Toni Morrison`S Zula.the Other Among the Other
English and Literature
Submitted By rinkuwinston
Feminism is not one unitary concept; it is instead diverse and multifaceted grouping of ideas and indeed, action. The basis of all strands of the concept may be stated as that it concerns itself with women’s inferior position in society sand with the discrimination encountered by women because of their sex. “Feminism is a doctrine suggesting that women are systematically disadvantaged in the modern society and advocating equal opportunities for men and women.”(The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology, second Ed). The term includes many loose like liberal feminism, Marxist and socialist feminism, radical feminism. Liberal feminists work for equal rights for women within the framework of the liberal state; they did not question the structure –economic or political-of the state but they demand the rights and privileges given by the state should be equally shared by man and women. Marxist and socialist feminists’ link gender inequality and women’s oppression to the capitalist system. Women suffer a double exploitation as women and as members of the working class. Radical feminists disregard all questions of political and economic dispensation to concentrate on the roots of the problem. The central root of the problem is the system of patriarchy which leads to all kinds of discrimination against and devaluation of women. Politico-economic questions are not the roots but only auxiliaries. The concept of gender is the real villain and has to be demolished. Lately, more groups like Psychoanalytical feminism, Postmodern or Poststructuralists feminism, Black feminism and so on have also been added.
Black feminism mainly studies the issues of self- consciousness and self identity of black women who are caught in a dilemma and tries to provide methods to help black women achieve self realization. In the long history, that is black women’s double identity, that is, they are both black and women, makes them leave under multiple oppressions. A number of outstanding female writers are deeply concerned with black women’s sufferings thus try to find a reasonable way for their freedom and independence. There are systems of societal and psychological restriction that have critically affected the lives of blacks in general and African – American women in particular. Sexism, more oppressive physically and mentally, was cause of grievance to the black women who were sexually exploited by both black and white men. Just as blacks as a group were relegated to an underclass by virtue of their race, so were women relegated to separate caste by virtue of their sex. Confronted by sexual discrimination, the black woman has no friends but liabilities and responsibilities.
Black women took part in the Civil Right Movement of the 1960s and the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s in large numbers. Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Jo Baker were prominent black civil right activists, as was Angela Davis. Angela Davis worked to bring attention to the condescension towards women throughout the civil rights and anti-war movements. Women activists found themselves in a contradictory situation comparable to the situation of African American soldiers in the two World Wars: fighting for “freedom” within an army that discriminated against them. In articles and interviews, Morrison has focused her criticism on the Black Power movement and it rhetoric – particularly, the application of it “Black is beautiful” slogan to women and the oppressive fetishization of black female beauty. Morrison rejected Black Power female models such as the ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti for their escapism and exoticism. She commented:”I was not impressed with much of the rhetoric of Black men about Black women in the sixties, I didn’t believe it”. She goes on explain that traditionally black women both worked and raised a family. As a result, black women’s relation to black men was potentially one of comradeship and equality. Black female resilience – and black women’s real – life roles as breadwinners and heads of family – is a better political model than stereotypical beauty and eroticism. Morrison voiced the unease of black women towards the traditionally white and upper middle class women’s movement. While the civil rights and anti-war movements silenced and marginalized women in general and black activism’s portrayal of women was often stereotyped and oppressive, the women’s movement itself silenced and marginalized black women.
Black feminist literary studies, like black women themselves, have had a troubled relationship to the larger rubric “feminist”. The universal “woman” the early feminist movement embraced was generally white, based in the eastern portions of the United States ignoring the black. The ironic fact is that the black women, who were often relegated to the margins of the woman’s movement, and at times completely excluded from it, arguably had a keener sense of gender, as well as racial, inequality, field hand and house hold experience of the sexual division of labor, and a longer and more complex history of what could be called feminist activism. Black women sought the freedom to live within traditional gender roles to claim the luxury of loving their own men and mothering their own children: “to get to a place where you could love anything you choose”.
The position of African Americans in the dominant society of the United States of America has not been an easy one. African Americans needed to find a new identity in the New World and were considered an underclass for a long time. In literature, African American writers have been telling the story of their complex experience and history of the mission to find their own voice was even more difficult for African American women who became targets of numerous insults, both during and after slavery, and were forced to be silent and to stand in the background for a long time. Many stereotypes existed about African American women, about their behavior, family organization, or their abilities. These stereotypes undermined African American woman’s position in the mainstream society and portrayed African American women as non-human beings. African American women writers helped with the reversal of these stereotypes and African American women have become to be seen as “living human being[s] with [their] own desires and needs”(Christian, Black Feminist Criticism 16). African American literature is literature written by, about, and sometimes specifically for African Americans. The genre began during the 18th and 19th centuries with writers such as poet Phillis Wheatley and orator Frederick Douglass, reached an early high point with the Harlem Renaissance, and continues today with authors such as Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou being ranked among the top writers in the United States.
African American literature tends to focus on themes of interest to Black people, such as the role of African Americans within the larger American society and issues such as African American culture, racism, religion, slavery, freedom, and equality. Another characteristic of African American literature is its strong tradition of incorporating oral poetry into itself. As African Americans' place in American society has changed over the centuries, so too has the focus of African American literature. Before the American Civil War, African American literature primarily focused on the issue of slavery, as indicated by the popular subgenre of slave narratives. At the turn of the 20th century, books by authors such as W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington debated whether to confront or appease racist attitudes in the United States. During the American Civil Rights movement, authors like Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks wrote about issues of segregation and Black Nationalism. Today, African American literature has become accepted as an integral part of American literature, with books in the genre, such as Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley and The Color Purple by Alice Walker, achieving both best-selling and award-winning status. Toni Morrison as being one of the cultural icons of the contemporary world, is a self-identified “black woman writer”, has written in a variety of forms, but has made her outstanding contribution as a novelist. Toni Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio ,on February 18, 1931.When Morrison was growing up, Lorain was a multiracial town though she was the only black girl in her class. “I never lived in a Black neighborhood in Lorain, Ohio, because there weren’t any at the time.”(Morrison 1985b, 172). Morrison has won numerous prestigious awards, including the 1993 Nobel prize for literature and the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved .In addition to Beloved ,Morrison wrote eight other novels including; A Mercy (2008), Love (2003), Jazz (1992), Tar Baby (1981), Paradise (1998), The Bluest Eye(1970), and Sula (1974).Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue and richly detailed black characters. Morrison voiced the unease of black women towards the traditionally white and upper middle class women’s movement. While the civil rights and anti war movements silenced and marginalized women in general and black activism’s portrayal of women was often stereotype and oppressive, the women’s movement itself silenced and marginalized black women. Morrison’s work is inter textual which interrogates a broad spectrum of discourses: Ancient Greek tragedy; West African cosmological ideas; the Bible; the Western canon; canonical literature in English, especially modernism; dominant cultural stereotypes; African American oral traditions; the African American written literary tradition; the African American history; contemporary theory and criticism; contemporary aesthetics and politics and so on. Sula was Morrison's second novel, published in 1973 while Morrison was working at Random House. Sula also received critical acclaim and popular attention. Parts of the novel appeared in Redbook, and it was nominated for a National Book Award. The novel tells the story of a friendship between two African-American women. They suffer some normal and not-so-normal ups and downs, and we see them grow from young girls to middle-aged adults. Like much of her other work, Sula offers some fascinating commentary on the lives of African-Americans and the hardships they face, on issues of gender, on the relationships between mothers and daughters, and on the ways men and women relate to each other. Morrison has said that she is invested in recording the history of African-Americans, and while Sula mostly focuses on the two central female characters, we also get a look at the African-American community of which they are a part, of the customs and traditions they share, and of the ways they deal with pain, fear, love, sex, and death.
