“Sula,” a novel written by Toni Morrison, is based on race, hatred, death, friendship, betrayal and reconciliation. In Medallion, Ohio, the Black community is regarded as the lowest or bottom of the rank. A black slave was given a gift by his master but the gift later became a trick. Being given a poor hilly land by the master, the slave was convinced that it was closer to god since it was hilly.
The black communities are considered ignorant and they are easily convinced to believe a lie because of their lack of knowledge, they settle for handouts thinking that it will benefit them in the future. In “Sula,” two girls grow up as friends to become women and later are separated by different beliefs in their lifestyle. The author illustrates how the root and background can affect one’s belief when growing up. In the text, Toni Morrison describes the character Nel Wrights as being raised in a contemporary lifestyle by her parents while Sula Peace was raised by a loose parent and grandmother. Sula ends up running away from the bottom community to have an independent lifestyle of prostitution. Betrayal is demonstrated by Toni Morrison when Sula decides to abandon her conventional lifestyle subscribed by her community (Morrison 12-23). Despite of the differences of how Sula and Nel were raised, when they were young they became very close friends.
This portrays the innocence that comes with being a child. The differences between them did not become a hindrance to their friendship. It also portrays the stages of friendship. When one is young, the demand for friendship differs when one grows up. There are no boundaries that separate friendships because all you have in common are toys and companionship. They began to separate when an accident occurred in the community. Sula was playing with a neighborhood boy called little chicken as she was swinging him by the hand. She lost grip and the boy fell in a pool of water and drowned.
They kept the secret to themselves and the tension between them began to grow. One of the hindrances of friendship is tragedy. I am sure every time they disagreed concerning an issue the event concerning Little Chicken came up. Even if it was unrelated to their arguments, the tragedy had a way of cropping out. This is normal in issues that are unresolved and they are often called untied loose ends. Their failure to deal with issue of the accident allowed the ghost of little chicken to haunt their friendship. Opening up to such incidents not only helps the victim emotionally but also gives psychological freedom to the one that allowed the accident to occur. Unfortunately, Sula loses her mother through a fire accident where her dress catches fire and she dies of burns.
When the two completed high school, Nel decides to get married and live to play the role of a conventional wife and lifestyle. On the other hand Sula diverges from her conventional society to an independent lifestyle. The decision that Sula takes is contrary to the black community because of the discrimination they faced by the white community.
Intermingling with the whites was being a cast away especially having multiple sexual relations with them. As Sula went to explore the independent life, the nature of the effects of being raised by a loose parent began to surface. She gave herself to strangers and some say she became a prostitute.
This brings up the issue of parenting. As much as the black community secluded themselves from other races, their way of conventional lifestyle proved that one can turn out better in life. Why was Sula’s mother considered ‘loose’? Did they perceive the conventional lifestyle as being too strict? The outcome of Nel was favorable even among his people. Through discrimination and hardship the black community went through, they considered the liberal lifestyle of the white community as evil. This can be illustrated in the text when Sula decides to return to Ohio. After ten years, she returns from having many affairs especially with white men. Due to her staying away for so long she must have adapted the lifestyle of being loose and independent. Ten years is enough for someone to adapt to the environment in which they choose to dwell in.
The unwelcome return of the lost daughter was perceived evil because of her disregard to the social convention. Sula made a mistake by having an affair with Jude who was Nels’ husband. This proved the perception of the people in Bottom that they were right by calling her evil. The act proved their word and Jude abandoned Nel. This brought about tension in the lives of two women who were once friends. The separated completely. Fornication is a serious offense in the black community. This incident was an act of betrayal after Sula came back to reconcile with her long lost friend.
She violated the code of friendship and destroyed the marriage and family of Nel. It would be hard for Sula to convince Nel to get back together. Trust is not give, it is earned and to build it back it takes a lot of sacrifice and selflessness. Before the death of Sula, the two tried to reconcile and to be at good harmony. Race has been tackled diversely by author of this text. Morrison has done well to illustrate the complexities of racism that existed in America in the early 1970s. As a matter of fact, racism comes out strongly through the display of the lives of various characters in the novel as well as the social set-up of the environment.
First, racism is illustrated through the plot by the white master to give the black slave a gift of land in a hilly terrain. The master intentionally lies to the slave by telling him that the Bottom is near heaven due to its hilly terrain landscape. It is clear the Bottom was highly disregarded by the white community. It is for this reason that they decide to dispose off the land in the form of a gift to the black slaves.
