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Community and Survival in Sula
Sula by Toni Morrison is a very complex novel with many underlying themes. Some of the themes that exist are good and evil, friendship and love, survival and community, and death. In Marie Nigro's article, "In Search of Self: Frustration and Denial in Toni Morrison's Sula" Nigro deals with the themes of survival and community. According to Nigro, "Sula celebrates many lives: It is the story of the friendship of two African-American women; it is the story of growing up black and female; but most of all, it is the story of a community" (1). Sula contains so many important themes that it is hard to say which one is the most important. I agree with Marie Nigro when she says that Sula is a story about community. I believe that community and how the community of Bottom survives is an important theme of the story. But I do not believe that it is a central theme of the story. When I think back on the novel Sula in twenty years, I will remember the relationship and friendship between Nel and Sula. I will not remember the dynamics of the community.
One of Nigro's main points of her article is how Morrison shows how important work is to the community of Bottom in order to survive. Nigro believes that work is important in Sula because it helps define or not define such as in Sula's case, who the characters are. Nigro argues that the people of Bottom take survival serious because they live in a white male, world. The residents of Bottom do their best by working odd jobs and scrimping and helping each other when in need (2). But they know that they will always have to remain within the boundaries of the hostile white world (2). According to Nigro, survival is also very important for Eva and Hannah. They know they do not have much opportunity being black and female, so they prepare for the winter by canning food in the summer (2). Eva definitely knows how serious survival is because she goes to the extreme of cutting off her own leg (2). Jude is another character, Nigro points out, that needs work.
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I agree with all of the examples that Nigro has used in supporting her argument. The work a person does can define who that person is. Everyone needs an outlet and if a person is not given equal opportunity to explore the work that they would like, this can be very damaging to a person's being. Eva and Hannah are African-American women in the 1920's, the opportunities that exist for them are very slim. They also cannot rely on a stable male figure to bring money home. They have to fend for themselves. Jude's ego is hurt when he is not picked for building the new bridge. He wants to do something productive but he is not allowed because of the color of his skin. This can be very damaging to one's self-concept. Nigro says, "Morrison has created . . . a community of characters whose concept of self have been thwarted by the absence of opportunities for respectable, gainful employment" (7). I believe this statement sums up Nigro's argument completely.
Nigro also examines the character of Sula and how she does not contain a suitable outlet for her creativity or energy. Without a suitable outlet, Nigro says Sula becomes dangerous (4). Sula never realizes she is dangerous because her sins are unintentional (4). Nigro says that in order for Sula to fill up the emptiness in her life she uses men (4). Nigro writes, "Hannah had been sweet and without guile and had respected the ways of the community, Sula goes to bed with men as often as she can but then carelessly tosses them aside" (4). The community of Bottom despises Sula for this, but they tolerate her. According to Nigro, Sula does not have a suitable outlet for her energy and creativity and that is why she self-destructs (4). To the community of Bottom Sula is a pariah. She is different form everyone else and she does not care about what others think (5). The price of Sula's independence is her isolation from the community. But Sula is not concerned, she just wants to live her life the way she wants to. Nigro points out that after Sula dies, "the community's role of defining itself through acceptance and disapproval of one of its members shifts. No longer is the she-devil the focus of their collective energies" (6). Shortly after her death the tragedy at the tunnel occurs.
Sula did not have a suitable outlet for her energies. Going back to Nigro's work argument, if Sula would have taken a job or had some constructive outlet maybe she would have been able to define herself and not isolate herself. I agree with Nigro when she argues that the community also does not have a productive outlet. The community sits around and talks about Sula and her life while they could be doing something more productive. But after Sula dies the community does not know what to do with all of their unfocused energy. That is why the people of Bottom start to rage and tear up the tunnel on National Suicide Day. They cause their own demise with their unfocused energy.
In her article, Marie Nigro points out that some important themes in Sula are community and survival. She goes a little further with these themes and shows how work and productive outlets for energies of the community are important. Work is important for the survival of the people of Bottom in Sula because it gives meaning to persons doing the productive work. Also having a substantial outlet for the energies of Sula and the community is important to their survival because if they did have outlets then maybe a lot of destruction could have been avoided.
Nigro, Marie. "In Search of Self: Frustration and Denial in Toni Morrison's Sula." Journal of Black Studies 28
(1998): 724-738. Expanded AcademicASAP. 13 Oct. 2000 <http://web3.infotrac.galegroup.com>