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Novel “Sula” by Toni Morrison Review

The novel Sula by Toni Morrison, published in 1973, centers around female friendship and its challenges in the context of black feminism. By describing the life challenges and memories of her characters, Sula and Nel, Morrison encourages women to cherish their friendship and support each other in overcoming every hardship of life. Through the development of Nel’s and Sula’s personalities, Morrison suggests that what one sees is not always true. She shows that different people may be similar by nature and encourages to be less judgmental towards each other and cherish friendship despite any challenges. These aspects of the story are discussed in the present paper in detail.

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The narration takes place in the 1920s in a fictional town of Ohio. It describes the childhood, adolescence, and adulthood of Sula and Nel, two African American girls, who shared both happy and sad moments of their friendship. One of the crucial challenges of their bonding was the death of a neighborhood boy, Chicken Little, who drowned in a river through Sula’s fault. In their adult years, the girls had to follow different paths in their lives: Nel was influenced by traditional social values, and Sula chose freedom and independence from conservative norms. They betrayed each other in different ways: Nel by deciding to get married, and Sula by having an affair with Nel’s husband.

At the beginning, it seems that the characters oppose each other; however, Morrison shows that they are different from how they are perceived by the community. At first, Sula is depicted as the antagonist of the novel, with her impulsive and passionate personality. This image is supported by the tragedy at the river, the accident with her mother, when she watched her burning to death, and Sula’s affairs with men, including Nel’s husband. Besides, her denial of social and gender norms created a conflict between her and the community. On the other hand, Nel is presented as a positive character compared to unpredictable and rebellious Sula. “Under Helene’s hand the girl became obedient and polite” (21), writes Morrison, describing her personality. Growing up in different families, the characters inherited contrasting values and attitudes to life, love, motherhood, and society. However, they implicitly supplemented each other in their difference, and each of them had her own flaws and strengths. At the end of the story, Sula’s denial of social norms turns out to be a defense from the prejudice of society and the attempt to save her “me-ness.”

Watching the development of the two characters, readers understand their similarity despite disagreements and betrayals. It becomes clear that Sula was the one who honestly shared everything with Nel. As Li underlines, “the failed but precious attempt Sula has made to search for her self-identity shocks Nel, which makes her start to reconsider her long-lost self” (443). This realization proves that although the two characters seemed to have different attitudes towards life, they still shared the same love for their true selves, though Nel accepted it too late.

By emphasizing this change in Nel, the writer conveys the idea about the significant power of friendship. According to Al-Saidi and Alqarni, “in spite of their year of separation, and their opposite paths, Sula and Nel’s relationship recollects its supremacy for each of them” (1221). Fetters agrees that “Toni Morrison addresses the idea of difference, of recognizing, embracing, and finding strength in the differences that often divide us” (28). Indeed, as Morrison writes, Sula’s return to her home town transforms Nel’s life, as she compares it to “getting the use of an eye back, having a cataract removed” (89). The final scene confirms the message of the writer: after the conversation with Eva about her friendship with Sula, Nel understands how much she missed her friend and that Sula was right in her struggle against society.

In conclusion, it is fair to say that Sula is a novel that teaches important lessons about friendship and its power. By describing the life challenges of two girls, Morrison demonstrates that even closest friends may choose different paths to follow. At the same time, the author claims that it is important to value friendship and find support in each other’s differences. The novel proves once again that people tend to be too demanding and judgemental in their relationship. However, Morrison reveals that in the tough and diverse world, friendship can be the key to fight against its flaws and stand for one’s true self.

Works Cited

Al-Saidi, Afaf Ahmed Hasan, and Shunayfaa Muhammed Alqarni. “The Rebellious, Untamed Mare: Morrison’s Heroine Sula.” Journal of Language Teaching and Research, vol. 10, no. 6, 2019, pp. 1217-1224.

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Fetters, Cassandra. “The Continual Search for Sisterhood: Narcissism, Projection, and Intersubjective Disruptions in Toni Morrison’s Sula and Feminist Communities.” Meridians, vol. 13, no. 2, 2016, pp. 28-55.

Li, Qingyuan. “On Black Women’s Quest for Self-identity in Toni Morrison’s Sula.” 2nd International Conference on Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities (SSAH 2018), 2018, pp. 443-446.

Morrison, Toni. Sula. Vintage, 1998.

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