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The Novel “Sula” by Toni Morrison Essay


Sula is a groundbreaking novel that was published in1973 and authored by Toni Morrison. The background of the book is set in a small village town called Medallion in Ohio. The narrative begins with a prologue that begins in 1965 and later shifts to the period around 1919. Later on, the systematic flow of events in the book takes a different turn from 1965. Additionally, the plot of the novel is designed in a traditional lifestyle in Bottom where the whole narrative revolves.

In the context of the novel, the author addresses the story of two black-American heroines namely Nel and Sula. Although the author begins by introducing some of the key characters, Sula and Nel are the main protagonists since they make up to the rising action in the story until Sula’s death. The two friends are brought-up together in the Bottom at Ohio, a section set for Black people in the town (Davis 9).

As the plot unfolds, Morrison narrates of the heroines’ childhood life, their adulthood up to the time of Sula’s death. According to Morrison’s descriptions, the two heroines are radically different due to their dissimilar home lives. The novel is written in a formative narrative where most of the prominent events in the book take place in different epochs. In this case, the novel is very comprehensive since several events emerge as the plot unfolds. The book is set during a time of great activism among Black-Americans who are advocating for their civil rights (Dawkins par. 6). However, the narrative is a tragedy whereby events unfold chronologically up to the end of the story. It is also imperative to note that the novel addresses issues emerging from society such as social suppression, racial prejudice and bigotry among the Black-Americans.

In the book, the author begin by narrating the story of Sula and Nel and this prolongs for a period of about 45 years covering their child and adulthood friendship. As the plot unfolds, the heroines become friends at their childhood age in 1921 and it carries on up to high school (Davis 19). It is clear that this relationship did not just end there but it continued until Nel got married to Jude as evident in the book bearing in mind that “…their friendship was steady and sudden. They found relief on each other’s personality…” (Morrison 53).

Apparently, one can analyze that though the two heroines are interconnected, they have different lifestyles and certain events drift them apart. For instance, during their childhood age, Sula plays with Chicken Little and she accidentally throws him in water. The boy gets drown and the two friends decide to keep this event as secret. As a matter of fact, this was just the beginning of the great life journey that they had started together. However, Nel’s blames Sula for this and she holds her responsible for the death (Davis 20).

As their relationship continues to grow, Nel appears very much adaptable to and enjoying social life with her mother and eventually get married. Contrastingly, Sula escapes her distressful family and opt for an expensive college life. In addition, the latter decides to follow wild and divergent path in life as she live a life of fierce freedom with total disregard to societal norms. At this point, she appears quite like an outcast from society. It is after ten years of Nel’s marriage that Sula gets back to her village, Medallion and tells off the story of her college life and journey back to the village (Dawkins par 1). When Sula gets back to Bottom, blames are imposed on her by the society for her structure-less, eccentric and loose altitude toward life. She spend her 10 years in college travelling all over and having affairs with men while Nel marries, get childrens and become a house wife.

The two heroines reunite once again in Bottom though this time their relationship began to fade quite fast when Sula become a threat in the village for despising the traditional and conventional lifestyle of society. Sula commits an ultimate betrayal of her ally, Nel, an act that the author uses to build a theme of good versus evil. Sula has been portrayed as indifferent to other people in the society up to the time of her death. The author has also articulately used her in depicting how human emotions in any given society may be rapidly influenced by unacceptable acts. It is vivid that the end of the story is very tragic since Sula dies at her productive age (Bloom 42).

Due to her betrayal of Nel by sleeping with her husband, she broke the marriage and Jude walked out with children as recounted by the author that “…to lose Jude and not to have Sula to talk about it because it was Sula that he had left her for…” (Morrison 110). In fact, Nel spent her entire life as a single woman who mourned for the loss of her husband and the burden of rearing her children. Moreover, Sula witnesses the death of her mother through severe burns as it is portrayed in the book that “…some of them had never seen so extreme a burn case before…” (Morrison 77).

In a more deliberate manner, the author aims at contrasting the two heroines in order to bring out the nature of society. From his point of view, she portrays Sula as a multifaceted character in a society in order to develop the major themes in the plot (Bloom 24). For instance the author is able to confront the theme of superstition, role of women in the society, legacy, perception and ravages of war. Sula’s contrasting nature with Nel has been used to expose the role of women in understanding their husbands and sustenance of their family through hard work. Nonetheless, in the narrative there are other minor characters such as Shadrack who is a war veteran in Bottom, Cecilene who is Nel’s grandmother (Dawkins par 2).