Chapter 2 Sula-An Analysis
The first chapter of Sula introduces a place as a main character. The Bottom is a black neighborhood “tucked” into the hills of the small fictional river valley town of Medallion, in Morrison’s native Ohio. Thomas Hardy opens ‘The Return of the Native’ with a pagan description of Egdon Heath as an ancient living being on which other small and short-lived creatures, including humans, live. Morrison, by contrast, throws us into the midst of the violent process of the Bottom’s death in 1965: already “they tore the nightshade and blackberry patches from their roots”-“nightshade and blackberry”, plants black in name or actuality-and soon “They are going to raze” and “level” the buildings (3). This death in the name of “progress”(6) will transform the Bottom into the modern Medallion City Golf Course. It is a normal and closely-knit Black community where the strangest thing is probably Shadrack, a shell-shocked veteran from World War I. Having proclaimed January 3 to National Suicide Day, Shadrack often marches through town encouraging citizens to plan the day of their death in defiance of the horrible unexpectedness of dying naturally. The civil, conventional community of The Bottom dares to treat Shadrack with familiarity and tolerance. One of the upright and outstanding members of The Bottom community is Helene Wright. She has moved to Medallion from New Orleans, where her grandmother raised her because her mother was a prostitute. During the story, Helene is married to a respectable man and has established herself in the community as the picture of propriety; it is all an effort to escape the family history of ill repute. She carefully and successfully raises her daughter, Nel, to be like her, living a life free from shame and immorality. Nel turns out to be a good, obedient, and traditional daughter. When Helene takes her to New Orleans for her grandmother’s funeral, Nel is shocked to see racism for the first time. She is also shocked to realize that her mother is very insecure. Nel vows to never be like her mother; she returns home to The Bottom from New Orleans as a determined young woman who wants to be an individual. Sula the daughter of Hannah Peace and granddaughter of Eva Peace. She is a close childhood friend of Nel Wright. Sula is really complex and hard to understand at times. Sula receives little attention from her mother, Hannah, or her grandmother, Eva. Hannah is a sensuous woman who seeks the company of all the men in town; Sula disapproves of her mother’s behavior and views her with a detached sense of alienation. When Hannah catches on fire, Eva jumps from the third- floor window in an attempt to cover Hannah with her body and extinguish the fire, while Sula watches from the porch and does nothing. Ironically, Sula grows up to be much like her mother, believing she has no need for attachments and having no self-respect. Sula even destroys her one friendship in life by sleeping with Nel’s husband. Everyone in Medallion is horrified over Sula’s behavior and cannot believe that she has betrayed her best friend; they are also shocked that she has put Eva, her own grandmother, in a nursing home. The whole community calls Sula a roach and a bitch. The men of The Bottom also reveal that Sula has done the unforgivable by sleeping with white men. Everyone in Medallion judges her to be evil; they turn their backs on her. Viewed as a villain, Sula becomes the town scapegoat, blamed for every bad thing that happens; she supposedly causes sickness, accidents, and bad weather. When a small boy named Teapot falls on Sula's steps, she is blamed for pushing him, even though she was inside. When Sula goes out to help the child up, his drunken mother walks by and assumes Sula has harmed him. Though she has no money, the woman takes Teapot to the hospital and proceeds to make a case against Sula. Another time, a man looks at Sula while sucking the marrow out of chicken bones and chokes to death. Ironically, Sula also has a good affect on the town. When the townswomen begin to hate Sula for sleeping with their husbands, they begin to cherish their husbands more. When Sula treats Eva cruelly (in their opinion), they begin to care for their elderly, cherishing them more. A mythology soon develops about Sula. People say that she does not age, does not lose her teeth, and is not bitten by insects. They judge her birthmark and crooked finger to be evil signs. The people even comment that Sula does not belch when drinking beer. One woman has actually seen Shadrack approach Sula and tip his hat, a shocking sight indeed; Shadrack has never been polite to anyone. | | In the midst of her loneliness and misery, Sula has an affair with Ajax, and the unthinkable happens. Sula falls in love with him; it is the first time she has ever had such emotions. She longs for the kind of commitment she has never thought she would want. The affair begins when Ajax walks up to Sula’s house with two quarts of milk. They go to the kitchen, where he drinks the milk; then they have sex. Eventually they fall into a frequent pattern of seeing each other, for Ajax regularly stops by to bring Sula food, ice, and household items. He is comfortable about the relationship with Sula, for he believes that she is not interested in a traditional relationship, since everything about her defies tradition and convention. Like most men, he is certainly not interested in commitment. Ajax, terrified of her attachment, leaves her. Sula never fully recovers from the loss and misses him terribly. A couple of years later, Sula is dying. Nel forces herself to visit her old friend out of a sense of duty and her own “goodness.” The visit soon degenerates into an argument when Sula explains her vision of life, and Nel questions it. Nel wants to know why Sula took Jude from her. Sula says that she did not "take" him, that no one is able to "possess" anyone else. She then warns Nel not to be so sure of her own moral superiority. Nel leaves feeling angry, but unable to forget Sula’s warning. Shortly after Nel’s visit, Sula descends into pain and dies. The townspeople consider her death to be good news; few come to her funeral and those present barely manage to sing at her graveside. Neither Nel nor Eva attends Sula’s burial. The question of right versus wrong in the novel can be traced all the way back to the childhoods of Sula and Nel. They become friends at the age of twelve. In interviews Morrison repeatedly stresses the friendship between Nel and Sula as the major thematic innovation of the book:”to have heterosexual women who are friends, who are talking only about themselves to each other, seemed to me a very radical thing when Sula was published” (Morrison 1993b , 252) . Nel and Sula are ostensibly complementary. Whereas Nel dreams the conventional but inappropriate passive dream of being a princess waiting for a prince, Sula dreams the novel active dream of “galloping” on a horse “through her own mind” (52). Whereas Nel is “consistent” and has a core self, Sula is a creature of moods and “could hardly be counted on to sustain any emotion for more than three minutes”(53). Chicken Little slipping through Sula’s fingers, falling in the river and drowning is a metaphor capturing the problematic side of Sula’s lack of a stable core self to rely on. The result is that Sula goes through life believing that she is evil because she killed Chicken Little; in contrast, Nel judges herself to be good because it was not she who caused Chicken Little’s death. The lives of both women are clearly shaped by the views they have of themselves. Prompted by a discussion about Chicken Little with Sula’s grandmother, Nel goes to visit the grave of Sula. There she comes to terms with the truth of her past. Nel remembers that Sula had been terrified and anguished over Chicken Little’s death; she certainly had not wanted the boy to die, but blamed herself fully for the accident. Nel made no attempt to change Sula’s thinking. Instead, Nel had inwardly rejoiced at the death, proving the cruelty and