Sula by Toni Morrison is a compelling novel about a unique, self-confident woman. As in many other books, each secondary character in the story serves as a vehicle to explain the main character. Hannah, Sula's mother, is dominated by the element of air; she is free spirited, frivolous and child-like. On the other hand, the element of fire is prevalent in Sula, who is impulsive, hot-tempered and passionate. Despite the differences between the two, Hannah's lifestyle intrigues and influences her daughter. The effect Hannah has on Sula is reflected in many of her daughter's perspectives and actions. As a result of the ubiquitous presence of fire within her, in contrast to her mother's blithe spirit, Sula carries all of Hannah's immorality and actions to a more extreme level. Both women have promiscuous tendencies, do not have close friendships with women, and become easily irritated by Eva. The difference is that Sula's fiery character leads her to act more cruelly than her mother.
Hannah's attitude towards men is peculiar, for she feels no possessiveness towards them, and enjoys having multiple lovers. The presence of air in Hannah is evident from her relations with the opposite sex. "Her flirting was, low and guileless...the smile-eyes, the turn of the head-all so welcoming, light and playful." (42). Hannah's sweet, guileless flirting presents her as an innocent woman, and her playful manner demonstrates her child-like ways. Her amiability and charisma are evident because "...Hannah rubbed no edges, made no demands, made the man feel as though he were complete and wonderful just as he was...he (the man) swooned in the Hannah-light simply because he was." (43). Hannah is len...
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...feeling no obligation to please anybody unless their pleasure pleased her." (118).
Sula is stronger than Hannah, and makes no attempts to conciliate the society's opinions towards herself. She follows her animal instincts, and lacks the sense of responsibility. Although Sula and Hannah are both shunned by society, Sula is even more of a pariah than her mother. While the people of the Bottom consider Hannah to be "sooty," (29), they decide that Sula is the devil. The intense hostility people feel about Sula directly relates to her impulsive, vengeful and hot-tempered character. Sula's life is a fun house mirror image of Hannah's-quite similar, but bent into a slightly different shape and tainted with malice.
Morrison, Toni. Sula. New York: Knopf, 1974.
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