Moreover, there is Helene, the mother to Nel, Chicken Little a neighborhood boy and Jude who is the husband to Nel. Shadrack is a character who is used by the author to demonstrate the era in which the narrative evolves. He emerges during the word war regime and has been portrayed by the author as an icon who fails to accept his complexities. His dreams are shattered by the injuries he succumbs during the war and his death initialized a national suicide day since “…the way the rest of the year would be safe and free. In this he instituted the National suicidal day…” (Morrison 16).

In the narrative, Morrison has developed major themes or issues affecting society (Dawkins 42). It is also quite vivid that the major theme in the story is how evil cuts across good deeds. In the context of the book, this theme has been exposed and thus can be traced from the major characters. Evidently, Nel and Sula have witnessed certain encounters right from childhood within their village town. For instance, one day as they were playing out during their childhood days, a young boy was swinging around Sula who accidentally threw him in water and got drowned (Bloom 14).

The two heroines decided to make this a secret in spite of the fact it kept haunting Sula even as she grew up since she felt responsible for the death of the little boy. Contrastingly, Nel perceive herself as good and not responsible for the little boy’s death. On the other hand, the lives of people in the society have been shaped by their perception on what is god and evil. They perceive Sula as unconventional and wild thus evil as opposed to Nel who is perceived as good for her propriety. It is vivid that, Sula acts out the evil nature while Nel portrays the goodness scene.

There are minor themes that act as subsidiaries of the major theme. One of the minor themes is about family and friendship. The author emphasizes highly on the absence and presence of both (Davis 49). To support this theme, the author uses the maim protagonists Nel and Sula in elaborating this theme. He accentuates on the importance of a friendship among people’s live through their relationship. However, there emerges a controversy since the two friends are closely bonded at child age yet they break up at marriage. This was mainly aggravated by betrayal when Sula had a discrete love affair with Nel’s husband. The author uses the theme to illustrate the influence a family has on individual’s wellbeing. For instance, Nel was initially a prostitute, an act that made her mother take a new shift against it in order to live a life of goodness (Davis 23).

This made Nel’s mother to migrate to Bottom to flee from the ill refute of prostitution. Nel grows up with good moral values and standing as well as establishes a family just like her mother did. Sula detached herself from her mother and she ended up leaving structure-less life with men. Moreover, she lacked nurture from her mother making her life unconventional. As a result, she could not make a family of her own similar to her mother. This was mainly attributed to the fact she had no interest and personal drive on the whole undertaking. She feels less interested in family attachment and commitment to an extent of breaking other people’s marriage for the sake of pleasure only (Dawkins par.2).

Meanwhile, the narrative appears ambiguous bearing in mind that the author attempts to compare two contrasting issues in the plot (Bloom 4). He uses characters that quite often resemble each other and therefore, he unsuccessfully addresses confusing mysteries that emerge in the story. In spite of the aforementioned weakness, Morrison has successful demonstrated that social conventions are vital tools in the life of individuals as well as society at large. The novel stands out to narrate the miseries and triumphs of life in real sense. The novel is quite diametrical and similarly explores people’s ways of life and how they tend to make meaning over conflicting issues such as race, gender, war and differing perception.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Toni Morrison’s Sula.Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999. Print.

Davis, Price Anita. Toni Morrison’s Sula. New Jersey: Research & Educational Association 1999. Print.

Dawkins, Danielle. Sula: Not the Average Story. 2008. Web.

Morrison, Toni. Sula. New Delhi: Vintage Publishers, 2004. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, May 29). The Novel “Sula” by Toni Morrison. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-novel-sula-by-toni-morrison/

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"The Novel “Sula” by Toni Morrison." IvyPanda, 29 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-novel-sula-by-toni-morrison/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Novel “Sula” by Toni Morrison." May 29, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-novel-sula-by-toni-morrison/.


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IvyPanda. "The Novel “Sula” by Toni Morrison." May 29, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-novel-sula-by-toni-morrison/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The Novel “Sula” by Toni Morrison." May 29, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-novel-sula-by-toni-morrison/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Novel “Sula” by Toni Morrison'. 29 May.

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