evil in her heart. The truth is that Sula lived a more honest life than Nel; she accepted herself as evil and lived accordingly. Nel, on the other hand, has lived a hypocritical life, pretending to be good and pure in every way. At the end, however, she faces the falseness of her life and embraces the dead Sula as her best friend and judges her to be good, in spite of the opinion of the community. Sula is also is the story of the interrupted friendship between two black girls, Sula and Nel, in the context of modernity, a context the novel interrogates critically and redefines. Sula is a figure of the modern black women writer, Nel a figure of the writer’s community and audience. Their aborted friendship and Sula’s premature death explore impediments to the emergence of the black woman writer and of a fluid and multiplications female black self. Their friendship lasts five years and enables a cross-fertilization of their complementary selves; self and other communicate and cross the frontier between them. The quality of their friendship was “adventuresomeness…a mean determination to explore everything that interested them” (55). There is a common project underlying complementary and deconstructing their divide: “Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, they had set about creating something else to be” (52). This “something else to be” turns out to be the friendship itself, as old Nel recognizes belatedly in the closing pages of the book. In 1927 Nel marries Jude Greene. It is a rare middle-class “real marriage” in the Bottom: an expensive marriage in church followed by a reception, conceived and executed by Helene Wright (80). Black men’s exclusion from well-paid construction work undermines Jude’s masculinity, and he wants to marry to give himself “a someone sweet, industrious and loyal to shore him up…The two of them together would make one Jude” (83). Nel – or rather a part of her- accepts this role gladly. Her other part – her “sparkle” and “splutter” – would only have “free reign” with Sula (83) . But Sula leaves the Bottom in the midst of the wedding reception and that part of Nel disappears from view.
Sula is replete with contradictions. The conventional notion of human relationship – between mother and child, between friends and lovers – is subverted in the narrative. The relationship between Eva and her son is strange. Eva’s intense love for her son, Plum, culminates in his murder. Plum returns to his mother devastated by war. He has become a drug- addict and is on the point of becoming an imbecile. Eva, who has given birth to him, does not want him to “crawl back into her womb”. Nor does she want him to be half-a-man, clinging on to her. So she decides to kill him. She first holds him close to her bosom and rocks him like a baby and then soaks him in kerosene and burns him. Plum does not feel any pain. He welcomes the “wet lightness over him”. He thinks that he is undergoing “some kind of baptism, some kind of blessing”
Eva’s killing of her son is inspired by her love for him, which is a contradiction by itself. Another instance of unnatural and contradictory mother- child relationship is the relationship Hannah has with her daughter, Sula. As a mother, Hannah does not give a mother’s love to her daughter. Instead, she teaches Sula “man-love”. She gives Sula the impression that “sex was pleasant and frequent, but otherwise unremarkable” (44). Hannah instills a feeling of insecurity in Sula, as she tells her friends that she simply likes Sula and does not love her. Thus Hannah distorts the psyche of her own daughter. Salvatore claims that “sula is deeply affected by her environment, yet ignorant of its real impact on her life. Although her childhood is free from the observable abuses, that Pecola suffers, Sula still experiences an emotional void in her family life that infects everything she does.”(161)
Another unnatural relationship that destroys Sula in her intimacy with her lover Ajax. It is the manner in which Ajax utters obscene words that attracts Sula to him. Ajax is attracted to her because of all the stories he has heard about her. It is not love but curiosity that holds the two lovers together. Apart from curiosity, it is the knowledge that neither is interested in nailing the other that makes them continue their romance. They complement each other intellectually by having “genuine conversations”. But their relationship breaks when she starts loving him. Ajax breaks away, afraid of Sula’s love and possessiveness. Interestingly, Sula’s love for Ajax is not constructive, for, while making love, Sula thinks of tearing open his face with “a nail file or even Eva’s old paring knife”. She wants to tear him open layer by layer and reveal the “loan” that gives him his body odour. This contradicts the lover- like feeling that Sula says she possesses for Ajax. Sula is also a commentary on the need for a person to feel loved. Throughout her life, Sula tries to follow her mother’s example of detachment, believing she needs no one in the world. In truth, she lives a life of misery and loneliness because she makes no attachments. When she does finally fall in love with Ajax, she realizes how desperately she wants a commitment and scares him away. It is not surprising that from her deathbed she talks about the lack of love in the world. The hopelessness of life is also presented through the character of Shadrack. Shell-shocked from the war, he exists in The Bottom in a state of half craziness. His claim to fame is that he has invented a holiday - National Suicide Day. Although he is a humorous character on the surface, his message is really one of doom and gloom. Ironically, a large portion of The Bottom population dies while celebrating his National Suicide Day. It is their small-mindedness that has led to their end. The book itself begins with an ending: the death of a community and it is the literal violence of this ending which evokes its history. "In that place, where they tore the nightshade and blackberry patches from their roots to make room for the Medallion City Golf Course, there was once a neighborhood" (3). The Bottom, the black section of Medallion which is facing this violent dislocation, was nothing more than a "nigger joke," one in which blacks and whites alike told to brace themselves against the hardships of life. The beginning of this community, in which a white farmer tricks his newly freed slave into accepting hill land as price for having completed difficult work by assuring him that it was the "bottom of heaven," sets the stage for the rest of the novel. It is out of this community, this "nigger joke," that the characters, Sula, Nel, Eva, Hannah, Tar Baby, Helene Wright, and others, interact. The city of Medallion, and the Bottom, the small black section of the town, are wholly fictional and yet they are not without historical precedent. In an interview with Robert Steptoe, Morrison stated that Medallion was born out of a story her mother had once told her. "When [Morrison's mother] first got married, she and my father went to live in Pittsburgh. And I remember her telling me that in those days all the black people lived in the hills of Pittsburgh, but now they lived amid the smoke and dirt in the heart of that city" (Gates, ed. 379). The novel itself spans forty years between 1919-1965. Its structure is similarly dictated by time, with each chapter titled yearly. The first part of the book occurs in the years during and following World War I (Part Two occurs in the years leading up to World War II). This shift toward the past is occasioned by the death of the Bottom. This was Morrison's purpose, as she says in "Unspeakable Things Unspoken": "In between 'place' and 'neighborhood,' I [now] have to squeeze the specificity and the difference; the nostalgia, the history, and the nostalgia for the history; the violence done to it and the consequences of that violence” (qtd. Gale house). The dislocation beginning the novel that shifts it to the past parallels the physical shifts occurring for African