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Toni Morrison’s Sula – The Fire Within Sula

The Fire Within Sula

Sula by Toni Morrison is a compelling novel about a unique, self-confident woman. As in many other books, each secondary character in the story serves as a vehicle to explain the main character. Hannah, Sula’s mother, is dominated by the element of air; she is free spirited, frivolous and child-like. On the other hand, the element of fire is prevalent in Sula, who is impulsive, hot-tempered and passionate. Despite the differences between the two, Hannah’s lifestyle intrigues and influences her daughter. The effect Hannah has on Sula is reflected in many of her daughter’s perspectives and actions. As a result of the ubiquitous presence of fire within her, in contrast to her mother’s blithe spirit, Sula carries all of Hannah’s immorality and actions to a more extreme level. Both women have promiscuous tendencies, do not have close friendships with women, and become easily irritated by Eva. The difference is that Sula’s fiery character leads her to act more cruelly than her mother.

Hannah’s attitude towards men is peculiar, for she feels no possessiveness towards them, and enjoys having multiple lovers. The presence of air in Hannah is evident from her relations with the opposite sex. “Her flirting was, low and guileless…the smile-eyes, the turn of the head-all so welcoming, light and playful.” (42). Hannah’s sweet, guileless flirting presents her as an innocent woman, and her playful manner demonstrates her child-like ways. Her amiability and charisma are evident because “…Hannah rubbed no edges, made no demands, made the man feel as though he were complete and wonderful just as he was…he (the man) swooned in the Hannah-light simply because he was.” (43). Hannah is len…

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…feeling no obligation to please anybody unless their pleasure pleased her.” (118).

Sula is stronger than Hannah, and makes no attempts to conciliate the society’s opinions towards herself. She follows her animal instincts, and lacks the sense of responsibility. Although Sula and Hannah are both shunned by society, Sula is even more of a pariah than her mother. While the people of the Bottom consider Hannah to be “sooty,” (29), they decide that Sula is the devil. The intense hostility people feel about Sula directly relates to her impulsive, vengeful and hot-tempered character. Sula’s life is a fun house mirror image of Hannah’s-quite similar, but bent into a slightly different shape and tainted with malice.

Works Cited:

Morrison, Toni. Sula. New York: Knopf, 1974.

A Feminist Analysis of Perceval, Tristan and Isolt, and Aucassin and Nicolette

A Feminist Analysis of Perceval, Tristan and Isolt, and Aucassin and Nicolette

Currently, there is a debate among feminists as to whether the demeaning portrayal of women in popular media causes or is caused by negative attitudes in modern culture. A similar debate exists among historians of the late middle ages as to whether the rise in popularity of the cult of the Virgin, her portrayal in art, and the code of chivalry caused or was caused by changing attitudes towards women.

Many factors in the late middle ages coincided to create an entirely new role for women: contact with the Muslim world in Spain, the rising popularity of religious life, and the aforementioned cultural changes. All of these factors are intertwined with the new attitudes that arose around women. Virginity became exalted, femininity was lauded, courtly love turned women into objects of devotion rather than objects of desire. In short, women were placed on a pedestal. The cultural paradox of this shift in attitudes is that by being placed on that pedestal, women became objects rather than individuals. This dichotomy between respect for women as a group and respect for individual women is clearly shown in three Medieval Romances. Perceval, Tristan and Isolt, and Aucassin and Nicolette may vary greatly in plot, tone and style, but the underlying assumption is the same. In the Medieval Romance, women may be objects of devotion, but they are still merely objects to earned, won, owned and dominated.

The first example of this attitude is the saga of the damsel whom Perceval boorishly assaults. This woman, never named, is utterly enslaved and abused by men. Perceval, not heeding her protests, forces her into a compromising situation and then robs he…

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…band is a Muslim. The Christian king of Biaucaire, by contrast, does not honor her right to self-determination. The Muslim roots of Nicolette’s relative freedom serve as one answer to the question of whether this literature is derivative of the culture or whether it shaped the culture. From this evidence, it seems that the former is true.

The pervasiveness of the oppressive attitudes demonstrated in these texts show clearly the dichotomous view of women in the late middle ages. The respect of womanhood which was so central to the chivalric code did not translate into greater freedom for women themselves. Modern opponents of feminism claim that the Women’s Movement has reversed this dichotomy, namely that individual freedoms have devalued women as a group. Perhaps we should ask why our culture has a problem with valuing womanhood and valuing women concurrently.

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