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Sula

Toni Morrison

Study Questions

1941-1965

How to Cite This SparkNote

What are some possible reasons for Eva's decision to kill Plum? How was the act both one of sacrifice and selfishness? How do her actions address the ambiguous blessings of a mother's strong love for her children?

Eva's actions imply that it is possible to stifle or smother another person with too much love. Love provides the impetus through which a mother will do anything to protect and care for her children, just as Eva gave her leg to make sure her children were well housed and fed. But love can also be a threatening force: Eva is unable to bear the prospect of watching her son sink ever deeper into heroin addiction, and so, because she loves him so powerfully, she kills him. Morrison here makes the point that love is not merely a force for good; she argues that it is rather simply a powerful force, without moral attachments, and as such it can cause people to act in both selfless and selfish ways. Loving another person can threaten the boundaries of his or her identity and personality. Eva gave her youth to raise her children and sacrificed a leg to provide them with a home and a steady supply of food. Eva clearly loved Plum best of her three children. She would have to face a great suffering if forced to watch Plum descend further into his heroin addiction. Moreover, the responsibility for caring for him would fall on her. The pressure of a parent's responsibilities would threaten her independence, but her intense love for Plum threatens his very existence. She cannot accept him as a drug addict because she had informally considered Plum her heir. She expected him to fulfill her dreams, but he failed. In the end, her love was so powerful that it literally consumed him. Perhaps there is a parallel between her love and the consuming nature of his addiction. Later, Eva's explanation for killing Plum again raises the question of whether such strong love is entirely positive. She seems to imply that she simply did not have the energy to face caring for an adult son who had become like a child again.

What is the significance of Hannah's comment that she doesn't like Sula although she loves her?

Hannah's offhand comment that she does not like Sula even though she loves her once again raises the ambivalence of a mother's love. Morrison insists that there is a difference between loving and liking someone. Her comment heralds Sula's loss of childhood innocence. Hannah's comment reveals that a mother's love is often an involuntary emotion, which brings with it a heavy weight of responsibility. Her comment makes Sula feel secure and insecure at the same time. Hannah will not stop loving her. However, she must deal with the negative side of Hannah's feelings toward her. Sula's confrontation with the ambivalent, often mysterious side of human emotions is her first inkling of the complicated world of adulthood.

How does the community define Sula after her return to the Bottom? What is ironic about their attitude toward her?

The community defines her as the personification of evil. As their animosity and hatred toward her grow, they impose meaning on random occurrences. They need to do so in order to solidify their definition of her as an evil person. Their hatred of Sula reflects their sexism. A man like Ajax can sleep with whomever he chooses without being condemned. 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. Although the community regards her as an evil person, her return to the Bottom is actually a blessing in disguise.

Why is it odd that Eva criticizes Sula's unconventional life when Sula returns to the Bottom after a ten year absence? What are some possible reasons for her criticism?

In the Prologue, Morrison describes the changes taking place in the Bottom as rich whites move into the area. How does her description imply that things are not what they appear to be on the surface?

What important theme in Sula does Shadrack represent?

What is the possible symbolic significance of Eva's missing leg? How does it tie into the theme of deceptive appearances in Sula?

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