Americans during that period. This period is instructive in the way in which it reveals two patterns of African American social constructs: one from agrarianism to urbanization; poverty to prosperity; unemployment to productivity; passivity to aggression; disenfranchisement to greater political power. Morrison draws on these separate constructs in Sula. The changes that erupt in the Bottom, first, physically in its destruction to the sacrifice of suburban capitalist redevelopment, second, psychologically in the form of Sula, whose indifference to the community's moral standards forces its residents to protect themselves "against the devil in their midst" (117-118), and third, through the destruction of the New River Tunnel by the Bottom residents over the "leaf-dead promise" of new work, are reflective of the physical and social changes also occurring in the world beyond Medallion. The mass movement of blacks from the south to the north and the collective gains of prosperity and political power required a new way of thinking about self necessary to accommodate these shifting constructs. In Sula, characters physically leave Medallion under different circumstances and are all changed, either physically or emotionally, by their journeys. Shadrack and Plum, both "ravaged" victims of the war, return to Medallion as former shadows of themselves. Nel's trip down south with her mother occasions an awakening of self-awareness that sets the tone for the rest of the novel. "...she had gone on a real trip, and now she was different" (28). After leaving her children in the care of neighbors, Eva leaves Medallion for eighteen months, and when she returns she is missing one leg. After graduating from school and planning her friend Nel's wedding, Sula leaves for college but doesn't return to Medallion after ten years. Like her uncle Plum before her, Sula wanders aimlessly from city to city, yet finds in them "the same people, working the same mouths, sweating the same sweat" (120). Her reappearance in the Bottom changes it "in accountable yet mysterious way" (117). While Morrison's choice to have her characters leave and then return to Medallion might contradict the historical experience of African Americans during this period, a closer examination reveals that her characters share the overall experience of the African Diaspora for a sense of belonging to place. As critic Barbara Christian comments, "Like the ancestral African tradition, place is as important as the human actors, for the land is a participant in the maintenance of the folk tradition. It is one of the necessary constants through which the folk dramatize the meaning of life, as it is passed on from one generation to the next. Setting then, is organic to the character’s view of themselves" (qtd. in Galehouse). The Great Migration at the beginning of the twentieth century is implicit in the desire of liberation of self, both physically and psychologically, to reconcile the forced dislocation of African peoples within the Diaspora. Morrison's character, Sula, embodies this desire. Morrison says in Unspeakable Things Unspoken that Sula "is a new world black and new world woman extracting choice from choicelessness, responding inventively to found things. Improvisational, Daring, disruptive, imaginative, modern, out-of-the-house, outlawed, policing, uncontained and uncontainable. And dangerously female" (Galehouse). Sula is a wholly self-created individual, who "lived out her days exploring her own thoughts and emotions, giving them full reign, feeling no obligation to please anybody unless their pleasure pleased her" (118). While Sula is an unusual character - Morrison also eludes to this in her interview with Steptoe: "...I don't regard her as a typical black woman at all. And the fact that the community responds to her that way means that she's unusual" (Gates, ed. 384) - her quest for self-reinvention, imagination, and improvisation is very much within the jazz and blues tradition, which also sought to break the rules and stretch the boundaries of what is possible and permissible. In her work, pain is turned to music. The Bottom is brought back to life by "the living notes of a mouth organ" (4). Tar Baby's "sweetest hill voice" makes the women weep and think "graphically of their own imminent deaths" (40). When Sula experiences the pain of abandonment by her lover Ajax, she sings: "I have sung all the songs all the songs I have sung all the songs there are" (137). Sula's need for self-invention is given "full reign" in the Bottom, for its cultural foundation also helped created Sula, as well. Sula, "an artist with no art form," and therefore made, "dangerous" (121), turns herself into her own canvas, "expressing" her own "personal catastrophe," and shaping her experiences into art. In this way, Sula is a blues singer, and certainly, her contemporaries, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Billie Holiday, would agree. Interestingly, many black women blues singers bore the brunt of criticism within the black community for their raunchy lyrics and loose behavior. Sula should be read as a satire because Morrison is successful in causing the reader not only to rethink common societal problems, but also to reach a sense of catharsis in the process. The novel is engaging and humorous, as well as extremely tragic. One feels almost torn between these two opposing emotions and unsure of how to categorize the novel. The theme of binary oppositions in the novel, most evident in the beginning of the novel in which Morrison begins with a joke about the town being named the “Bottom” even though it is on top of a mountain. Morrison uses binaries in their descriptions and actions. Satire is a genre which is well paired with the notion of binary since satire, generally, is a subtle critique of accepted norms and mores. A binary opposition posits two terms as mutually exclusive: the one term is what the other is not; one of the two terms is positively valued, the other is devalued. Man and woman, white and black, self and other, good and evil are examples of binary opposition Morrison has concentrated in Sula. On a deconstructive reading there is a binary opposition between ‘aesthetic and rapport’ in Sula. When Nel walks in on Sula and Jude having sex, her reaction is strangely detached: “I waited for Sula to look up at me any minute and say one of those lovely college words like ‘aesthetic or rapport’( 105). This is one of several traumatic events witnessed in the novel: “horrible images, painful truths, excruciating losses” (171).Sula’s manner of witnessing her mother’s burning is also detached – and Eva accuses her of watching it as an aesthetic spectacle rather than taking action. In effect Eva accuses her of “privileging…aesthetics over rapport” (171); as Nel also seems to do when she contemplates Sula and Jude and thinks of the words “aesthetic and rapport”. The underline assumption here is that aesthetics and rapport mutually exclusive, a binary opposition: “aesthetics is taken as the contemplation of forms, implying detachment and distance, and rapport is taken as the dynamics of connectedness” (170). However, Morrison deconstructs this very opposition: she “makes the aesthetic inextricable from trauma” (171). On the point of view of the concept of “double consciousness” which is not as a debilitating condition, but as an enabling strategy embracing both/and, rather than either/or. Morrison’s use of both linear time and cynical time in Sula is an instantiation of double consciousness. On the other hand, as Morrison’s chapter’s title make clear, time moves forward in chronological and unidirectional line. On other hand the novel moves in circles, in the manner of an African cyclical conception of time: the novel begins in the narrative present and returns to it at the end; Sula returns to Bottom; Nel returns to her friendship with Sula at the end of the novel. Morrison resists resolution between linear and cynical time, though the novel’s end – “circles of sorrow” – supports cynical time (123).
