How is the archetypal motif of fire and water threaded throughout Sula?
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These two motifs are connected with the deaths of various characters. For example, fire is responsible for the death of Hannah and Plum, and water is responsible for the death of Little Chicken. There is a sense therefore in which these two elements are associated with suffering and death, but also with what is shown or learnt through these tragic events. For example, Nel and Sula both learn that they are not immortal and have their childhood sense of innocence stripped from them after the accident with Little Chicken. They both learn how easily people can die, and Little Chicken's drowning in the river demonstrates this. In the same way, Hannah's death by burning demonstrates Eva's intense love for her daughter, as she is willing to sacrifice herself and cover her daughter's burning body with her own in order to save her:
Eva knew there was time for nothing in this world other than the time it took to get there and cover her daughter's body.
The burning of Hannah, as tragic as it is, therefore is used in this sense to evince Eva's fierce attachment to her daughter and the way that she is willing to risk everything--even her own life--to save her. The motif of fire and water is therefore threaded throughout this powerful novel in the way that they relate to death and suffering, but also to the learning, growth and development that each character undergoes as a result of these tragedies. Both fire and water are shown to purify and develop characters, in a sense, spurring them on to discover important things about themselves and their lives with each other.
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