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Opportunities for Personal Development in Toni Morrison’s Sula

Human life is often experienced as a slow and steady drift from one day to the next, with nothing in particular distinguishing each day as unique. In passively conforming to societal norms and expectations, individuals fashion lives for themselves that lack the spark of passionate purpose that characterizes true individuality. Such a poor soul soon develops habits that allow her to cope with the monotony of her existence, and once caught in this perpetual cyclic motion she finds herself advanced in age without ever having truly grappled with the fundamental questions underlying her own existence; she finds herself having already lived her life without yet knowing the life that she wants to live. Fortunately, this cancer of human inertia is neither incurable nor inevitable. A person who is cognizant of her freedom, of her ability to set the course of her own life, can overcome her inertia and begin to define herself through her actions, rather than passively defining herself through her inaction. Such a person can be a positive force in her community by shocking others into examining not just where their own lives are headed, but who they are and who they are becoming. A small impulse, however, provided by one person, cannot single-handedly overcome the overwhelming inertia of a community of stationary individuals. Other forces must be active in order for individuals to reshape their perspectives on life. It is in this context of transformation, of striving to overcome the inertia of everyday life to find the meaning and passion at the core of existence, that sex, violence, racism, even death, and, ultimately, Sula, are appropriately viewed as positive forces.

Nel was raised to think highly of Helene, who was a comman…

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…ly Nel, reason to consider matters of importance in their lives.

Whether a particular force in life or in literature is positive or negative is a matter of perspective. If only the superficial effects of racism, sexual promiscuity, violence, and death are considered, it is hardly possible to avoid concluding that these are indeed solely negative experiences. Yet these traumatic events often afford individuals the opportunity to redefine themselves by shocking them out of their old modes of thought. In this sense such experiences can be life-changing and positive experiences. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to recognize the opportunity for growth and personal development in such circumstances. Only then can such difficult realities be assimilated into a lifestyle that reflects a deep inner Peace.

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. Sula. New York: Plume, 1973.

The Contrasting Themes and Structure of William Faulkner’s The Bear

The Contrasting Themes and Structure of William Faulkner’s The Bear

At first, William Faulkner’s The Bear, seems to be a story about the decline of an old bear and the wilderness he represented. Oddly, it is possible to omit the fourth chapter of The Bear and still have a complete and less confusing story. Although sandwiched in between the third and fifth chapters, the fourth chapter is almost wholly independent. For the purpose of this analysis, I will refer to chapters one, two, three, and five as being one half of the story, while chapter four solely comprises the other half.

At first, it seems that these two sections have little in common, but that exactly is Faulkner’s intention. He has deliberately pitted these two halves of the story against each other in order to compare and contrast wilderness to civilization. He does this by creating two separate and independent plots, containing each almost solely in the environment dictated by their theme, contrasting two martyr-like characters-each central to the plot, and giving the two sections different narrative styles and chronology. To complicate things, the fourth chapter is placed in the midst of the rest of the story.

Faulkner uses contrasting plots to separate the two sections of The Bear at the lowest possible level. The first half of the story (chapters 1,2,3, and 5) contains a fully contained plot about a bear hunt and the decline of the wilderness, while the other half (chapter 4) is also self sufficient in its plot, depending only on the other half for introducing the main characters. The first half of the story tells a bittersweet tale of a boy

who wished to learn humility and pride in order to become skillful and worthy in the woods but…

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…the wilderness, but abandoned it along with the wilderness. Faulkner illustrates these differences with representative parts in the story and communicates his feelings towards each in what he chooses to write and how he writes it. Yet by melding the two parts into one and tying them inseparably together, he effectively communicates the duality of grief felt by the boy, one of that last who understood humility and pride.

Works Cited

Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978.

Evans, David H. “Taking the Place of Nature: ‘The Bear’ and the Incarnation of America.” Faulkner and the Natural World: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1996. Ed. Donald M. Kartiganer and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999.

Faulkner, William. “The Bear.” Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner. Vintage: 1997.

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