Toni Morrison's Sula is a novel that has a theme about the nature of evil. The story follows the lives of two black female friends who present differing views on evil. On one hand, we have society's conventional view of evil represented by the character of Nel and also seen in the Bottom's disapproval of Sula. The other view of evil is seen through the character of Sula and through her actions, which conflict with traditional society. The friendship of Sula and Nel is how the author conveys her message about evil in the relationship. In the relationship the two different conceptions of evil mix and create an essentially neutral mixture. By looking at Nel's and Sula's friendship and the two different views of evil that they have, the author shows us the subjective and relative nature of evil and how friendship can overcome any evil.
In the Bottom, the dominant view of evil is society's conception. Its guidelines for good and bad behavior can be seen through society's reaction to Sula. Her return to the Bottom after being gone for ten years is greeted with the same way one would greet a pest, a plague or an illness. The novel shows society's negative view of her when it describes how Sula arrived "accompanied by a plague of robins" (Morrison 89). Her time spent in the Bottom is grouped with other evils the "floods, white people, tuberculosis, famine and ignorance" (Morrison 90) and her stay in the town is called the "evil days"(89), because the town views Sula as an evil force. The reason the town saw her as evil is because of her sexual habits. Sula herself knows that the townspeople "despised her and ... framed their hatred as disgust for the easy way she lay with men"(122), because being faithful in a marriage is one of the town's most important principles. Even worse is the one "unforgivable thing", the accusation that "that Sula slept with white men"(112), offending the town's racial pride. Not only are the residents horrified by her sexual openness, but they are also offended by her directness. To annoy her neighbors, Sula "came to their church suppers without underwear" (114) and even more, "they believed she was laughing at their God" (115). Once again, we see through the town's disapproval of Sula what it holds dear. If that wasn’t enough, she angers the town even more by openly mocking their beliefs. Sula's crime is not...
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... in their midst" (117-118). Toni Morrison is proving that evil is a concept that is different for everyone, and that no one person has a right over its definition. But besides all the talk about the differences between good and evil, there is a stronger force at work in the novel.
For Nel and Sula, and all their trials together, they last because of their deep friendship. The concept of evil is raised in their friendship. Despite their different views on what evil is, Sula and Nel reconcile in the end, as Nel realizes that what ultimately matters is their friendship. At the end of the novel, Nel feels a sense of sorrow. However, she realizes that "all the time, I thought I was missing Jude" (174), when in fact she was missing Sula, her closest friend for almost her whole life. Ignoring her opinion about Sula's actions with Jude, she longs for the Sula saying, "We was girls together. O Lord, Sula, girl, girl, girlgirlgirl", a cry with "circles and circles of sorrow" (174). Nel realizes that what mattered wasn’t really how she and Sula differed but rather it was the strength of their friendship which overcame any conflicting conceptions of evil that they might have had.
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