Toni Morrison’s novel Sula is rich with paradox and contradiction from the name of a community on top of a hill called “Bottom” to a family full of discord named “Peace.” There are no clear distinctions in the novel, and this is most apparent in the meaning of the relationship between the two main characters, Sula and Nel. Although they are characterized differently, they also have many similarities. Literary critics have interpreted the girls in several different ways: as lesbians (Smith 8), as the two halves of a single person (Coleman 145), and as representations of the dichotomy between good and evil (Bergenholtz 4 of 9). The ambiguity of these two characters allows for infinite speculation, but regardless of how the reader interprets the relationship their bond is undeniable. The most striking example of their connection occurs right before the accidental death of Chicken Little. In the passage preceding his death, Nel and Sula conduct an almost ceremonial commitment to one another that is sealed permanently when “the water darkened and closed quickly over the place where Chicken Little sank” (Morrison 61):
Together they worked until the two holes were one and the same. When the depression was the size of a small dishpan, Nel’s twig broke. With a gesture of disgust she threw the pieces into the hole they had made. Sula threw hers in too. Nel saw a bottle cap and tossed it in as well. Each then looked around for more debris to throw into the hole: paper, bits of glass, butts of cigarettes, until all the small defiling things they could find were collected there. Carefully they replaced the soil and covered the entire grave with uprooted grass. Neither one had spoken a word. (Morrison 58-59)
The image of the girls working together to dig holes in the dirt begins with each girl digging her own hole, but symbolically the two separate holes become one, representing the merging of Sula and Nel into a deep and meaningful relationship. The imagery of a “hole” is used to describe the “whole” of Sula and Nel, indicating the completeness of the two when they are together.
When the girls concurrently throw their twigs into the hole it is as if they are throwing themselves into each other’s consciousness, making a permanent connection with one another. Each twig represents their independent selves being joined with the other when they are thrown together into the hole to be buried.
Toni Morrison’s Sula – Female Struggle for Identity
The Female Struggle for Identity in Sula
The novel Sula by Toni Morrison exemplifies the new feminist literature described by Helene Cixous in “The Laugh of the Medusa” because of the final portrayal of the two main characters Nel and Sula. However, it is clear throughout the novel that both Cixous’s and Gilbert and Gubar’s descriptions of women characters are evident within this novel. The traditional submissive woman figure paradoxically is set against the new woman throughout the novel. It is unclear whether the reader should love or despise Sula for her independence until the very last scene. Although both the perspectives of Cixous and Gilbert/Gubar are evident within the text, ultimately it is the friendship of the two women that prevails and is deemed most important. This prevailing celebration of womanhood in all of its dualistic and mysterious aspects is exactly what Cixous pushes women writers to attempt.
First there is the presence of the old stereotypical woman character, a woman split between the conventional and nontraditional roles of women. No differences are apparent initially between Morrison’s Sula and any other women’s literature in the past. Women are depicted either as docile servants to men, like Nel, or ball-busting feminist monsters like Sula. The hidden aspect of the novel lies underneath these stereotypical surface roles, in the incomprehensible and almost inappropriate bond of the two women. In the final scene of Sula, Nel comes to the realization that the emptiness inside her is due to the loss of Sula, not Jude (Morrison 174). Her friendship with Sula is all that matters.
The development of a feminist reading from the perspective of Gilbert and Gubar…
… middle of paper …
… but instead reunites the two women’s spirits. “We was girls together,” Nel says, and it becomes clear the importance of this revelation to her. She cries “circles and circles of sorrow” for the lost itme between herself and Sula (Morrison 174). Perhaps she also cries for a whole history of lost women seperated by societal functioning and a world built my men.
Cixous, Helene. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” The Critical Condition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Ed. David H. Richter. Boston: Bedford Books, 1998. 1453- 66.
Gilbert, Sarah M. and Gubar, Susan. “From the Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and the Anxiety of Authorship.” The Critical Condition: Classic Texts andContemporary Trends. Ed. David H. Richter. Boston: Bedford Books, 1998. 1361-74.
Morrison, Toni. Sula. New York: Plume Printing, 1982.