A Critical Analysis Essay On Sula By Toni Morrison
The novel Sula is comprised of many themes. One of the major themes being the opposition of good versus evil and love versus hate. Toni Morrison provides us with many different characters to show good versus evil themes. The dynamic relationship between Sula and Nel encompassed good versus evil, love versus hate and many other oppositions. Both characters had very different up brings and that was shown in their adulthood. However, as readers we can see the tug and pull between good and evil progressing into a hatred as they develop into their ways from childhood to adulthood. From the beginning of this novel Nel was portrayed as better off and more put together being the more innocent of her and Sula, even though in reality she is the most evil out of the two. While Sula was considered to be the daredevil and independent, she is her true self and hides from no one. She is blunt and intentional with her words. Sula grew up in a nontraditional household with majority women in charge. Her mother made sacrifices to make ends meet that weren’t necessarily conventional. While Nel was raised in a neat home, with a very involved mother. Nels family was respected and attended church regularly making them appear as a nice traditional family. The stages of evil in the novel Sula is described in one quote, “The presence of evil was something to first be recognized, then dealt with, survived, outwitted, triumphed over” (Morrison 118). In this critical analysis I will provide examples and quotes that provide explanation of why good versus evil is a major theme within the novel, Sula. I will also discuss why the traditional upbringing of Nel caused her to become the evil between her and Sula, and why Sula is the most true and good.
Sula’s household may not have been traditional in the sense of having two parents and a neat and tidy home, however she was raised by women who taught her to live her days, exploring her own thoughts and emotions, giving them full reign, feeling no obligation to please anybody unless their pleasure pleased her” (Morrison 118). Sula was raised to be a free spirit just the same as her mother Hannah, and grandmother Eva that raised her. Sula’s home was a place where Nel felt comfortable and free. Possibly because she grew up feeling like she had to be a version of herself that wasn’t true to her, and in Sula’s home that wasn’t the case. Her home was chaotic, and the women brought in and loved men just as quickly as they left. Her house was free of shame and judgment. The women of Sula’s home were independent, liberated, and good to themselves. Nel seemed to be a person who pleased others and did things to remain respected. Nel dreamed of freedom but could never grasp it.
Nel, an only child, sat on the steps of her back porch surrounded by the high silence of her mother’s incredibly orderly house, feeling the neatness pointing at her back, she studied the poplars and fell easily into a picture of herself lying on a flowered bed, tangled in her own hair, waiting for some fiery prince. He approached her but never quite arrived. But always watching the dream along with her, were some smiling empathetic eye. (Morrison 51).
Nel dreamed of the sexual and independent freedom the Peace women had but could never attain it as easily as they did. Sula also being an only child had similar but different pictures of herself.
Similarly, Sula also and only child, but wedged into a household of throbbing disorder constantly awry with things, people, voices and the slamming of doors spent hours in the attic behind a roll of linoleum galloping through her own mind on a gray and white horse tasting sugar and smelling roses in full view of someone who shared both the taste and the speed. (Morrison 52).
Morrison describes how Nel’s vision of her freedom to being as open and expressive as the Peace family is within her view but will never grasp it. Her evil comes from her inability to express herself. While Sula, just as young and inexperienced as Nel is, can already honor and be present in her true self.
Sula hurt Nel by sleeping with her husband, Jude. However, she did it not intending to cause her pain. She did it because they grew up sharing the love of boys and thought nothing of it with Jude. After Sula caused Nel and Jude to split, the town looked to Sula as a homewrecker and the wives kept watch on their husbands in fear that Sula would take them also. Sula is described as being,
Completely free of ambition, with no affection for money, property or things, no greed, no desire to command attention or compliments- no ego. For that reason she felt no compulsion to verify herself- be consistent with herself. (Morrison 119)
Sula only felt the need to be dominant when it came to men as explained, “and there was utmost irony and outrage in lying under someone, in a position of surrender feeling her own abiding strength and limitless power” (Morrison 123). Being raised in a home where she watched the women in charge bring in men so frivolously, she saw no value or ownership of a man and always felt the need to be detached from others. Still, when she became intimate with them, she realized she was just lonely saying, “there in the center of that silence was not eternity but the death of time and a loneliness so profound that the word itself had no meaning” (Morrison 123). Sula was capable of feeling emotions. As heartless and floozy everyone thought she was, she was capable of feeling ashamed and guilty of things. Once she felt love from Ajax, she was able to understand Nel’s pain. Sula was a good person who acted on the ways she was raised. She spoke referring to Ajax saying, “I will put my hand deep into your soil lift it, sift it with my fingers, feel it’s warm surface and dewy chill below” (Morrison 131). While acknowledging her love for Ajax she’s also dwelling on her lost friendship with Nel. “Carefully they [Sula and Nel] replaced the soil and covered the entire grave with uprooted grass” (Morrison 59). As Sula came to terms with what she had done she realized Nel was the only person who uncovered her true self to Sula. Sula loved Nel for that because now in her time of seclusion she could see she had no one.
Nel was the only person who had wanted nothing from her, who had accepted all aspects of her. Now she wanted everything, and all because of that. Nel was the first person who had been real to her, whose name she knew, who had seen as she had the slant of life made it possible to stretch it to its limits” (Morrison 119-120).
Sula felt guilty for what she had done but also discovered her love for who Nel had been to her. While Nel discovered her hatred for Sula. Nel was just as withdrawn as Sula was. Fearing the talk of the town more than she had feared the one person who put her in the situation, Sula.
Lastly, Sula lives through her life believing she is evil for her mistake of killing Chicken Little. Sula took full responsibility of the horrible thing she had done and blamed herself for his death. Nel did not think to convince her otherwise and in the end deemed herself good and Sula as bad. They both lived their lives according to what type of person they were. Sula being unconventional, and Nel being the proper decent one. However, Nel felt happiness believing that she was the better out of the two because she didn’t kill Chicken. She lived her life being hypocritical and judgmental.