Review: Sula by Toni Morrison

Nel and Sula share an intense friendship while growing up in the neighbourhood of Bottom, the hills above the valley town of Medallion, Ohio. Nel comes from a neat and orderly home and a rigid and conventional family, while Sula comes from a disorderly household, a family of disregard for social conventions. Sula has a fiery spirit and can’t sustain any emotion for long while Nel appears to be more consistent. However, with their contrasting personalities, they both have distant mothers and both have an adventurous spirit, along with an urge to explore whatever beckons their curiosity and interest.

Sula comes from a family of strong and independent women who enjoyed maleness, and that enjoyment they took and did with it in their own design and rules. Sula’s grandmother Eva has a regular flock of male callers but for its own sake and not really to sleep with. Hannah, Sula’s mother, attaches no passion to her relationships with men and is into spontaneous sexual adventures with mostly friends’ and neighbours’ husbands.

Around the time that Nel marries, Sula goes off to study and returns ten years later on a peculiar day, which makes people suspicious of her. She hasn’t changed – still the same with her sharp tongue, feisty attitude and determined to live her own life by her own rules. Their friendship is broken when she betrays Nel. Sula is vilified by everyone and they believe that she leaves behind chaos wherever she passes. All these beliefs bring them together against one evil, and they start improving their family lives. When Sula is dying, Nel finally pays her a visit.

Sula is a provocative read that examines good and evil and confronts the idea of morality. It questions what we believe to be moral and not. We see good and evil as things that change with perspective and sometimes with convenience. For example, the married men who see no evil when they cheat on their wives and sleep with Sula but vilify her when she sleeps with white men.

I love the way Auntie Morrison shows us how the make-up of a home and a family, knits into the fabric of a person’s character. Just like her mother and grandmother, Sula shows a blatant disregard for social code and does whatever pleases her. We also get to witness friendships and the things that affect and influence them.

I absolutely love the way she brings out female independence, personal and sexual liberty, and individualism. The Peace women are unapologetically what they say they are and if anyone doesn’t like it they can go suck it. A lot of stories, especially set around the same period (1919 to mid-1960s) usually have docile women who took what they were given as their lot in life and readily accepted a position of belonging to men. The Peace women, even after a husband who left, one who died and a lover who disappears as soon as he sees signs of serious feelings, they belong to themselves.

“Lonely, ain’t it?
Yes, but my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else’s. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain’t that something? A secondhand lonely.”
― Toni Morrison, Sula

If you’ve read any of Auntie Morrison’s work then don’t expect any less. Her words are agents of transformation and her characters become a sort of transportation for the reader to a place of empowerment. As long ago as the story is set, it can easily speak in a language that our generation can understand. Sula is a powerful book – satisfying, heavy and intelligent.

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