Opportunities for Personal Development in Toni Morrison's Sula

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Human life is often experienced as a slow and steady drift from one day to the next, with nothing in particular distinguishing each day as unique. In passively conforming to societal norms and expectations, individuals fashion lives for themselves that lack the spark of passionate purpose that characterizes true individuality. Such a poor soul soon develops habits that allow her to cope with the monotony of her existence, and once caught in this perpetual cyclic motion she finds herself advanced in age without ever having truly grappled with the fundamental questions underlying her own existence; she finds herself having already lived her life without yet knowing the life that she wants to live. Fortunately, this cancer of human inertia is neither incurable nor inevitable. A person who is cognizant of her freedom, of her ability to set the course of her own life, can overcome her inertia and begin to define herself through her actions, rather than passively defining herself through her inaction. Such a person can be a positive force in her community by shocking others into examining not just where their own lives are headed, but who they are and who they are becoming. A small impulse, however, provided by one person, cannot single-handedly overcome the overwhelming inertia of a community of stationary individuals. Other forces must be active in order for individuals to reshape their perspectives on life. It is in this context of transformation, of striving to overcome the inertia of everyday life to find the meaning and passion at the core of existence, that sex, violence, racism, even death, and, ultimately, Sula, are appropriately viewed as positive forces.

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Whether a particular force in life or in literature is positive or negative is a matter of perspective. If only the superficial effects of racism, sexual promiscuity, violence, and death are considered, it is hardly possible to avoid concluding that these are indeed solely negative experiences. Yet these traumatic events often afford individuals the opportunity to redefine themselves by shocking them out of their old modes of thought. In this sense such experiences can be life-changing and positive experiences. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to recognize the opportunity for growth and personal development in such circumstances. Only then can such difficult realities be assimilated into a lifestyle that reflects a deep inner Peace.

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. Sula. New York: Plume, 1973.
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