Black Feminism Within the Modern Feminist Movement, white women have been accused of focusing on oppression in terms of gender while ignoring issues of race, class, and sexuality. Alongside defining all women’s experiences in terms of their own, this homogenizing excludes issues concerning the interlocking oppressors of race, class, and gender. In resistance to this marginalization, theories of black feminism and womanism were forged. These two theoretical concepts were developed to call attention to the multiple oppressions experienced by women of color, reflecting and defining their everyday experiences in their own terms. The prominent issues affecting black women and women of color are focused. It also presents a brief historical background of some of the cultural oppressors of black women. It will go on to examine what has been debated by several writers as the exclusion of race from modern feminist ideological thought and define both black feminism and womanism, and explain their purpose. “The racism, classism, and sexism associated with each woman’s experience of being black and female in the U.S. are critical measurements of their oppression” --Gloria I. Joseph, and Jill Lewis in "Common Differences: Conflicts in Black and White feminist perspectives" As this quotation suggests, the black female experience is characterized by the intrinsically linked oppressors of race, class, and gender. These oppressors are interwoven into social structures, and work together to define the history of the lives of black women and women of color. In the introduction to Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought, by Beverly Guy-Sheftall, the author states, “ black women experience a special kind of suffering in this country which is racist, sexist, and classist because of their dual racial and gender identity and their limited access to economic resources” (2). According to writers like bell hooks, the history of these cultural oppressors can be traced back to Slavery. Within her book, Ain’t I A Woman: black women and feminism, hooks asserts that, “ As far back as slavery, white people established a social hierarchy based on race and sex, that ranked white men first, white women second, though sometimes equal to black men who ranked third, and black women last” (53). Due to the scope of these oppressors and the long history associated with them, writers and theorists like hooks reason that black women have developed a distinct perspective and cognizance that provides them with keen survival skills, including utilizing everyday strategies of resistance. In the article, “Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousness: The Context of a Black Feminist Ideology”, Deborah King states, “black women’s survival depends on her ability to use all the economic, social, and cultural resources available to her from both the larger society and within her community” (298). In other words, the particular oppressions black women and women of color face have lead to specific perspectives on reality; these viewpoints are formed out of the linking oppressors of race, class, and gender. “Systematic devaluation of black womanhood was not simply a direct Consequence of race hatred, it was a calculated method of social control” ---bell hooks in "Ain’t I A Woman: black women and feminism" The quotation above by bell hooks references the use of social structures utilized to degrade black women as a means of social control. The specific oppressions African American women have experienced have historically tried to debase their characters. In the book, Women of Color in U.S. Society, edited by Maxine Baca-Zinn and Bonnie Thornton-Dill, the argument is posed that women of color are subjected to “cultural assaults or systematic attacks on the institutions and social organizations that are fundamental to the maintenance and flourishing of a group’s culture” (5). In other words, black women have been defined and categorized in dehumanizing terms, terms employed to attack the essence of black women’s sense of personal integrity and self worth. Various writers argue that historically black women have been stereotyped as sex objects and breeders and that black women’s personal growth has been impeded by the continuing myths of the black matriarchy, a myth accusing black women of emasculating black men. These stereotypes and myths have acted as modes of social control in their demotion of black women’s characters. In Linda LaRue’s article, “ The Black Movement and Women’s Liberation”, LaRue argues that concepts like the myth of the matriarchy and the emasculating black female have been utilized for the sole purpose of “making the black woman feel ashamed of her strength” (171). Alongside the defaming of the black woman’s character and esteem has been the systematic attempt to discredit black women’s ability to define their life experiences in their own words. Carol Boyce-Davies, in the book “Moving Beyond Boundaries: International Dimensions of Black Women’s Writing”, argues, “There have been systematic attempts to discredit us as credible representatives of ourselves” (4). Writers like Davies explain how black women’s lives have been defined by specific oppressions and social controls aimed at libeling their characters, discrediting their voices, and eliminating their personal strengths.
In addition to the cultural stereotyping black women have faced, various authors suggest that women of color have dealt with the exclusion of the issue of race from the “Modern White Women’s Movement”. The modern women’s movement has been criticized as inadequately confronting the issues facing black women and women of color. The women’s movement has also been accused of concentrating only on the perspectives and concerns of white middle-class women. The various writers suggest that black women and women of color have antithetically resisted what they have perceived to be the disparaged treatment of their concerns by the modern women’s movement. These authors argue that women of color’s concerns and struggles have been marginalized, slighted, and even ignored within the agenda of the women’s movement. Therefore, black women and women of color have expressed reluctance in aligning themselves with it. It has also been argued that often times black women have avoided the movement based on fear of interrogation by their own community members who linked racism with the women’s movement. The modern women’s movement has been further criticized as being irrelevant, and being only concerned with the class interests and betterment of middle-class white women. In Michelle Wallace’s article, “Anger in Isolation: A Black Feminist’s Search for Sisterhood”, she belabors the point that the women’s movement, “enlists the support of black women to build credibility” (225). In hook’s article, “Black women shaping Feminist Theory”, she contends that, “the central tenet in modern feminist thought asserts that women share a common oppressor” (273). Within this article, hooks goes on to describe the emphasis on common oppression as a strategy less influenced by politicization, than by appropriation. According to hooks, this form of appropriation minimizes factors like class, race, and sexual preference, and gives conservative members in the movement a platform to address their class interests. Another key argument against the modern women’s movement by the writers is that it defined and analyzed oppressions in insular terms, meaning the women’s movement defined oppression as stemming from unitary factors rather than systemic factors. In doing this, the movement played a key role in undermining and marginalizing black women and women of color’s struggles, struggles inherently linked as triple oppressors. Deborah K. King states that this monist or individualistic approach of examining oppressors tries to minimize important social relations that act as oppressors, breaking them down and dealing with them in solitary terms like, “the economy, state, culture, or gender”, terms that view oppression singularly, rather than systemic (299-300). This monistic approach refuses to recognize the interplay of various oppressions, a concept vital to the black female experience. Finally, hooks, in the book, Ain’t I A Woman, arrives at the conclusion that, “the women’s movement had not drawn black and white women closer together, instead it exposed the fact that white women were not willing to relinquish their support of white supremacy to support the issues of all women” (136). What this means is that white women are accused of refusing to let go of their white privilege in order align themselves with the struggles of all women. These various writers suggest that the modern women’s movement has excluded the issues of crucial importance to the lives of black women and women of color. Therefore, out of this marginalization black women forged their own terms and ideologies, the black feminist movement. Black feminism was created in order to focus on the specific issues that affect and shape the lives of women of color. Black feminist thought was conceived out of resistance to the exclusion of race issues from the agenda of the modern women’s movement. The basis of black feminist thought focused on pertinent issues that defined the black female experience that had been previously disregarded by the women’s movement. According to the literature, black women came together to form their own organizations, these organizations focused on the issues of immediacy in their lives. They established agendas dealing with several themes, according to Gloria T. Hull and Barbara Smith, in the introductory chapter, “The Politics of Black Women’s Studies”, in the book, All the Women are White, All the Blacks are men, But Some of Us Are Brave; Black Women’s Studies, These themes included the necessity of “black feminisms total commitment to the liberation of black women and it’s recognition of black women as valuable and complex human beings” (xxi). Other important tenets of black feminist thought include the political awareness of how race, class, and gender work together as oppressive forces. Barbara Smith states in the article, “Some Home Truths of the Contemporary Black Feminist Movement”, that “the concept of the simultaneity of oppression is the crux of a black