Sexism and racism
Themes of sexism and racism are prevalent in the entire novel, probably as a reflection of the social contexts surrounding the novel's setting. Celie, as the main protagonist and narrator, shows some form of internalized oppression when she advised Harpo to beat Sofia as this was how she was treated by Mr. ____. Shortly after, however, it is revealed that Celie merely advised Harpo in doing that as she was jealous of Sofia's strong-mindedness and assertiveness. Later on in the novel, Celie also begins to find strength within her to reject the violent advances of Mr. _____. Racism as an issue is seen in how Sofia was imprisoned and violently beaten for rejecting the white mayor's wife's offer to be her maid (where the offer in itself was a reflection of racist thinking). Nettie, in her letters, also indicates her reflecting the racial stereotypes held by American Blacks against their African counterparts. Inscribing a copy of the novel for a PEN auction in 2014, Alice Walker wrote on the half-title: "I was mistaken. There is nothing more for me to say about this book."
Disruption of traditional gender roles
Many characters in the novel break the boundaries of traditional male or female gender roles. Sofia's strength and sass, Shug's sexual assertiveness, and Harpo's insecurity are major examples of such disparity between a character's gender and the traits he or she displays. This blurring of gender traits and roles sometimes involves sexual ambiguity, as we see in the sexual relationship that develops between Celie and Shug. Disruption of gender roles sometimes cause problems. Harpo's insecurity about his masculinity leads to marital problems and his attempts to beat Sofia. Likewise, Shug's confident sexuality and resistance to male domination cause her to be labeled a tramp. Throughout the novel, Walker wishes to emphasize that gender and sexuality are not as simple as we may believe. Her novel subverts and defies the traditional ways in which we understand women to be women and men to be men. Throughout the novel, the assertion of what the African-American femininity is compared to is the exploration of African-American male struggle with masculinity. The idea of femininity among African-American women is focused around the abilities of the husband to care for the wife and family. Men's normative roles are viewed as the source of oppressive male behavior. Therefore, if the African American male is not fulfilling his role, it is unlikely for the African-American woman to fulfill her role of femininity because she is predicated on his abilities.
The bond of sisterhood is another major theme in The Color Purple. Walker puts a strong emphasis in the novel on the sisterhood between the different women in the story. She not only draws attention to and recognizes the importance of the literal sisterhood between Celie and Nettie, and how that relationship has helped Celie get through all the hard times she has had to endure since the beginning, but it also recognizes the strong relationships that form between Celie and other characters in the novel such as Shug or Sofia. Celie could not have made all of the personal and internal advancements that she did if it weren’t for her strong relationships that she had with Shug, Nettie, and Sofia. These women can come to understand who they are because of the ties that bring them and bond them together. Celie is able to become a fighter and stand up for what she believes because of the love she is receiving, especially from Shug. Sisterhood, or love, helps Celie to understand her worth in the world, what she really wants out of life, and that she can achieve so much more. This plays a pivotal role in the story and reoccurs as a major contributor to Celie’s advancements towards happiness and freedom from oppression.