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Sula

Toni Morrison

1939

1937

1940

Summary

The community mulls over the plague of robins,which preceded Sula's return, and the story about her reaction to Hannah's fatal accident. They decide that the birthmark over her eye represents Hannah's ashes. They are even more horrified that she has slept with white men. They attribute random accidents to her; for example, when Mr. Finley chokes to death on a chicken bone when he sees Sula, she is seen as the source of his demise. When Teapot, a neglected, malnourished child, accidentally falls off Sula's porch, Teapot's mother accuses Sula of pushing him. The town bands together in opposition to the evil they perceive in their midst and redouble their efforts to lead upright, moral, sober lives.

Sula's frequent affairs are all fleeting. Although she doesn't know it, she has sex because it opens her to loneliness and sadness. Ajax takes an interest in her because she is so unpredictable. He is "nice" to his lovers, and they frequently fight over him, but he finds all lovers boring. He and Sula have a passionate affair, enjoying one another's independence. For the first time in her life, Sula experiences the desire for possession of her lover. When Ajax senses her new domestic impulse, he abandons the relationship. She is devastated by his abandonment.

Commentary

As the community's animosity and hatred toward Sula grow, they impose meaning on random occurrences. They need to do so in order to solidify their definition of her as an evil person. Sula disregards their hatred and continues living as she pleases. Their horror at Sula's consensual affairs with white men reflects the extent to which racial segregation defines their lives and psychology

Ironically, the community's labeling of Sula as evil actually improves their own lives. Her presence in the community gives them the impetus to live harmoniously with one another. Teapot's mother was once a negligent parent, but she begins to care for her son as a result of her hatred for Sula. Sula's presence thus gives the residents of the Bottom a stronger sense of collective identity and strength. Her affairs with white men give them a stronger sense of outrage against the interracial relationships,which actually are exploitative. Therefore, Sula's presence also gives them a stronger sense of racial identity. Although the community regards her as an evil person, her return to the Bottom is actually far more than it appears to be. It is actually a blessing in disguise. What seems like a chaotic disruption in the social fabric is actually an ordering and focusing influence.

Sula's relationship with Ajax opens her to new feelings; she discovers the possessive nature of love. Earlier, she condemned Nel for conforming to the web of conventional social expectations, yet she herself is seduced by the promise of security that her love with Ajax seems to offer. Her ultimately negative experience with Ajax seems to confirm her suspicion that she will never have the close security in a relationship with a man that she had in her friendship with Nel. In this comparison rests an implicit contrast between the love that exists between women and that which women can find with men.

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