The Color Purple is most clearly about the transforming power of love; Celie, Shug, and many of the other characters grow and change after being loved and learning to love in return. After Celie has left Albert, he is loved and cared for by his son Harpo. Albert reflects on the way in which he has treated Celie and the lessons that he has learned from watching Celie and Shug together; he becomes more thoughtful and considerate as a result. Albert and Celie become friends in the end and sit on the porch together smoking pipes and talking; when Nettie and the children return, Celie introduces Albert, along with Shug, as “her people.”
Albert lets Celie teach him to sew and helps her to make the clothes that she sells; he is no longer afraid that he will lose his masculinity. Harpo has also learned to accept his “feminine” traits and is content to stay home and take care of the house and the children while Sofia manages Celie’s store. Sofia learns to control her desire to dominate everyone and everything and is able to accept help not only from Harpo but also from the mayor’s daughter, Eleanor Jane, who assists Harpo in taking care of the children. Along with Celie, both Sofia and Mary Agnes teach powerful lessons in forgiveness. As these women grow in their ability to love and accept themselves and others, they also learn to forgive themselves and others.
In teaching Celie to love, Shug has helped Celie not only to understand and accept her own individuality but also to broaden her conception of spiritual truth beyond that of the old, white-bearded, blue-eyed God that she has imagined and the narrow conception of the Bible as having been written by white people for white people. Shug’s conception of spiritual truth includes a God who is neither man nor woman, neither black nor white, but is in every living thing and in every human being. Shug’s God also appreciates sexuality and wants people to enjoy themselves. In faraway Africa, Nettie realizes that her traditional picture of Jesus is out of place in her hut in the Olinkan village, and she realizes that the roofleaf which protects the Olinkans is in a sense God to them. Both Celie and Nettie learn that God is not found in church, where people come to share God rather than to find him. An important part of spiritual growth for each individual is developing a unique, personally appropriate image of God, as well as unique, personally appropriate relationships. More spiritual sharing and loving kindness is shown in the juke joint that Harpo opens than in the local church. In the juke joint, Shug sings the song she had written for Celie, and Celie feels appreciated and special. On the other hand, at church Shug has been judged, condemned, and ridiculed.
Another equally important theme deals with the destructive effect of keeping a secret when telling the simple truth could save untold amounts of pain and suffering. Corinne finally learns that Nettie is Adam and Olivia’s aunt rather than their mother, as she had long assumed. She had already decided that Samuel was their father, as no one told her that Samuel had taken the children from Alphonso. Because she was not given an honest explanation, Corinne endured years of painful suspicion about Samuel and Nettie. Moreover, if Celie had realized that her real father was lynched by white people because of his success in managing his store and that Alphonso was her and Nettie’s stepfather, she would not have had to cope with the thought of incest.