on February 8, 2008
This is the story of two black girls, Sula and Nel who become the best of friends in 1973 small town in Ohio. It is both a coming of age story and the trials and tribulations of adulthood, with little opportunity. Both women follow different paths but eventually converge.
I have heard so many wonderful things about this little book that I had to see what all of the fuss was about. I read Morrison's The Bluest Eye for a women's studies course in university years ago and really got a lot out of it, so I was quite hopeful with Sula.
What I got, was what seemed like stereotyping. It seemed like Morrison was almost poking fun at her own culture. While the reader new what was happening, the story seemed to be intentionally confusing and ambiguous.
From the description on the back cover of this book, it says:
"Together, they create an unforgettable portrait of what it means and costs to be a black women in America"
Granted, this book was written in 1973, but I pray that this does not define "what it means" to be a black woman anywhere!
I won't go as far as saying that this book is a waste of time. I wouldn't have finished reading it if I thought it was, but Morrison can and has done better.
on March 20, 2007
Toni Morrison's second book, Sula, is a short beautifully written story about the nature of freedom in early and mid-century america: the nature of freedom , that is, for an African-American woman. In subtle and powerful ways Morrison shows how racism and sexism shape the roles and possibilities of female blacks in america. She shows how women bear these roles, and faced with no other option, live with a grace and dignified quietism.
In to the midst of this she introduces the character of Sula, easily one of the most memorable characters every to grace the pages of an American novel. Sula lives for herself, to find herself, to be herself; and it turns everything on its head.
The novel is lighter in tone than some of Morrison's later masterpieces and yet with stunning economy of language and unforgetable characters she creates a full and challenging portrait of a community that is both a pleasure to read and unforgetable.
If you haven't read Morrison, this is probably the best place to start. If you have, then this is another wonderful novel, easily one of her best!
on June 14, 2004
I read this novel for my AP English class and I was glad I did. This novel blurs the lines between conventional good and evil. Sula is supposed to the evil one and Nel the good but their actions sometimes do quite the opposite. For example, Sula killed a boy (evil) but did it by accident when she was playing with him so he wouldn't be lonely (good), for Nel just wanted him to go away (evil). When Sula realized she had killed him, she was broken-hearted (good) but Nel didn't care about it except for the fact that someone might have seen them (evil). Yes it might seem that I am painting Sula to be a good person but she isn't for she did sleep with her best friend's husband. Sula kept the town together for without the bad example of her ways, wives neglected husbands and mothers neglected children.
One theme is of a mother's love but in this way too, Morrison blurs the line. Eve cut off her leg to raise money to care for her children and she jumped out a window to save her burning daugther, yet killed her son, Plum, when she realized his drug addiction was turning him into a child again.
This novel will make you think. It's packed with irony, symbolism, and many themes. A sad one being why a town is called "The Bottom" when it is in reality on top of a hill. This is a heartfelt story of two young women who grow up with different backgrounds, coming together out of necessity. Sula is a novel that will make you laugh, cry, and feel confused with your emotions. Its a wonderful book and I wish it hadn't ended so quickly.
on January 7, 2014
This is the first Morrison book I read, found it in the bookstore and figured I'd give it a try.
I was a little disappointed in it as she's an award-winning author and a paragon of American literature. It hasn't put me off trying some of her other books, but I didn't really connect with the characters, and I attribute that more to the writing style than the fact that I did not grow up poor and black in pre-civil-rights America. There's just way, way too much telling and not enough showing. Not a lot of dialogue. Isn't "show, don't tell" a cardinal rule of writing? I'm okay with telling up to a point but this really came across as a bit amateurish in my opinion.
The setup for the friendship between Sula and Nel is good, and I agree that what Sula does to Nel later in life would likely split them up as friends, but I never connected with the angry feelings Nel should have had.
I'll try you again, Ms. Morrison. One unmoving book does not a reputation make.
on February 18, 2004
Toni Morrison's second novel, "Sula", is a wonderful piece of artwork that spans many decades, revealing the growth of the African-American society and the sentiments felt by those who have observed it.
"Sula" is like a duel novel, where we are told the story of Nel Wright and Sula Peace. They are women separated by differing outlooks on life and then reunited when they feel middle age.
Nel is our flat character, the one who remains the same; she is the "sensible" one, where she stays in her hometown and does what every African-American woman is doing at the time, being subservient to the rest of society.
Sula, however, is our tragic figure, the one who goes out to receive an education, who betters herself and refuses to see the gates that whites and blacks have put up for her.
It is a moving and powerful story, where there are so many vivid moments that make you want to cringe, to vomit (e.g. Sula slicing her finger), but this only adds to the splendor and magic of this novel. Although this is definitely not an original idea, for Nella Larsen did it in her novel "Passing", Morrison is working with controversial subject matter, and it is amazing to see her succeed at it.
