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Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse

By Kevin Henkes

Summary

Lilly absolutely loves school, especially her teacher, Mr. Slinger. When she grows up, Lilly wants to be a teacher just like Mr. Slinger. One day, she comes to class with a shiny, new, plastic purse. All Lilly wants to do is show off her purse to the class, despite Mr. Slinger’s requests. Lilly gets angry and draws a mean picture of Mr. Slinger, but later realizes she has acted rashly when Mr. Slinger gives her a note and snacks. The next day, Lilly apologizes to Mr. Slinger and the two rekindle their relationship.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Module by Nora Brown and Ammar Babar

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 her Purple Plastic Purse made her inconsiderate of 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’s says “I’m sorry” that she has appropriately apologized. It is encouraged to then ask if one can apologize without saying “I’m sorry,” and 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 forget an incident, our intuition is that this is not forgiveness, so 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 the 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, but why is does the reader accepts this? Oftentimes, in order for authority to be legitimate, the authority figure needs the consent of the people he has authority over. 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 the classroom? Or have Lilly’s parents consented her 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. But if Lilly really, really wanted to show 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?
  4. Teachers can make you do things. But so can bullies. Is there a difference? What is it?
  5. Why is it okay for Mr. Slinger to take away Lilly’s purse but not for another student?
  6. Is having the power to make someone do something the same thing as being in charge of that person?
  7. Can you think of a time you had the power to make someone do something, but you weren't in charge of that person?
  8. So, why does Mr. Slinger have the authority?
  9. Does Mr. Slinger need someone’s permission to have authority over his students?
  10. Is listening to authority a good thing?
  11. Is Mr. Slinger having authority the same as your parents having authority? Why or why not?

This book module deals with Political Philosophy and Ethics. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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