Students are told to make a number of book reports or book reviews in school. From William Shakespeare’s classic Hamlet to the 21st century Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, a student has probably gone through them all. An American classic read, Sula, is more fitted to older students due to some adult themes that may not be suitable for younger children. This paper aims to summarize and give more insight on Toni Morrison’s 1973 novel, Sula.
Sula – The First Half of the Story
Sula’s story revolves on the life of the protagonist, Sula, who shares her name with the title of the book. As she ages, she becomes a strong, determined, and independent woman who refuses to be a conformist. The book is divided into two parts: Sula Peace’s coming of age experience and Sula Peace as a grown woman.
Sula lives in a mostly black community located somewhere in Ohio known as the Bottom. Below it is the wealthy white community of Medallion. The Bottom is situated in the hills and was a gift from a master to his former slave. The master made the recipient believe that it was a bountiful land knowing that it was a poor stretch of hilly land by claiming that it was closer to heaven.
Little did the master know that his scheme was the beginning of the growth of one vibrant community of Black people and the occasional transient. In the novel, the community of the Medallion took a liking to the land of the Bottom and were planning to destroy the place so that they would be able to build a golf course on it.
Sula Peace found a best friend in a girl her age named Nel Wright. They both grew up in a fatherless home. The stark difference in their upbringing is that Nel Wright grew in a deeply conventional family whereas Sula Peace’ family was considered eccentric and loose. The book describes Sula's house as a "throbbing disorder constantly awry with things, people, voices and the slamming of doors . . ." (Morisson, 1973, p. 52), which suggests a family accustomed to spontaneous disruptions and fleeting alliances.
Sula Peace lives with both her grandmother and mother. There are also three informally adopted boys living with them in their home. As the Peace ladies were not really that close, it opened the doors for them to live with considerable freedom in fashioning an independent self. An unrestricted household such as the Peace Family is the reason adult Sula grew as an impetuous and independent freethinker.
As Sula was accustomed to constant changes at home that is brought upon by the frequent transients, she is very perturbed by a traumatic incident that changed her and Nel’s friendship forever. Sula, the unintentional grim reaper, playfully swings Chicken Little around, holding his hands. Unfortunately, she loses her grip and sends him flying into the nearby river where he drowned. That abruptness of his end strikes Sula.
Nel and Sula never told anybody about what happened even if they never did intend to harm that poor neighborhood boy. After that horrible accident, the two girls began to grow apart. Following that, Sula experiences yet another life-changing disruption. She overheard her mother, Hannah, talking about her with her friends saying that she loves Sula but she did not like her (57). Hannah's words act as a determining factor for Sula's deviance.
One day, Sula’s mother’s dress catches fire in an accident. Sula simply watches as her mother burns. She feels no fear, no hope, and does not rush to save Hannah (Morrison, 1973, p. 78). Sula simply watched her mother as she dies of burns.
Sula – The Second Half of the Story
This signals the end of the first half of the novel. After this, Sula and Nel walk their predetermined paths. Nel as a conventional housewife and mother and Sula as a divergent and fiercely independent woman who does not like anything conventional. Sula leaves the Bottom and spent ten years having interracial relationships. By the time she came back to the Bottom, she was regarded by the community as the very personification of evil because she blatantly disregards the conventional way of life.
Sula has now become a reckless woman, someone who lets her feelings dictate her decisions without thinking of the consequences. She then had an affair with Nel’s husband. An affair that is based on ambivalence and immediacy centered on herself. Nel, enraged, cut off all ties with her former best friend Sula.
Sula's disregard and separation from the community does not go unwarranted. Sula has breached what the locals deem acceptable and necessary: she puts her grandmother in a nursing home and she commits the "unpardonable sin" by sleeping with white men (112). Once the townspeople learn of those deeds, they start to scrutinize her with increased fervor. But despite their mounting criticism, Sula remains undaunted because she expects as much from the community.
Some years after Sula died, Nel went to the nursing home to visit Sula’s grandmother, Eve. Their conversation led to Eve realizing that she had been unfair to Sula and that she was desperate to clean herself of the past which is why she quickly became the conventional person she was avoiding to be.
The effect of what Sula overheard her mother say is that it taught her that there was nobody else that she could count on including her family, supposedly the people closest to her. It clarifies the kind of independence that was built as she grew older.
Sula perceives herself in solitude and therefore depends only on herself to change her environment and the life that she leads. This conviction is solidified "ever since her mother's remarks sent her flying up those stairs, ever since her one major feeling of responsibility had been exorcised on the bank of a river with a closed place in the middle" (Morrison, 1973, p. 118).
Again, by endeavoring to reach emotional fulfillment and security without the need of people, she may become a strong individual, but she cannot ward off the unaccounted hurt that she suffers. Besides absorbing the transient relationships in her private world, she also has to face the effects of her transience on her social sphere.
At the end, Sula no longer views family ties and social or cultural cohesion as wellsprings of stability and permanency. In the past, conformity promised her an indemnity from judgment and abandonment. Sula, however, find no solace from such promises anymore, and only seem to find relief after she extracts herself from the community.
Death and other disruptive forces strongly influence her detachment towards others. For Sula, death illuminates her perception of the ephemeral. She struggles to hold on and to let go at the same time, and she cannot find a place that allows her this paradoxical fulfillment. Restless, she remains in her hometown that only offers opposition, but still, this sojourner persists, searching the familiar terrain of home for the unattainable.
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Morrison, Toni. Sula. Knopf, 1973.