Celie dutifully keeps Nettie alive in her letters to God, and eventually in her letters to Celie directly, once she realizes that Nettie is alive. Nettie takes the time to continually write to Celie in spite of the years of silence, keeping her informed of all of the things she is learning and experiencing as a black missionary in Africa. Their loyalty to each other does not waver, and when they are reunited, they find peace and rejuvenation in each other’s company once again.

Defining Happiness

When Celie meets Shug Avery, she finally discovers true happiness. However, when Shug leaves her to travel with Germaine, Celie feels as if her world has collapsed in on her. She wonders if happiness was just a cruel trick that has been played on her because she thought she would finally have something that lasted. Instead, Celie learns to be content: with her friendship with Albert, her sewing business, her little family unit with Sofia and Harpo, and with her new house. But she rediscovers her happiness when Shug returns, and then when Nettie arrives. She and Albert both know what it means to have loved and lost Shug; but now that Celie’s happiness has been awakened, she knows that she will never be the same subjugated woman again.

Connecting with the Spirit

Celie spends a lot of time wondering about God, especially after she meets Shug. Shug seems to think that God is not a man or a woman, but an It. Nettie says that once people stop spending their time thinking about what God looks like, they start to find him in themselves. As Celie discovers her happiness with Shug, she starts to feel the power in the world around her, and begins to connect to that rather than to a religious deity. When Celie connects to this power, she herself becomes more assured, and finds a strength within herself that surprisingly sustains her, even when her heart is broken.

Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss


The women of the novel spend a lot of time navigating men’s rules. Celie must tiptoe around her stepfather and Albert; Sofia is let down by Harpo because she won’t conform; Shug defies all norms by leaving her children and pursuing her singing career and happiness; Nettie has to find a balance in the Olinka tribe as a woman who is not Samuel’s wife, and not the children’s mother. The women of the Olinka tribe forge a true community with one another because they are mere possessions to their husbands. The women are strong, and when together, they laugh at the men who think they are weak.

Music and Singing

Shug’s singing career garners her a lot of attention, and a lifestyle of her choice. She sings “the Devil’s music”, and she knows the power it has over people. Her song for Celie connects them, and makes Celie feel like she is worth something for once. Squeak, or Mary Agnes, finds her own identity apart from Harpo by singing. Nettie notes that women workers in Africa sing even after a hard day’s work—perhaps because they are too tired to do anything else. It is a way of life, a community, an identity, and a source of strength and kinship for many people in the novel.

The Color Purple

In wondering about the true nature of God, Shug tells Celie that God enjoys it when people enjoy themselves. While Christians typically point to dedicating their lives to pleasing him, God also likes to please us. She says that she thinks it probably angers God if we walk by the color purple in a field and ignore it—it is a thing of beauty that he has put here for humans to enjoy, and so we should. In the same way, indulging herself in the happiness of her relationship with Shug, Celie finds beauty and connects with the spirit of God.

The Letters

The letters are a lifeline between Celie and the world around her, and between Celie and Nettie. It keeps their relationship alive, and reveals how they have remained loyal to one another, despite distance and time. Celie finds purpose through writing her thoughts down on paper, to make sense of her life as it is; in the same way, Nettie also finds purpose through updating Celie on her own well-being and that of her children, along with educating Celie about Africa, the Olinka, and history.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The Color Purple. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Color Purple you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

Template: Theme


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