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Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

by Kevin Henkes

Summary

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse asks us to think about how to apologize and the value of forgiveness.

When Lilly grows up, she wants to be just like her favorite teacher, Mr. Slinger. All of this changes when she brings her new purse to school and creates a distraction with it. When Mr. Slinger makes her stop, she gets angry and retaliates. She apologizes the following day and makes up with Mr. Slinger.

Read aloud video by Michele Lepe

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is a tale that emphasizes the importance of being considerate, apologizing when in the wrong, and forgiving others when they apologize. Lilly’s eagerness to show off her purple plastic purse made her act inconsiderately to the wishes of the rest of the students in the classroom. During this incident, Mr. Slinger intervenes and takes away Lilly’s possessions. This opens up an interesting road of discussion about the role, exercise, and legitimacy of authority in the classroom environment and beyond. From there, we see how Lilly’s emotions change from being furious, causing her to act rashly, to her harboring guilt when Mr. Slinger explains the situation to her.

Apology

In the story, Lilly apologizes to Mr. Slinger and consequently repairs her relationship with him. However, is this apology sufficient? Lilly’s mother writes a note and her father bakes snacks, while Lilly draws a picture in which Mr. Slinger supposedly declares his forgiveness to Lilly. Does Lilly’s presentation of these things constitute an apology or are there further elements? Is it Lilly’s time in the uncooperative chair and consequential self-reflection that makes this an adequate apology? Children may say that because Lilly says “I’m sorry” she has appropriately apologized. Ask the students if one can apologize without saying “I’m sorry.” If the answer to this is “yes,” we can then look back upon the previous questions and try to determine what the components of an apology are. Children may say that Lilly felt bad, which means that her apology was good. But did Lilly feel bad or did she simply want Mr. Slinger to still like her, or had she been told that apologies are required? Does her motive matter?

Forgiveness

Mr. Slinger’s supposed forgiveness of Lilly is very important, because it brings up issues of when forgiveness is necessary and what exactly constitutes forgiveness. Most children will agree that Mr. Slinger forgave Lilly, but it is important to note that he never explicitly says “I forgive you,” nor does he explain what it means that he forgives Lilly or how their relationship will proceed. Some children may say that Mr. Slinger will forget about the incident and his relationship with Lilly will be exactly the same as it was before, but this contrasts what most philosophers believe about forgiveness. If Mr. Slinger simply forgets about the event, he may have the same relationship with Lilly he had before, but has he forgiven her? If one were to be knocked on the head and therefore forced to forget an incident, our intuition is that this is not forgiveness. Thus, forgetting cannot be equated with forgiveness. Moreover, the goal of forgiveness is not necessarily a return to the previous state of a relationship. Rather, it is thought to be a reconciliation and creation of a new, stronger relationship and the new basis of forgiveness. So then what is it that makes Mr. Slinger’s act one of forgiveness? Is it forgiveness? Must Lilly be forgiven for her small act of wrongdoing? Is it her apology that allows her to be forgiven?

Authority

One of the major aspects of discussion involves political philosophy. Political philosophy deals with why and how a government has authority and how they are to exercise it. The topic which emerges in the book is the authority that Mr. Slinger has over his students, which we can think of as a smaller-scale type of government. The question set for this part of the discussion focuses on the existence and justification of authority. Most accept that Mr. Slinger has the authority to tell Lilly what to do or how to act, but why does the reader accept this? Oftentimes, in order for authority to be legitimate, the authority figure needs the consent of the people over whom he has authority. But we do not see Lilly consenting to Mr. Slinger as an authority figure. So how did he get it? Do we then believe that there are some scenarios in which authority is simply accepted, such as in the classroom? Or have Lilly’s parents consented for her to be subject to this authority? Furthermore, there is a difference between Mr. Slinger taking Lilly’s purse away and a student demanding the same thing. The student does not have authority over Lilly, even though his reason for taking away the bag might be the same as Mr. Slinger’s. Why, then, does Mr. Slinger have legitimate authority and not the student? Would there ever be a situation in which the student had authority?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Apology:

“Lilly felt simply awful.”

  1. What did Lilly do to apologize?
  2. Have you ever apologized to someone but you didn’t really mean it? Did they still feel better?
  3. Was it a good apology?
  4. What are the components of a good apology?
  5. Is personal reflection necessary for apology?
  6. Did Lilly truly believe she did something wrong, or did she just want to repair her relationship with Mr. Slinger, or did she simply think apologizing was the correct thing to do?
  7. Does it matter which of these things she believed as long as she apologized?

Forgiveness:

  1. Do you believe Mr. Slinger forgave Lilly or accepted her apology? If he forgave her, what made this an act of forgiveness?
  2. Is accepting an apology the same thing as forgiving?
  3. Can you forgive someone without saying “I forgive you”?
  4. Can you forgive someone if they don’t know that they’ve done something wrong?
  5. What’s the purpose of forgiveness?
  6. Are there some things that can never be forgiven?
  7. Is forgiving the same thing as forgetting?

Authority:

  1. Was Mr. Slinger right to tell Lilly she needed to wait?
  2. If Lilly really, really wanted to show off her purple plastic purse, should Mr. Slinger have let her? Why or why not?
  3. Would it have been okay if another student had taken away Lilly’s purse instead of Mr. Slinger? Why or why not?
  4. Teachers can make you do things. But so can bullies. Is there a difference? What is it?
  5. Is having the power to make someone do something the same thing as being in charge of that person?
  6. Can you think of a time you had the power to make someone do something, but you weren’t in charge of that person?
  7. So, why does Mr. Slinger have the authority?
  8. Does Mr. Slinger need someone’s permission to have authority over his students?
  9. Is listening to authority a good thing?
  10. Is Mr. Slinger having authority the same as your parents having authority? Why or why not?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Nora Brown and Ammar Babar. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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Back to All Books Cover image for Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse with an illustration of the same mouse dressed in a blue dress, red cape and purple purse repeated six times on the cover. The mouse changes positions in each instance, and appears to be dancing. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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