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Toni Morrison’s Sula – Sula and Nel as Soulmates

Sula and Nel as Soulmates in Toni Morrison’s Sula

In examining the two distinct characters of Nel (Wright) Greene and Sula Peace from Toni Morrison’s Sula, a unique individual soul emerges from the two women. This soul takes into account good, bad, and gray area qualities. They gray area qualities are needed because, while Nel exhibits more of the stereotypical “good” qualities than Sula, the stereotypes of good and bad don’t fit the definition completely. Nel and Sula combined create a type of ying and yang soul, each half including some of the other half. While at times the two women are polar opposites of one another in point of view, they arrive at their opinions with the help of the other. The two characters need each other in order to exist to the extent that they become “two throats and one eye” (Morrison 2167). A physical example of how connected the two girls are is seen when they line up head to head forming a straight, continuous, and complete line (2124).

The greatest influence on a growing girl is her mother, and in some cases, like Sula, her grandmother. In order to fully grasp the connection between Nel and Sula, one must examine who and what their mothers were and what traits and beliefs they handed down to their daughters. Nel’s mother, Helene, sought to teach her daughter the ways to be a stereotypical “good woman,” a supportive wife and a caring mother. As an example to her daughter, Helene took great pleasure in raising Nel and found in her “more comfort and purpose than she had ever hoped to find” in her life (2105). Helene took pride in motherhood and was proudest when someone complemented on how “obedient and polite” Nel was (2105). Helene’s embracing of these qualities, an accommodation to the sta…

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Morrison, Toni. Sula. New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1973.

“Toni Morrison.” Contemporary Authors, Gale Research, 1993; abstracted at

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Pessoni, Michele. “‘She was laughing at their God.’: Discovering the Goddess Within Sula.” African American Review 29 (1995): 439-451.

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Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and K. A. Appiah. New York: Amistad Press, Inc., 1993. 126-1 58.

Toni Morrison’s Sula – Character of Sula as a Rose

The Character of Sula as a Rose

Authors developed the canon in order to set a standard of literature that most people needed to have read or to have been familiar with. The works included in the canon used words such as beautiful, lovely, fair, and innocent to describe women. The canonical works also used conventional symbols to compare the women to flowers such as the rose and the lily. Thomas Campion depicts the typical description of women in his poem, “There is a Garden in Her Face.” He describes the women by stating, “There is a garden in her face/ Where roses and white lilies grow,/ A heavenly paradise is that place,/ Wherein all pleasant fruits do flow” (1044-5). The roses and lilies are used to portray beautiful, frail women who are admired by all and placed high on a pedestal for all to adore. Going against the canon, Toni Morrison still uses flowers to describe the women in her novel Sula. The women Morrison describes are not fair, pure, or innocent. Sula, the main character compared to a rose, is not admired by all in society. Society looks down upon her because of her promiscuity and her carefree attitude.

In Sula, Morrison depicts Sula as having a birthmark in the shape of a stemmed rose over one eye. Sula’s birthmark “spread from the middle of the lid toward the eyebrow, shaped something like a stemmed-rose… [that] gave her other wise plain face a broken excitement” (52). At first, when Sula is young and inexperienced, the mark is the “same shade as her gold-flecked eyes” (53). The light shade of the mark represents the time before Sula goes to college and experiences men and her sexuality. When Sula returns from the outside world to the Bottom, Sula’s best friend Nel notices that “[the mark] was dark…

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…and does not need the approval of the Bottom.

Toni Morrison clearly depicts an opposing view of the traditional symbolization of the rose. Although Sula is not frail and beautiful, she is still set on a pedestal. Instead of people admiring her, they fear her and the life she leads. The use her as an excuse to lead better lives. However, when she dies, the Bottom falls apart. The people no longer have a common bond of hatred towards Sula. Reality befalls the community with Sula’s death. At first, the Bottom seems content with Sula’s death, however, “[people of the Bottom] returned to a steeping resentment of the burdens of old people. Wives uncoddled their husbands; there seemed no further need to reinforce their vanity” (153-4). The town no longer has a rose to blame their mishaps. Instead, they must face up to their reality and their misfortune.

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