"Sula" is a mini-epic that is bound to move the reader at the power of friendship and the bonds that these women share, even through the trials and tribulations of mid-twentieth century life.
on January 8, 2004
Sula has pluses and minuses. Let's start with some of the pluses: an interesting plot in an interesting setting. Some beautiful writing. The description of Sula's household growing up is colorful and engaging. Those are important things. I do have some other less flattering comments:
Morrison sometimes seems intentionally obscure to me, by heightening the difficulty for the reader, despite the fact that the plot events are often attention-grabbing. The central event of the book can almost be missed at first if one is not paying closeattention, for example. The exact source of Sula's antagonism towards her grandmother is also unclear. It strikes me at these times as very much a novel by the academic Morrison is.
SPOILER! I also found the group suicide which concludes the book's 1941 episode gratuitous, unnecessary and utterly unbelievable. I'm not sure why Morrison included this plot development -- what does it really add? -- but it's a serious plotting mistake. A mass suicide is too major an event to be included in passing -- either concentrate on it or don't include it.
It's worth mentioning that Sula, from 1973, is dated in its moral attitudes. Morrison documents a series of absolutely horrible events -- murders of children by their mothers, Sula's institutionalization of her grandmother, and lesser sins like adultery and fights -- with no reprimands. The only time she issues moral judgement is by placing scare quotes around "good" as in "the 'good women' ". The work reeks of an early-1970s radicals' moral permissiveness which strikes me as odd, reading it in 2003.
A more substantive aesthetic criticism is that the final scene, in 1965, just doesn't pack the punch it could have. A personal judgement.
So the novel has good and bad.
on December 11, 2003
Sula was a re-read for me and it was awesome! It was like tasting your favorite ice-cream sundae all over again. Letting the familiar flavors and fragrances wash all over you while the taste sinks on your taste buds and remains there forever. Sula is like that sundae with loads of nuts and various toppings of regret, friendship, love, betrayal and above all redemption. What made this book even more better was the fact that all the loose ends that were left untied the last time I read it, were complete and made all sense to me this time round.
"Sula" is a world in itself. A world defined by loss and womanhood. A world that is not restricted to Bottom - it could be anywhere and could occur at anytime. This book spans between 1921-1965 taking readers to a journey in the lives of two girls, Sula Peace and Nel Wright as they become friends, share secrets and make their way into womanhood. What I liked about the book was its simplicity - yeah it was simple as would not be generally expected out of Morrison's' works.
This 174 page so-called novella shows readers what it is that friendship can sometimes do and sometimes cannot. Sula Peace is one character that is so enigmatic and rich - she leaves her hometown called Bottom (which has a funny yet moving significance in the book) only to return and add to the anger of the residents. Sula is a woman of a different sort. Growing up in a poor black mid-western town, she lives in a home where men often visit, but don't stay very long. Her grandmother and mother allow men to satisfy their respective sexual desires, but don't need them in their lives on a permanent basis.
Out of this environment, and through other events in her youth (including ten years in the outside world attending college and living in different parts of the country), Sula arrives back at home as an attractive woman who, like her mother and grandmother before her, "uses" a different man every night to satisfy inner urges but nothing else. There is no love for Sula. She has exercised her freedom and independence by becoming the ultimate "player", loving and leaving them all over town, married or not. She even loves and leaves her best friend's husband, destroying both marriage and friendship.
And with nary a care. Until one day when an older man, Ajax, comes calling. He is kind but not possessive. They are a perfect match. They enjoy each other's company, and they certainly enjoy their time together in bed, but they don't need each other. They are two free spirits who can love and stay with each other precisely because their partner could care less. That is, until Sula starts to care. When she sets the table for two, cleans house, makes the bed, and "expects" Ajax to show, well, that's the end of that.
love, love, love,
makes you do foolish things.
sit alone by the phone,
a phone that never rings.
hoping to hear you say
that you love me still,
knowing, knowing, you never will.
Some pretty nasty things happen to and around Sula on the way to her adulthood of free and open choice. In freely bedding any man she chooses, she becomes hated. She is the town pariah. A witch. Evil incarnate. In fact, the whole town measures their worth, their piety in direct contrast to Sula's evil. She is their yardstick. When she dies, when the yardstick goes away, they have no feedback loop, and fall into evil chaos themselves. Toni Morrison presents a clear view that evil makes us virtuous by comparison. In Sula, the entire town finds virtue by hating Sula.
Sula, was, until Ajax, the only woman in the town who could resist the standard operating procedure, the moral code: "You need a man". To achieve that level of freedom in her time, she had to become, in many respects, the epitome of evil. Sula has to make some awful choices or sacrifices to be the person she chooses to be, to live her life as she pleases. The young Sula mutilates her own finger with a knife to prove herself a worthy opponent. "If I can do that to myself, what you suppose I'll do to you?"