It can be observed in this instance the white community are pure racists. This scenario as illustrated by the author clearly brings out the nature of racism that existed in America in the early 1970s. Racism was practiced through attempts to segregate the black community in Ohio into poor and degraded living conditions as the white masters occupied the best parts of the land. In addition, this scene demonstrates that racism was employed through acts of trickery. The white community believed that the black people were stupid.
It is for that reason that the black slave is given the Bottom as a gift by the white master who tells him that the hilly terrain is near heaven. This is a trick and clearly unrealistic. Racism is also developed in novel through the change of mind by the white community to use part of the Bottom. When the white community realizes that the hilly Bottom terrain is good for construction of a golf course, they try to reoccupy the land in a bid to achieve their goals. This shows an element of racism that is mixed with discrimination and exploitation of mentality. The author, at this point is clearly indicating to the readers the racism that was witnessed in the early 1970s in American was mainly composed of discrimination, application of force, and exploitation mentality. Moreover, racism is highlighted by author of the novel through the relationship between the white and blacks in the community.
This is evidenced by the fact that the communities in Ohio are socially immiscible. The white and black communities are known to be separate entities which are prohibited to socialize. Sula is regarded a cast away by her black community for forfeiting the customs and social conventions of her people. She is disregarded by her people for having intimate relationships with the white men. This makes her lose favor with her people whose mindsets prohibit such kind of interactions.
Evidently, this scene is significant in terms of understanding the nature of racism in the early 1970s. The author is basically informing the readers that racism in that time was mainly composed social hatred whereby the white and black communities were not supposed to socialize at any level. Identity is another characteristic of this novel that effectively comes out through texts. There are a few characters that have been significantly used by the author to illustrate the search for identity in the novel. First is Shadrack- an ex-WWI soldier who returns to the Bottom and is unable to reconcile his experiences during the war with realities of his surroundings.
He manages to devise a ritual called “National Suicide Day,” an activity that he intends to introduce in the society. However, this fails in the beginning, but later the black community finally adopts it as culture. This scene has been used categorically by the author to give the reader insight concerning the lifestyle of the black people in early 1970s. Morrison is basically making suggestions that the search for identity filled the hearts of most black Americans at that time. Another scene that illustrates the search for identity is in the difference of lifestyle that Nel and Sula decide to adopt after high school education. While Nel chooses to identify herself as a mother and wife, Sula decides to take a different path by choosing to live independently of the social conventions of her people.
It is clear in this instance that the characters in this scene are mainly in search of their own identities. Morrison is indicating to the readers that the entire black community experienced a season of search for the real identities in the early 1970s. This can be related to the nature of lifestyle they had during that time.
Difference is another issue that Morrison has clearly displayed through the displays of scenes in the novel. Evidently, Morrison has used this literary work to indicate the elements of difference that existed in the early part of 1970s. In this regard, it can be noted that the element of difference is shown through various scenes in the novel. First is through residence of white and black community. The white community has settled in the wealthy part of the land. On the other hand, the black community has settled in the poor and degraded hilly side of the land called the Bottom. This difference in residential places clearly indicates the nature lifestyle as well as the economic status that existed between the white and black community at the time of the production of this literary work.
The wealthy whites mainly resided in good parts of the land while the poor black community resided in the bottom – which was poor and degraded. Another instance of difference is in terms of lifestyle choices. While Sula chooses to adopt an independent lifestyle which is contrary to the customs and social conventions of her people, Nel decides to take a different path that is conventional and consistent with social conventions of her people. She gets married and becomes a wife with the intention of settling as a mother.
On the other hand, Sula chooses to do the opposite as she abhors her culture and decides to mix with the white community. In this case, Morrison is basically trying to indicate to the readers that while there was a search for identity amongst the black community, there are a few black who chose to remain to remain conservative. In conclusion, it can be noted that “Sula,” a novel written by Toni Morrison, is based on race, hatred, death, friendship, betrayal and reconciliation. This is shown through the plot by the white master to give the black slave a gift of land in a hilly terrain, change of mind by the white community to use part of the Bottom, and through the relationship between the white and blacks in the community.
Morrison, Tony. Sula.
New York: Vintage, 2004. Print.