Community and Survival in Sula

Sulais a novel that was published in November 1973 by Toni Morrison in the United States. It is made up 192 pages. The author, Toni Morrison, is an African-America born in 1931 in Ohio and is the second among four children. She has received the Pulitzer-Prize and the Nobel Prize. Apart from being a novelist, she is also an English professor and an editor. Among other novels written by her are The Bluest Eye, Tar Baby, Song of Solomon, Beloved, Paradise, A Mercy, Love, Jazz and Home.

Sula features the story of two girls who become intimate friends as they grow up in a small town known as Medallion. Nel Wright and the main protagonist Sula Peace develop a strong bond of friendship even though they hail from different backgrounds. Nel, from a conservative family, grows to be a role model of the black society while Sula ends up being labeled a pariah. However, their close bond is affected an incident in which Sula accidentally drowns Chicken Little and is later broken by a marital betrayal. Several themes are developed by this literary masterpiece. The reader can be able to identify themes of love and friendship, death, good and evil and community and survival. These papers, though, will focus on community and survival as portrayed in Sula.

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Community and Survival

The Bottom community is very much concerned with work since their survival hinges on it. Since they live in a white dominated area, the Bottom community has put their survival at the zenith of their priority list. They manifest this through the kind of jobs they undertake to make ends meet like scrimping. They do not find gainful employment and chances for finding opportunities seem bleak. The communal bond is also depicted by the way the Bottom residents come to each other to help during times of need. The dual handicap that is Black Woman has stifled growth and development for many African-American women. This has pushed them into dangerous activities like prostitution as a means of sustenance. This moral degradation that is fuelled by the need to survive is depicted by Nel’s grandmother who was a prostitute.

Moreover, survival can be observed through the actions of Jude who endures standing in a queue just to obtain a job involving the construction of New River road. As he waits to be picked, he notices prejudice as white boys are being given the job. He is not considered because of his black nature. In preparation for winter, Hannah (Sula’s mother) and Eva (Sula’s grandmother) preserve their food during summer. Eva had to struggle to bring up a family of four after her husband died and this made her relocate from Bottom in order to secure her financial status. Their chance for getting an employment opportunity is a pipedream since they are living during the dark moments (1920s) when the United States were bedeviled by the cancer of racism and feminism. Therefore, they have to struggle to make ends meet.

Another instance of survival is that of Eva who had to lose a leg. Notwithstanding the fact that she was deserted by her husband and has to grapple with physical adversities, she struggles to construct a house and goes an extra mile to fend for others like the Deweys. Her effort to prosper financially amidst a white-male dominated era goes a long way to prove that a woman, an African-American for that matter, is able to beat the odds and make it in life. Morrison (p. 52) puts it best by saying,

“Because each has discovered years before that they were neither white nor male,

and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had set about

creating something else to be.”

The solidarity in Bottom community is noteworthy. They are concerned about the moral values that the rest of the community members display. For instance, Sula’s lifestyle is put under a microscope in so far as her character is concerned. Even though she does not find fault with the way she carries herself, the community of Bottom is against her behavior. Her innocent attitude can be traced to her upbringing by Hannah and Eva, women who are independent and eccentric. As compared to Hannah whose lifestyle is welcomed by the community, Sula’s promiscuity is despised by her community. She becomes isolated because of this and is considered a community pariah (Morrison, p. 110). Morrison (p. 118-119) says that “she had no center, no speck around which to grow [and this made her] to be consistent only with herself”. She also defies the communal norms by the way she addresses her grandmother, a figure of authority. Grandmother Eva says, “It ain’t right for you to want to stay off by yourself.” Sula replies, “I need you to shut your mouth” (Morrison, p. 85). She even threatens to set her grandmother on fire when she says, “And you know what: maybe one night when you dozing in that wagon flicking flies and swallowing spit, maybe I’ll just tip on up here with some kerosene and -who knows-you may make the brightest flame of them all” (Morrison, p. 87).

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In addition, Sula’s relationship with her mother becomes sour when she overhears her mother plainly saying that she does not like her. Thus, when her mother burns to death, she stares at her as if nothing serious has happened. The same community that raises Sula turns out to condemn her for her aggressive and independent personality. This creation of the so called “witch” or “Evil” probes the role that parents as well as the community needs to play in order to guarantee the upbringing of well-rounded children in.

Ironically, Sula is instrumental in the Bottom community contrary to the way she is perceived by the rest of the community. It can be noticed that wives are motivated to be caring and loving to their husbands because of the insecurity that Sula may seduce them by her natural beauty. Furthermore, her presence in the community motivates mothers to nurse and defend their children. Her disdainful attitude and behavior provides the community – which is often idle due to lack of gainful employment – with something to ponder over during the day. This surprisingly unifies them as they have a common agenda of the perceived ‘outlaw’, Sula. As Morrison puts it, “Their conviction of Sula’s evil changed them in accountable yet mysterious ways. Once the source of their personal misfortune was identified, they had left to protect and love one another. They began to cherish their husbands and wives, protect their children, repair their homes and, in general, band together against the devil in their midst” (p. 106-07).

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Sula’s personality and free-spirited outlook of life spices up the Bottom community and enlivens the community by creating for them a common ground for unity.


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