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In her review of Toni Morrison's novel, Sula, Sara Blackburn complains that the setting and characters "seem somehow frozen, stylized"(1). While Blackburn talks favorably about Morrison's past novels (The Bluest Eye in particular), she is of the opinion that Sula is less successful because the characters are confined to one location and one mode of thought.
Morrison hasn't endowed her people with life beyond their place and function in the novel, and we can't imagine their surviving outside the tiny community where they carry on their separate lives (1).
While I agree with Blackburn that the characters remain inside the confines of the Bottom and the way of life there, I disagree with her that the characters are nothing more than their place and function in the novel. After reading this review, I began to think about other famous authors and novels and I realized that most stay within a certain setting and way of life. Morrison is not writing her characters as flat by making them a product of their environment and upbringing; she is simply mirroring the reality of life and human nature. I also disagree with Blackburn that the character of Sula is the exception in the novel. She too is simply a meshing of her surroundings and the people who raised her and whom she came into contact with. Had Sula not been raised by a mother prone to taking other women's husbands into storage closets, she would not have slept with her best friend's husband and then act as if she had done nothing wrong. Morrison say's the following in the novel about how Sula became the woman she was:
Eva's arrogance and Hannah's self-indulgence merged in her and, with a twist that was all her own imagination, she lived out her days exploring her own thoughts and emotions, giving them full reign, feeling no obligation to please anybody unless their pleasure pleasedher (118).
I also disagree when Blackburn says that Sula is a novel "whose long-range impact doesn't sustain the intensity of its first reading"(2). How can that be true when the character's actions are never those that the reader expects. The reader is forced to wonder why about so many different situation in the novel, that it sticks with them way after they've put down the book. How could Eva justify burning alive her own son?
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I also take issue with Blackburn's statement that Morrison is holding herself back by writing only of the "black side of provincial American life"(3). Most writers write what they know. This is what makes the most successful writers, such as Morrison able to convey their characters and settings so realistically and to draw their readers in so well. I question who had in mind when she writes:
she might easily transcend the early and unintentionally limiting classification "black woman writer" and take her place among the most serious, important and talented American novelists now working(3).
Morrison is a writer who, like most has chosen a single part of life to write about and unlike most, she does so exceptionally well. If Blackburn means that Morrison should write for middle of the road (read white middle-class) audiences, she is sorely mistaken. What makes Morrison's novels so interesting is that they are about a section of society that many have not and perhaps never will have contact with. It would make reading incredibly boring if every author wrote about the same kind of people in the same kind of setting. It is variety that keeps the avid reader coming back for more.
Blackburn, Sara. "You Still Can't Go Home Again." New York Times on the Web 30 December 1973.