The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Toni Morrison has said of Sula and Nel that “the two of them together could have made a wonderful single human being.” They need and love each other, though neither recognizes that fact until it is too late. As little girls, the two are polar opposites. Sula is headstrong, independent, and courageous; Nel is quiet, obedient, and thoughtful. Together they are wildly happy—proud when Ajax and his friends in front of the ice cream parlor utter the words “pig meat” in their direction, excited when discovering their woman’s bodies for the first time under the trees by the river, and curiously joyful as Sula lets go of Chicken Little’s hands as he flies out over and into the water, to become “something newly missing.” He is a secret that closes the gap opened up between the girls at his funeral: “They held hands and knew that only the coffin would lie in the earth; the bubbly laughter and the press of fingers would stay aboveground forever.”
Nel and Sula grow into very different women. Nel represents women who choose selflessness, devoting their lives to bolstering their insecure husbands and rearing children. Nel becomes what Sula calls “one of them. . . . Now Nel belonged to the town and all its ways.” Sula, on the other hand, chooses herself. She has been to college, lived in various cities, and been with many men, only to return home as a stranger.
Nel appears to be the good woman and Sula the evil. A plague of...
(The entire section is 562 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sula Peace, the protagonist. Sula is different from the other women of the town of Medallion, as willing to feel pain and pleasure as she is to give them. Having lost her best friend, Nel, she looks in vain for friendship in men. After leaving Medallion to go to college and to travel, she returns as a pariah and is blamed for all the town’s misfortunes. She fuels the town’s hatred of her by sleeping with married men and with white men. Contrary to the beliefs of the townspeople, who believe that a brighter day will dawn after she dies, her death is followed by a severe ice storm and the catastrophic cave-in of the tunnel.
Nel Wright, Sula’s best friend. Reared in an oppressive household, she decides to be her own person, not her mother’s daughter. Nel marries the handsome Jude Greene because she wants to be needed. She blames Sula when he leaves her, because Sula seduced Jude. Unlike Sula, she fears change, so much so that she refuses to buy a car. Long after her marriage ends, Nel realizes that she has been mourning for Sula, not for Jude.
Eva Peace, the physically disabled matriarch of the Peace family, Sula’s grandmother. She is so preoccupied with her hatred of her womanizing husband and with keeping herself and her family alive that she is unable to show much love to her children. When her husband leaves her, she leaves her children with a neighbor, returns eighteen months later with only one leg, and builds a new home. Her arrogance is apparent in the fancy shoe she wears on her one foot. Strangely, she murders her own son and almost bleeds to death trying to save her daughter.
Shadrack, a shell-shocked veteran of World War I. When he returns to Medallion after the war, he earns the reputation of town character, spending most of his time catching fish to sell, cussing people, acting obscenely, and getting drunk. In 1920, he proclaims January 3 as National Suicide Day, and he commemorates the event every year thereafter by carrying around...
(The entire section is 859 words.)