feminist understanding of political reality” (260). In other words, the premise of black feminist thought consists of the personal and political awareness of how race, class, and gender work simultaneously as oppressors, not in the monistic terms described by King. Black feminist thought functions as an ever changing and evolving theory, encompassing the struggles and concepts of movements of resistance prior to its inception. According to Joy James, in her text, Shadow Boxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics, “Black women created and continue to create feminisms out of militant national liberation and or anti-racist movements” (75). According to authors like Linda Larue, women of color’s life experiences are linked to deeply threaded oppression institutions, and therefore are different than the struggles of white women. In Larue’s article, “The Black Movement and Women’s Liberation”, she reasons that it is impossible to analogize black oppression with the plight of the American white woman. Instead, Larue maintains that the, “American white woman has had a better opportunity to live a free and fulfilling life, both mentally and physically, than any other group of people in the United States” (164). Black feminist thought in essence represents a multiple state of lived consciousness. According to the various authors read, this particular awareness or consciousness requires first of all, an exponential wisdom and knowledge regarding the dynamics of race, class, and gender oppression. Patricia Hill-Collins states in her book, Black Feminist Thought, that “Living life as an African American woman is a necessary prerequisite for producing black feminist thought, because within black women’s communities thought is validated and produced with reference to a particular set of historical, material, and epistemological conditions” (230). Authors like Hill-Collins, argue that these conditions formed by the combination of race, class, and gender oppression mold the life perspectives and experiences of women of color. Therefore, black feminism is comprised of theory created by and for black women and women of color. Black feminist theory provides space for black women and women of color to express their concerns in validating surroundings. Black feminist thought addresses the aspects according to authors like Hill-Collins and hooks, that have been marginalized and excluded within the white women’s movement, and links them to personal experience. The definition of ‘Womanism’ was created by the author and theorist, Alice Walker, whom defines a womanist as a black feminist or feminist of color, an outrageous and audacious woman who is interested in learning and questioning all things. A womanist is a responsible woman who loves other women both sexually and non-sexually, a woman who appreciates and prefers women’s culture, strength and emotional flexibility. The theory of ‘womanism’ is committed to the survival and wholeness of all people both men and women. Rather than supporting separatism, womanism promotes universalism. This particular theory of womanism, since several have been adapted from this basic definition, created a space for black women and women of color who found themselves incapable of identifying with both white feminism and black feminism. The theory of womanism allowed women of color space for dialogue and an opportunity for them to name themselves and their own movement. Authors like Aduke Adebayo and Linda Larue, discuss the fact that even though black feminist thought emerged from the racism and exclusion of white feminist thought, black feminist theory was still seen as elitist and exclusive to some women of color, whether it is the inability to hear the word feminist and not think of racist white women, promoting an irrelevant movement, or the class hierarchies established in black feminist theory. Womanism spoke in terms that are rooted in the particular culture of black women and women of color, including the specific history of racial and gender oppression. Womanism is given defining characteristics by Ulla Taylor, in her article, “Making Waves: The Theory and Practice of Black Feminism”, she states that, “womanism is a sweeping theoretical construct and black women tend to select the most attractive parts of the theory to fit their needs” (27). Womanism, like black feminism provides a space for black women and women of color to create dialogue in a non threatening environment. The difference with the term womanist is that it does not carry the historical connotations that the word feminist does. Womanism is seen as an affirmative, embracing ideology that celebrates the lives and achievements of black women and women of color. Alongside creating dialogue, authors and theorists have examined specific issues from the standpoint of both black feminism and womanism. According to authors like Cheryl Clarke, homophobia in the black community is simply a reflection of the homophobic culture in which we live. In her article, “The Failure to Transform Homophobia in the Black Community”, she states, “Like all Americans, Black Americans live in a sexually repressive culture. Many Black Americans have assimilated and compensated the puritan view that sex is for procreation, occurs only between men and women, and is only valid within the confines of heterosexual marriage” (197). Therefore the issue of lesbianism is prominent to black feminist and womanist thought. In the book Talking Back, bell hooks talks about the treatment of lesbianism in the black community, stating that “lesbians were talked about solely in negative terms. The homophobia directed at lesbians was rooted in deep religious and moral beliefs that women defined their ‘womanness’ through bearing children” (121). Others, like Clarke, argue that the homophobia evident in the black community is further reflective of a larger society whose rigid sexual roles and gender roles have historically been set up within the framework and confines of puritanical religious beliefs that promote hegemonic heterosexism.
The Other among the Other Sula, in her quest for autonomy, becomes the personification of both the potential of black woman and, ironically, the pariah of her community. The look of white society, supported by all kinds of material domination, not only freezes the black individual but also classifies all blacks as alike, freezing the group. The position of black woman is doubly difficult. Womanhood, like blackness, is other in the society. Sula is one character who asserts herself strongly. She is one who refuses to submerge herself in a role. She has internalized the look of the community, Bottom, which reveals to her the idea that she is an outsider. Sula returns the look by defying the society.
In traditional terms, Sula is evil and extremely self-centered robot and at worst Sula is unbearable but at best she is unknowable to readers. Her concern is dominion – that is sovereign authority over the self which in effect, makes the world her domain. Her status as a woman without a man and a woman without children simply does not translate into a life that the Bottom understands. Sula thus explores the theme of a radically new black feminity. Sula’s black feminity upsets this relationship between past and present. This is seen in the conflict between Bottom, the black community where the novel is set, and Sula. While Bottom clings to an absolute, static vision of the past, Sula perceives the present moment as pure possibility and by rejecting the community attempts to define for herself a new identity in contradistinction to the values of the community. Sula’s philosophy is pitted against that of her community. She views time as medium of ceaseless change and views self as sheer risk and imaginative possibility. She rejects traditional notions of family, eschewing marriage, babies and grandparental care. In fact, it sees her as the embodiment of evil .The blacks of the bottom have certain notions of reality and a fixed order of behavior which are apparent bases of their culture. The society excludes Sula as evil because she is individualistic and rebels against the norms of her society. She behaves in an unfamiliar manner, which threatens the complacency of the people and implies the destruction of their social order. Sula carries a distinct birth mark over one eye. This mark grows with age. It means different things to different people. For the women of the community, it is a snake, the mark of the devil on her face, a direct evidence of her evil nature. Shadrack interprets the mark as a life- giving fish and so his behavior towards Sula is different. His friendly attitude towards Sula is viewed suspiciously by the people of bottom. They wonder why the uncouth Shadrack tips his imaginary hat at Sula and conclude that both are devils who acknowledge one another. Sula is also a devil because of the manner in which she reacts to her mother’s burning. She does not come forward to help her mother, nor does she cry out for help, which would have been the reaction of a normal child. Instead, her curiosity overcomes her love for her mother and she stands in a corner and watches with great interest her mother struggling against the consuming flames. Sula’s evil ways are used by her community to justify its own action. She makes them come alive, for she prevents the community from becoming sterile and dormant. With evil present and palpable, people of Bottom begin to “cherish their husband and wives, protect their children, repair their homes… to protect and love one another” (117). The existential anxiety of the people that one sees in Sula is one of the characteristic features of the fantastic mode of narration. The community does not understand her action. It merely condemns her as evil and equates her to Satan. She sends her grandmother away because the latter obstructs her growth into a free, discrete self. Eva wants Sula to marry, have children and settle down. But her granddaughter does not believe that consistency is the means of survival. She wants to create a free self. In fact she is furious about Eva’s resistance to her need for independent individuality in scorching dialogue; she accuses Eva of having abandoned her children once for some length of time. She also accuses her of having