Sula has many layers - I feel that the book was written with much integrity and a lot of afterthought. Toni Morrison observes the racial issues with such strength and vigor that the portrayal of which in the book is breathtaking. We also meet characters from her earlier books such as Tar Baby and the Deweys - which do have their significance in the book - only that it is lost after a certain point. The central link though is a drunk lost war fellow called Shadrack who comes across very strongly celebrating "Suicide Day". Toni Morrison uses Sula to help the reader analyze the conditions that have created Afro-American life in America. The picture is not always appealing, but there are some clear issues available for deep empathy and discussion.
on August 19, 2003
This book was absolutly incredible, mind-boggling, and creative. It left me hungry and yet sad. I was moved at the beginning descriptions of each individual character, but was completely astounded by the events that took place in each women's life as children to shape their individual adult lives. Sula -- sultry, seductive, mistress, and harlot, and Nel -- calm, meek, introverted, and homely.
Each women contributed to their own unique lives and situations, by a series of "divine choices and chance" nothing ventured or gained . . . Primarily to choke the life upon the life that was given. Sula I believed suffered from inward denial and a sense of a wounded soul, all shielded by a natural indifference of what is right, proper, or politically correct. She goes against any framework or all that was ever know. Collectively, she takes that which is her all that was ever absorbed from the women in her life and rolls it into a sophisticated Jezebel. Admiringly. The women in "the valley" can't stand her. The men don't know what to think of her -- exactly (she lives them breathless and without words"). Yet, she lives a lonely life of intimate isolations. The affair with Nel's husband drives her further from her childhood friend, whom she loved . . . A mere reflection of the girl child -- herself. Longing is what separates this women, and through all of her lovers there's no satisfation to be gained.
Nel on the other hand, suffocates the very thing she desires to be which is simply that, just the ability to be. Caught up in another's game, always longing to play a vital role in something. (I suppose that what draws the characters of both Sula and Nel together, because each possess a characteristic that the other would like). Nel comes off as sweet and innocent in comparison to the bodacious Sula. It appears that everything that ever was in Nel's life was undoubtly shared with her best friend all the way down to the man she loved.
This book is incredible. I gleaned so much from reading it. The lessons in this book are as real as my hands and my feet. I learned from Sula that environment is everything. There will forever be watchful eyes and hungry ears. Just beacause it so don't make the individual that one was "then" to what one is "now".
And . . . from Nel I learned that everyone needs a voice. To smother someone else's true identity, regardless as to whether its acceptable or agreeable to another is a crime shame. Its rather a blessing to be allowed the ability to show emotion despite whether it is good or not. And by all means never be nobody's doormat -- It doesn't matter who it is.
I believe that Toni Morrison's main message in Sula is that loving oneself is essential, but to become an isle in a sea is indeed a task. To hold oneself, to say her I am, I am strong, no crack can break me . . . Well, that's untrue everyone needs someone. Sula needed Nel despite all that happened between them and Nel needed Sula. Loving oneself is good, but loving each other and forgiving another covers a heap o' troubles.
on July 15, 2003
I recently formed a book club with a few friends and co-workers of mine and Sula was our first book to read and review. I thought it was an interesting read. The friendship that Sula and Nel had as girls was reminiscant of when I was quite young and had close girlfriends in grade school with whom you could share secrets and form lasting memories with. The book shows how these 2 girls started out on a similar plane and how circumstances and choices took them down drastically different paths in life. I love Toni's eloquent writing style but to others it was too much "work" figuring out what was actually going on. There were a few unanswered questions and the reader is left hanging. For instance, why was Chicken killed? Why didn't Jude ever return? I have theories on these questions but I don't want to ruin it for future readers. To me, unanswered questions are foder for the imagination - you have to come to your own conclusions. If you like metaphorical writing and books you can think about after you are done reading, I recommend this book.
on December 13, 2002
This is a generalization, but for most people, the movie scenes that cause us to cover our eyes are the same ones that make us inclined to keep watching the film. These same kind of passages are found continuously throughout Toni Morrison's Sula. Sula holds the same intensity and drama of a romance novel yet is written with the shocking talent of a Nobel Prize winning piece of literature. It is grotesquely beautiful and painfully honest, exploring the individual and mutual identity of two young black women growing up in the Midwest.
Morrison traces the lives of Sula and Nel , who are inseparable through childhood, barely able to distinguish themselves from each other. Their friendship is indestructible, until they suddenly take drastically different paths-Nel a path of small town domesticity, while Sula takes off to a wild life of college and city experiences. When Sula returns, they struggle to keep a friendship together despite their changed ways and lifestyles, deciding what is important to them-what is unforgivable and what can be overlooked.
This book is amazing, and worth reading simply for the beautiful writing, although the storyline does add to the appeal. It makes you question your own values-ideas of what is right and what is wrong, who is good and who is bad. It becomes clear through reading this that it is a fine line between these things, and that sometimes friendship is more important than morals.