Close Reading of the Two Holes Passage of Toni Morrison's Sula

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A Close Reading of the Two Holes Passage of Sula

Toni Morrison’s novel Sula is rich with paradox and contradiction from the name of a community on top of a hill called "Bottom" to a family full of discord named "Peace." There are no clear distinctions in the novel, and this is most apparent in the meaning of the relationship between the two main characters, Sula and Nel. Although they are characterized differently, they also have many similarities. Literary critics have interpreted the girls in several different ways: as lesbians (Smith 8), as the two halves of a single person (Coleman 145), and as representations of the dichotomy between good and evil (Bergenholtz 4 of 9). The ambiguity of these two characters allows for infinite speculation, but regardless of how the reader interprets the relationship their bond is undeniable. The most striking example of their connection occurs right before the accidental death of Chicken Little. In the passage preceding his death, Nel and Sula conduct an almost ceremonial commitment to one another that is sealed permanently when "the water darkened and closed quickly over the place where Chicken Little sank" (Morrison 61):

Together they worked until the two holes were one and the same. When the depression was the size of a small dishpan, Nel’s twig broke. With a gesture of disgust she threw the pieces into the hole they had made. Sula threw hers in too. Nel saw a bottle cap and tossed it in as well. Each then looked around for more debris to throw into the hole: paper, bits of glass, butts of cigarettes, until all the small defiling things they could find were collected there. Carefully they replaced the soil and covered the entire grave with uprooted grass. Neither one had spoken a word. (Morrison 58-59)

The image of the girls working together to dig holes in the dirt begins with each girl digging her own hole, but symbolically the two separate holes become one, representing the merging of Sula and Nel into a deep and meaningful relationship. The imagery of a "hole" is used to describe the "whole" of Sula and Nel, indicating the completeness of the two when they are together.

When the girls concurrently throw their twigs into the hole it is as if they are throwing themselves into each other’s consciousness, making a permanent connection with one another. Each twig represents their independent selves being joined with the other when they are thrown together into the hole to be buried.

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