murdered her own son, thereby shocking Eva into defeat. Finally Sula is able to make the point that she has inherited her need for independence and her arrogance from Eva herself. Sula has also inherited the promiscuity of her mother. She takes and discards man as she pleases. Orgasm becomes the only means through which she experiences a depth of feeling, her full strength and power as a woman and also a sense of complete aloneness. For her, orgasm is “not eternity but the death of time and a loneliness so profound that the words itself had no meaning” (123). In sex, she finds solitude by mentally obliterating the presence of her partner. It is her private world where “she met herself, welcomed herself and joined herself in matchless harmony” (123). This attitude of hers makes men hate her and women hate her more because she rejects their men after using them. Nobody understands that all she is looking for is a radically free self. She indulges her own moods and whims. She grows very intimate with herself when she realizes that the rigidity and consistency of the social life of the Bottom has blunted the spirit of the blacks of the Bottom .As she puts it: “That’s the same sun I looked at when I was twelve,the same pear trees. If I lived a hundred years my urine will flow the same way, my armpits and breath will smell the same. My hair will grow from same holes. I didn’t mean anything….” (147) The sameness of things leaves Sula restless. She is determined to be different. She is sexual, flamboyant in appearance, matriarchal, associated with evil and tends to behave like a man. Morrison attributes Sula’s difference and her being labeled as evil to her rebellion against the fixed norms of society and to her “idle imagination”. She says: “In a way her strangeness, her naiveté, her craving for the other of her equation was the consequence of idle imagination. Had she paints or clay, or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings, had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. And like any artist with no art form she became dangerous.”(121). The adult Sula thwarts community mores surrounding gender, race, and vocation, producing a tension that is three fold; from sleeping with married men to not wearing underwear to church suppers ‘sula does just that. Her resistance to what the bottom silently (but aggressively) perceives as her duty, not only to her sex but to her race and community, calls into questions the perpetuation of existence as the Bottom knows it. And in rejecting a commitment to community, women –to- women bonding, and a taking care of kin, Sula’s “new world black” is interpreted by the community as too close to evil. So evil the townspeople believe that she has supernatural powers. The rumors that Sula sleep with white men, and Sula’s decision to place Eva in white-run home for the elderly, are final nails in Sula’s social coffin. In the book Sula in conceived as both “enchanter” and the other “bittersweet” because she is afflicted with the antidote to the kind of power or black magic she is ultimately accused of inflicting upon the town. To a level Sula’s birthmark “marks” her as different from conception, but her second birth or incarnation in the Bottom is also “marked”. For Sula, there was self to count on and she had no center, no speck around which to grow. Instead, there was only her own mood and whim. She lived out her days exploring her thoughts and emotions, giving them full range and it proved that hers was an experimental life. Morrison now unfolds the Black Nationalist perceptive. Sula is evil because she threatens the survival of the Bottom. Whites in the same position would set out to stone her and “annihilate” her, but the people of the Bottom tolerate her because they have a “full recognition of the legitimacy of forces other than good ones” (90). Whites have been burning witches and lynching black people, who are morally superior: “there was no creature so ungodly as to make them destroy it… they could not ‘mob kill’ anyone” (118). Put metaphysically, Western cosmology polarizes good and evil; African and African American cosmologies recognize the coexistence of good and evil. Having expounded this Black Nationalist perspective Morrison then exposes it to critical consideration by juxtaposing, ironically its view of Sula as a devil to what is actually happening in Sula’s life. Sula discovers “possession” not in demonic sense but in the formulaically feminine sense of wanting to “nest” with Ajax. He smells the “scent of the nest” and leaves her (133).the narrator now looks more closely into the black into the Black Nationalist argument against Sula: “it was the men who gave her the final label…the dirt that could not ever be washed away. They said that Sula slept with white men. It may not have been true, but it certainly could have been” (112). The narrator exposes the process of Sula’s demonization :it derives from a repressive male perspective , which targets a woman and projects onto her or the community does not want to acknowledge in itself: the men’s own “willingness” to sleep with white women and everyone’s “skin color (which )was proof that it had happened in their own families”(113).Sula is used as a scapegoat .Though Sula’s demonization is unjustified, nevertheless it has a socially useful or policing effect on the people of the Bottom, particularly the woman , who shoulder the burden of their responsibilities towards others-the traditional female roles of caring the young, the old and the needy-more willingly. The narrator’s perspective, in this section, is feminist. We are remained of the observation in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own that a woman is a mirror showing man twice his size. However, Morrison here mainly engages with Simone de Beauvoir’s existentialist feminism of The Second Sex. Patriarchy forces upon women a role of “being for others”: nurturing and living for others and through others rather than affirming their subjectivity directly. This role is internalized by women, who must reject this pseudo-destiny in order to live authentically. Authentic subjectivity is a deviant subjectivity, breaking away from the endless unwitting reproduction of a state of things and leaping towards another possible future: making oneself anew, reinventing oneself otherwise. Upon her return to the Bottom Sula puts Eva in a home for destitute black people run by a white church, and then sleeps with Nel’s husband. This is not freedom but license, the reader might think. To strengthen the case against Sula in the eyes of the readers temporarily, red herrings are used in this section: for example, Nel states as a fact that Jude left her for Sula (110), but this turns out later not to be the case. It turns out that Sula had no intention at all to take Jude away from Nel and settle down with him. The Bottom comes to view Sula as the embodiment of evil and the stemmed-rose birthmark over her eye(52) is now reinterpreted as a “scary black thing” (97-98), “copperhead” (103), “rattlesnake” (104), “Hannah’s ashes” (114), “evil birthmark” (114). In 1940 Nel visits Sula on her deathbed. She sees Sula birthmark (and Sula herself) as a “black rose” (139), not as the sign of evil it represents for the community, but cannot help being “exasperated with her arrogance” (142). In response to Sula’s defiant affirmation, “I got my mind” (143), Nel raises the question of right and wrong and leaves. Sula, the artist, acknowledges her aestheticization of reality: “I stood there watching (Hannah) burn and was thrilled” (147). The smiling Clabber Girl Baking Powder lady disintegrates into dust. Sula tries ineffectually to stuff the dust into her pocket but ends up covered in dust, swallowing it and choking. Underneath the bright surface of aesthetic delight the artist relates traumatic events – such as beautiful Hannah turning into dust- in order to save and preserve what is irrevocably lost. But this ethical vocation is difficult and threatens to overwhelm the artist. The novel then momentarily takes a supernatural direction: Sula impossibly, “noticed that she was not breathing, that her heart had stopped completely… She was dead” (149). Having witnessed her own death, Sula’s last words – “Wait’ll I tell Nel” (149)-with their knheavy alliteration of “tell” and “Nel” corroborate the link between female friendship and narration making clear that two woman can be friends, and ‘two black woman can also be friends’. Two reasons are suggested for Sula’s dead end. First, she had been “looking all alone for a friend” but “a lover was not a comrade and could never be-for a woman”; secondly, she was an “artist with no art form” (121). Arguably the two are related. The demise of her friendship with Nel deprives Sula of an audience for her dreams and experiments. Sula and Nel are not only complementary parts of the self, they are also figurations of modern black female artist and community that fail to come together, yet ought to come together. This is an implicit critique of existentialist feminism: community is not a limitation to be overcome by authentic subjectivity or a situation whose weight hampers authentic subjectivity, but the “speck and consistency” around which the modern black female artist can crystallize and grow. Sula’s lifestyle threatens to destroy their complacency. In spite of writing off her search for self-hood as selfishness, they realize that Sula has qualities radically different from their own; “She was completely free of ambition, with no affection for money, property or things, no greed, no desire to command attention or compliments- no ego” (119). They cannot come to terms with a person who is almost devoid of wants and feelings. She scares them. And since her arrival is heralded by a “plague” of robins, they associate it with something “unnatural” and “undignified”. They are determined to survive by outwitting and triumphing over evil embodied by Sula and their means of patience. In the meanwhile, they unite and take care of one another. Though they want to be free, their fear of the unknown restrains them. They are like automatons who cannot think for themselves. They merely know how to behave in the roles assigned to them. Sula correctly states that “alive was what they … did not want to be” (120).
