Study Guide

Sula

by Toni Morrison

Sula Essay - Critical Essays

Sample Essay Outlines

The following paper topics should test your understanding of the novel as a whole and allow you to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to get you started.

Topic #1
The birthmark on Sula’s face presents a different image to different people. The meaning of the mark seems to change also because of Sula’s actions at the time and because of the events surrounding her. Note each description of the birthmark over Sula’s eye. Through whose eye is the reader viewing each of these symbols? What are the circumstances, actions, and reasons surrounding Sula at the time which bring about this image on Sula’s face?

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: At various times, the mark on Sula’s face was a long-stemmed rose (according to the narrator when describing Nel and Sula as children), a symbol of Hannah’s ashes (according to residents of the Bottom when Sula comes home after ten years), a rose grown darker (according to Nel when Sula comes home after ten years), a copperhead (according to Jude before Sula speaks upon her return after ten years), a rattler (according to Jude after Sula speaks upon her return after ten years), a black rose (according to Nel upon seeing Sula on her death bed), and a tadpole (according to Shadrack when he remembers Sula’s visit to his home so long ago and when he sees her on the table after death).

II. Described as a long-stemmed rose when Nel and Sula are children
A. Mentioned first in "1922"
B. Described by the narrator in great detail in"1922"
C. Included in their Technicolor dreams of a presence, a someone who shared their delight in their dreams and was interested in flow of hair, thickness of flower mattress, voile sleeves, detail of birthmark
D. Presented as one of Sula’s physical characteristics
1. Had large quiet eyes, one featuring birthmark
2. Had spread of mark from middle of the lid toward the eyebrow
3. Had shape of rose
4. Gave Sula a broken excitement
5. Grew darker as years passed
6. Contained same shade as gold-flecked eyes
7. Maintained eyes as steady and clean as rain

III. Described in year 1937
A. Seen by Nel
1. Appeared darker than Nel remembered
2. Gave a suggestion of startled pleasure when she looked at Nel
B. Observed by Nel’s children when they studied Sula
1. Were puzzled by person who made their mother make strange laughing sounds
2. Were fearful of this one who made dark sleepy chuckling sounds
3. Saw scary black thing over eye
4. Saw Sula as threat to them in some way that they did not understand
5. Saw black mark "leap"
C. Noted also by Jude when he studied Sula
1. Saw Sula quiet
a. Looked like woman roaming
b. Seemed not exactly plain, but not exactly fine
c. Saw mark as copperhead
2. Saw Sula differently after she talked and made noise (rattled danger signal)
a. Believed she could stir man’s mind but not body
b. Believed she had an odd way of looking at things
c. Saw a wide smile take sting from rattlesnake mark over eye

IV. Described by people of the Bottom in 1939
A. Said mark was Hannah’s ashes
B. Said mark had affected her from beginning
C. Used Sula as scapegoat and blamed her for all woes

V. Described by Nel in year 1940 when Sula lay dying
A. Saw a black rose once kissed by Jude
B. Saw knife-thin arms and dark rose in bed
C. Saw symbol of approaching death

VI. Described by Shadrack
A. Recalled Sula’s visit to his home
B. Remembered she had a mark over her eye
C. Knew she was a friend because had the mark of the "fish" he loved
D. Recalled the belt and the tadpole-over-the-eye face
E. Recalled seeing her on the table with the same little-girl face and the same tadpole over the eye

Topic #2
There are three main themes in traditional literature; these themes include the picaresque theme, in which the reader follows a character who travels or makes a journey; the reversal of fortune theme, in which the character has his or her situation in life changed; and the survival of the unfittest theme, in which a character who is not really equipped for survival is able to endure. How does the survival of the unfittest theme apply to...

(The entire section is 1805 words.)