Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sula by Toni Morrison

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In the book Sula by Toni Morrison, as young girls Nel Wright and Sula Peace are the same age, same race, and from the same town. They are best friends. Nel and Sula grew up together in the town of Medallion, getting into trouble together, meeting boys together, and just having fun though they are looked upon as opposites. However, that all stops when Sula leaves Medallion one day and doesn’t return for nearly a decade. When she did finally return, that is when the true differences between Sula and Nel were shown in reality.

As children Sula and Nel were very different. Nel Wright is opposite in many respects to Sula. Physically she is light colored and plain. She is thought to be a good girl by her mother and everyone else in The Bottom for she is quiet and obedient. Her family is very respectable, staid, and proper and Nel is brought up to be the same way. Then one day, after meeting her prostitute grandmother, Nel realized the reasoning for her mother’s prim and proper behavior was her effort to wipe out her past. Nel decided that she would be different from her mother. During this time, when Nel is searching for individuality, she became best friends with Sula, who is independent, brave, and strong. Sula is a dark character, emotionally defined by a sense of evil and physically defined by her black coloring, as well as the darkening birth mark in the shape of a rose that adorned her eye. She is very strange, mysterious, somewhat defiant, and definitely different from those around her. Sula lives in a house with her grandmother, Evan, her mother, Hannah (who is the town slut) and several boarders, including a white alcoholic named Tar Baby and three young boys all named “Dewey”. Since her house is very crazy at times and not much attention is given to her, Sula enjoys spending time with her best friends, Nel. The two of them become inseparable, even though they are totally different in background and personality.

Since Sula and Nel are best friends, they went through a lot together, some good occurrences and some bad. One day, Sula and Nel were playing with a little boy named Chicken Little, down by the river. Sula is holding by his hands and swinging him around and around. Then she loses here grip and the young boy falls in the water and never comes up. Not knowing where to turn, Sula goes to Shadrack’s cabin for help.

He nodded his head as though answering a question, and said, in a pleasant conversational


tone, a tone of cooled butter “always.” (6)

Sula, for years interprets, as a threat as in he will always know. She runs back to Nel and the two decide not to tell anyone what has happened. Nel assures Sula that it was just an accident, but Sula feels terrible and guilty during Chicken Little’s funeral, the two girls are numb and silent. Sula has been changed forever. Many years later, the girls grow up and mature. Though they never forget about Chicken Little they do, however, move on with their lives. In order to gain respectability and acceptance in the community, Nel decides to marry and settle down. The decision delights her mother, for she wants Nel to be just like her. For Nel, her husband, Jude, becomes a poor substitute for Sula, who feels abandoned by the marriage. However, Sula is very active in the wedding arrangements and stands up with Nel at the altar. As the evening wears on,

Nel saw through the open door a slim figure in blue, gliding, with just a hint of strut, down the path toward the road. One had was pressed to the head to hold down the large hat against the warm June breeze. Even from the rear Nel could that it was Sula and that she was smiling; that something deep down in the litheness was amused. It would be ten years before they saw each other again, and their meeting would be thick with birds. (85)

After Sula’s departure, the friendship between Sula and Nel would never be the same again.

After Sula’s ten-year absence, she returns to The Bottom very different through society ‘s eyes than before. She comes home dressed like a movie star and reveals that she has been to college. The people in Medallion, who have always found Sula to be strange, now feel totally alienated from her. Her difference makes her unacceptable as a result, every bad thing that happens in the town is blamed on her, especially after she puts her grandmother, Eva, in a nursing home. However, Nel does not notice any changes about Sula and is very excited for her return. Since she has suffered from lack of friendship, is eager to befriend Sula, in spite of the opinion of the town about her. They become close friends again, up until Nel finds Sula in bed with her husband, Jude. Out of shame, Jude leaves Nel and their three children. Not only does she lose her husband, but her best friend also. Nel is truly devastated and she goes through of her life believing that she mourns the loss of her husband, when the truth it is Sula that she misses. Yet she is too proud and proper to approach Sula until she hears that she is dying. Nel forces herself to visit her friend out of sense of duty and her own “goodness”. The visit soon degenerates into an argument when Sula explains her vision of life and Nel questions it. Nel wants to know why Sula took Jude from her. And Sula responds back

“What you mean take him away? I didn’t kill him, I just fucked him. If we were such good friends, how come you couldn’t get over it?” (145)

Then Sula warns Nel not to be so sure of her own moral superiority. Nel leaves feeling angry, but unable to forget Sula’s warning. Shortly after Nel’s visit, Sula descends into pain and dies, with her last thought being “well I’ll be damned, it didn’t even hurt. Wait’ll I tell Nel. (14)

Throughout their whole lives and friendship Sula was considered to be evil and Nel the Angel by the community. However, after the Sula’s death and after visiting Sula’s grandmother, Nel comes to realization that she is not such a good person either. What Sula told her on her deathbed was true. In the end, Nel acknowledges that she has an evil heart and that Sula had truly been her best friend and a good person. Sula was not really the evil one; instead, it is she herself that is evil- hard-hearted and accusing; she even admits to herself that she delighted in Chicken Little’s death, while Sula was horrified. Nel suddenly knows that her friendship with Sula was the best thing she has ever had, stronger than motherhood and marriage. She sees that all Sula’s evil deeds have been a result of her friend believing she had no other fate. Nel is truly filled with sorrow over the way that she allowed both her and Sula’s lives to progress, each believing one thing about themselves when the other was true.

The outcome of this book was that both woman had still been opposite from each other, as they were when they were young. However, the unique combination of the two woman, who were completely complement, formed a friendship that supercede everything else in their lives until the day they both died.

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