In an interview with Claudia Tate (1983), Morrison underlies differences in writing strategies that characterize the works of black women: “Aggression is not as new to black women as it is to white women. Black women seem able to combine the nest and the adventure. They don’t see conflicts in certain areas as do white women. They are both safe harbor and ship; they are both inn and trail. We black women do both. We do not find these places, these roles, mutually exclusive… There’s male/female thing that’s also different in the works of black and white women writers, and this difference is good. There’s a special kind of domestic perception that has its own violence in the writings of black women not bloody violence, but violence nonetheless. Love, in the western notion, is full of possession, distortion, and corruption. It is a slaughter without the blood.” Sula begins with a joke played by a white landowner on his slave and ends with the tragic punch line of Nel’s haunting sobs that reveal the effects of cultural repression within the black community. Initially, Nel and Sula express individuality, and their friendship provides each of them with an opportunity to avoid the fragmented psyches of their family members and the emotional repression of their community. No doubt prevail in the fact that, elements of being black women is stamped inside both Sula and Nel, but Morrison has brilliantly painted the projection of it through Sula. Portraying Sula as a rebellious and an outward character, it is proved somewhere that a want to be a “white” woman is rooted in her due the racial discriminating society in which she has been added in to. No medicine can cure the excruciating painful experiences that a black woman goes through especially when ‘their’ community which is “attached” to the “normal” white woman’s community. Under the influence of her mother’s and grandmother’s upbringing, Sula becomes an independent personality, emotionally detached from her surroundings. The distance between Peace mothers and daughters in Sula, then, allows the daughters considerable freedom in creating a self, but it restricts the daughters’ capacities for emotional nurturing, empathy, and connection. In addition, she does not conform to the traditional social expectations. One social sphere in which she disregards the role expected from her by the black community, but rather acts in accord with racial prejudice, is her sexual life. Seeing [Hannah] step so easily into the pantry and emerge looking precisely as she did when she entered, only happier, taught Sula that sex was pleasant and frequent, but otherwise unremarkable. In this manner Sula approaches her intimate relationships and does not ascribe much importance to them. Undoubtedly, Sula’s life is an experimental one. But her experience is not always of negative character. Her life outside the Bottom also encompasses a period of time when she attends college, by which she breaks down the prejudice that black women are not supposed to study. Just as Sula imitated Hannah’s love affairs, she acquired her independence and ambitiousness from her grandmother. But her education is not acknowledged within the Bottom. So pervasive was the tendency of whites to regard all black women as sexually loose and unworthy of respect that their achievements were ignored. Sula’s behavior meets this prejudice in many respects. She is sexually loose indeed, but everyone, even her own people, overlooks the fact that she has spent some time studying.
When Sula is no longer a child and starts to apprehend the social expectation, she fights against the prescribed role of the black women of her black community in order to ‘make someone else’ out of her .She certainly does not intend to get married and produce children. Sula also makes this clear right after she returns to the Bottom and Eva asks her about marriage and babies. Sula categorically denies that she plans any of the two. “I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself” (Sula, 92). It may be partly because of her selfishness, but we may think the main reason is that she does not think she is a complete person yet. The day Nel marries Jude marks the split of Sula’s and Nel’s friendship, since Sula begins her quest for self-definition and Nel believes to have found satisfaction in the marriage. Nel marries, and on the wedding day, Sula leaves town to be gone for years, exploring the outside world. Nel’s marriage, however, is limiting rather than defining. Although it may seem that both take the right direction with respect to their personalities, we may believe that Nel and Sula unknowingly fulfill each other’s dreams. For Sula deep down she wants to be loved and possibly get married and raise children, but she is unable to connect emotionally. The only case when Sula actually feels something very similar to romantic love is her short “relationship‟ with Ajax. It can be emphasized that “Even Sula cannot completely resist succumbing to a nurturing feminine response to Ajax ...” (428). Nel’s dream, on the other hand, is to leave the Bottom and live an independent life. This issue is raised again when Sula is on her deathbed. It may be asserted that Morrison forces us to reckon, however uncomfortably, with Sula’s final words to Nel: maybe it is Sula, not Nel, who is the good one In an elevated point of view, Sula’s wayward and unruly behavior towards her own community symbolizes white woman community’s errant and aching demand of separation towards the black community. Nel’s acceptance of her community’s norms including the Bible symbolizes black woman’s healthy acceptance of white woman society’s domination over them. The “unconditional” and “true” friendship of Nel and Sula symbolizes the “inseparable” underlying connection between black woman society and white woman society. Sula’s separation from her society was not an act of evil or revolution or but was an act of finding her own ‘self’ in midst of an oppressed society. This symbolizes black women’s need to rise themselves to the level of white women’s society is not an act of getting alienated from them, but an act of rejecting the punched supremacy of the white society by both women and men. Sula’s sexual relationship between both white and black men symbolizes the black community’s unaccepted, indissoluble and “unrecognized” centuries of affiliation with the white community. Morrison deconstructs the hierarchies of good and evil, right and wrong , through Sula, using Sula’s estrangement from the community to create a “ new world women”. And as the novel bears out there is no social, spiritual or individual space for “new world women” in the whole world community of the Bottom. This is when Sula emerges as the ‘other’ from the ‘other’, which is the community deviated from the “normal world”.