“Sula" by Tony Morrison is the story of a friendship between Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who are opposites in the way of relating to other people, to the world around them, and to themselves. Nel is rational and balanced; she gets married and gives in to conformity and the town's expectations. Sula is an irrational and transient character. She follows her immediate passions, completely unaware of the feelings other people might have. However, Nel and Sula are able to function well only when they are together because they complete each other as opposites. However, as separate entities, Sula and Nel are vulnerable and isolated from the rest of world; Sula because she is impulsive and disregards the feelings of other people, and Nel because she overlooks her own.
The personalities of Nel and Sula form as a result of their childhood family atmosphere. Sula's unusual exorbitance results from an eccentric upbringing that openly accepts and welcomes transience. The narrator describes Sula's house as a "throbbing disorder constantly awry with things, people, voices and the slamming of doors . . ." (52), which suggests a family accustomed to spontaneous disruptions and fleeting alliances. Sula decides that "sex is pleasant and frequent, but otherwise insignificant." (44) Sula grows up in the atmosphere of an emotional separation between mothers and daughters in her family. The mothers provide only the physical maternal support but lack in the emotional attachment to their children. Sula overhears her mother, Hannah, say, "I love her [Sula]. I just don't like her, that's the thing." (57) Hannah's words act as a determiner of Sula's defiance. Hannah and Eva, her mother, are also alienated. "Under Eva's distant eye, and prey to her idiosyncrasies, her own children grew up steadily." (41) This dissatisfaction causes Hannah to ask Eva, "Did you ever love us?" (67) "I know you fed us and all. I was talking 'bout something else. Did you ever, you know play with us?" (68) Eva leaps out of the window to "cover her daughter's body with her own" (75) to save her from a fire; she raises her children single-handedly and even sacrifices her leg to get an insurance because she does not have enough money to feed her children. Proud of keeping her children alive through the roughest times, Eva does not re...
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... only mooring." This loneliness is "somebody else's lonely. Made by somebody else and handed to [Nel]." (144) Without Sula, Nel needs to adhere to another people, she does not have desires and motives of her own.
Nel is Sula's connection to other people, while Sula is Nel's connection to herself. Neither has a firm footing without the other. Without Nel, Sula becomes alienated from other people by acting extremely eccentric, and Nel looses her individuality and does what is expected of her without Sula. "Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male they had set out about creating something else to be." (52) In "Sula," Toni Morrison dwells on the dream of a new, strong, African American woman. She challenges conformity and traditional rules of society. If old restrictions are never defied, new and better rules would never come. In this book, this image is contained in Sula and Nel together; each of them is a part of the image. By splitting the qualities of a whole and complete personality into two, Toni Morrison stresses how necessary both components are to the image of the new, strong African American woman.
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