Sula is raised with Eva Peace, her grandmother who does not stifle her granddaughters freedom unlike Nel who comes from a restrictive household. Nel and Sula develop quite an inseparable and good friendship, a friendship that does not settle well with Helen who possesses grave misgivings due to the reputation of Sulas mother however she does not object openly after her realization that Sula is a very polite house guest. After High School these two great friends diverge ways for 10 years. Sula goes to college where she experiences a new wave of sexual promiscuity much like her mother.
Nel On the other hand is married by a Bottoms resident, Jude Green. Their separation last for period of three years before Sula comes back from the college and their relationship resumes without any hindrance. However, this relationship is cut short when Nel learns of the relationship between Sula and Jude. This affair ends both the relationship between Jude and Nel as well as that of Nel as Sula who leaves the bottom for three years. Nel is forced to raise her two children alone and she doesnt communicate with Sula for the three years that she goes away. Their next meeting occurs when Sula is terribly sick and almost dying.
Their last conversation before Sula dies constitutes the literary wealth of this masterpiece; it is the discussion between good and bad. She dies and is buried at the Bottom cemetery. Thereafter, Nel visits Eva Peace who is quite old and is kept in a nursing home where she tries to retell the moments she had together before Sula died. While walking home she begins to feel the loss of the relationship with the death of Sula, her single and true friend. Her judgment of Sula as bad begins to haunt her as she recalls an incident that happened when they were friends; the Chicken Little incident.
Chicken little was a young boy who also lived at the Bottom. When playing on a tree, Sula lost grip and the child plunged in the river and drowned. They kept this secret for the whole of their lives. These are the memories that unsettled Nel emotionally, she begins to challenge the concepts of good and bad and the choices and sacrifices people make in life. Later on, she kills her drug addict sun as she struggles to raise his family single handedly. Sadly, we see her sitting and crying over Sulas grave at then cemetery as the story comes to an end.
The story questions the decisions that people make in life; the calls for a rethinking of common societal problems. Critics mention the humor in the novel. For example the place called bottom is actually at the mountain top. The creation of binary oppositions in the novel not only makes it too interesting and informative but also lets the reader glance at the depth of common conventions in the community and the effect these societal conventions have on the lives of children who are supposed to be brought up in a comparatively free world where people are supposed to make free will.
Satire as a theme is also developed in the story and it fuse well with the binary notion. The complexity of characters in the story conveys an account of human flaws in decision making and in the way we relate to other people in the community. While parents do everything in their power to ensure that their children justifiably lead a good life, little is done in ensuring that the children also get freedom. This makes the children not to acquire their own experiences in life but only proceed to copy the characters of their parents and grandparents.
The fact that Sula turned out to be an exact replica of her mother and grandmother is an attestation to this fact. The book is feminine masterpiece and there is also an element of female chauvinism. This can be justified by the fact that all the major characters in the book are women and their actions are affected by men in a very little sense. Jude, Chicken Little and Nels son who became a drug addict after leaving the army are all victims of the womens stereotyped dispositions.
Shadrack being physically and emotionally scarred fro the experience of war is disowned and almost excommunicated by the community without the community fully understanding the reasons behind his behavior. Let us now give a critical analysis of Sula, the main character. Sula is the major influence on his friend Nel. Sula has been influenced by her mother leading to the passage of what can be argued to be a bad character trait through generations. Eva is a strong woman. She has endured loneliness, abject poverty but she is proud and unrelenting.
Sula is quite an extraordinary woman, she is energetic but she has no suitable outlet to release her energies. This makes her potentially dangerous in that that she has no knowledge of wrongdoing. She does not understand that she sins when she sleeps with men and carelessly tosses them aside. Her sin is unintentional. The community, however do not understand the context of her upbringing or they simply do not care. They despise her but tolerate her. One very interesting aspect is that Sula is quite independent in her isolation, she does what she pleases and she simply does not care what everybody else does.
She lives her the way it pleases her effectively earning her isolation from the community. After her death the rules shift suddenly, there is a renewed sense of acceptance, of defining right and wrong, good and bad. It is important to try and delve into the reasons why Nel and Sula united even after Sula betrayed their friendship by having an affair with Nels husband, Jude. Nel realizes that Sula was neither good nor evil; she was just indifferent to everything and everybody.
Wives had to put extra effect in making sure that their husbands do not fall into bed with Sula, children were treated better so that they dont grow into adults who are indifferent and uncaring like Sula. This is good fortune to the bottom community because they were held together in the rethinking process. Remember the National Suicide day? After Sulas death the community did not have any productive outlet to channel their energies, they could not just sit and talk and so they become enraged and tear up the tunnel the result of unfocused energy.
This eventual realization went a long way in ensuring that the residents of Bottom engaged in productive work for their survival. If Sula would have directed her energy to something else, maybe something a little more worthwhile would have resulted. Racial prejudice is highlighted when Jude is denied a chance to engage in the building of anew bridge, because of the color of his skin; he is denied the opportunity even though he is willing to do something productive. He stands in line for six days while the white boys get an opportunity to build the new River Road, his job at the hotel is demeaning and an insult to his masculinity.
The scarcity of job opportunities remains to be the why Eva and Hannah had very little chance of gainful employment. They had to contend with the injustices being meted out on them because they were females and most importantly black. To escape the pangs of hunger in the winter, they have to prepare canned food in the summer. The life of Sula Peace, her childhood and her death in 1941is surrounded by the inability of the environment to shape her into a good woman The black community residing in Medallion; the bottom is judgmental but not in any way assisting to solve the crisis within itself.
Sulas life story shows us how the community and family can shape somebodys identity. She not only displays how children are nurtured but also her later relationship with the same community who natured her. She is a strong independent character but the community does not see her positive potentiality. To go against these societal norms she is not married and she sleeps around. The Peace family has been frowned upon by the Bottom community. This could have elicited an element of antagonism from Sula because she does not follow accepted societal conventions but in this case she is the protagonist and not the community.
The novel poses her as the central character and the community constitutes only bits and pieces that seem to knit her life together in a predetermined fashion from the time of her birth to death. If change is to take place the community remains the playing field and Sula undoubtedly remains one of the players in the field. Whether she deserved to be rewarded for fearlessly instigating the rethinking process is not a matter of discussion as it is evident that her one and truly friend had in her own way knowingly or unknowingly lent credit to her stance in life by crying over her grave at the cemetery after realizing what Sula stood for.
The character Sula is structure less, that any character interaction with her only invokes an element of structurelessness. This is because philosophically her evil is not her own but a reflection of what had been unknowingly imparted in her. Fortunately, her story is one where what is regarded as evil triggered change in the society. In analyzing one of the important masterpieces in the history of black American writing it is prudent to expunge on the growth of protagonism and non conformism in the society.
The societys vilification of the heroine Sula who does not fit into the societys conformation of a heroine is a classic example of the inability of a people to look within themselves and try to solve the problems within its own structures.
Daniel Dawkins: A Character Analysis of Sula; Considering Morrisons Main Character as the Protagonist. 2008
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