One aspect of gender that is an integral element to this novel is the relationship between Christine and Heed. They begin as friends, children who play together and share a special bond, but when Bill chooses Heed as his child bride instead of Christine their friendship turns to animosity. This is a common trend among women and is tied to a societally perceived need (especially in the 1950s) to procure a man. Even today, women break apart from one another if a man comes between them. Thus the theme of "love" in a novel by the same name is not about the beautiful aspects of love, the close bonds between women that are often evidenced in Morrison's work, but a love that turns to hatred.
In her intoduction to the novel, Morrison writes:
People tell me that I am always writing about love. I nod, yes, but it isn't true - not exactly. In fact, I am always writing about betrayal. Love is the weather. Betrayal is the lightning that cleaves and reveals it (p. ix).
I think this quote, more than anything, is integral to an understanding of the role that love plays in shaping the novel. Examine the work from the aspect of betrayal, and you will get to the heart of love.
As to the element of race, consider the setting. Race, for Morrison, is never far from her frame of reference. As a black woman who began her career during the black arts movement, the issue of racial identity is closely tied to the issue of female identity. The relationships that women form in her works are complicated by the dividing lines that have existed and continue to exist between male and female, black and white, socio-economically powerful and socio-economically weak. Consider the relationship between the two women in this light, and you will have your answers!