The characters are largely aware of the cyclical nature of harmful behavior. For instance, Sofia tells Eleanor Jane that societal influence makes it almost inevitable that her baby boy will grow up to be a racist. Only by forcefully talking back to the men who abuse them and showing them a new way of doing things do the women of the novel break these cycles of sexism and violence, causing the men who abused them to stop and reexamine their ways.
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 causes 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.