Essays and Criticism
Mother-and-Daughter Relationships in Sula
A prevalent theme in Sula is the influence of family and friends on the characters. The book focuses on two friends, Sula and Nel, but both have been shaped, and continue to be shaped, by their experiences with their families, particularly their mothers. Their mothers, in turn, have been shaped by their own mothers, in a chain reaction passing through the generations.
Eva, who has endured desperate and lonely poverty, is a strong, tough woman. She is also proud; she thinks of going back to her family in Virginia for help when her man leaves and she has no food, but as the narrator notes, "To come home dragging three young ones would have to be a step one rung before death for Eva." Instead, she scrounges as best she can for several months, and then heads out, either selling her leg to science or having it cut off in an "accident," for which she receives $10,000 in insurance payments.
This act indicates a certain ruthlessness in her character, and Eva is ruthlessly controlling, adopting three boys and giving them the same name, "Dewey," and treating them as a unit. The emotionally stunting effect of this treatment is plain; the boys eventually become so unindividuated that even their own mothers can't tell them apart, and they never grow, physically or mentally, but remain under Eva's sway.
When her son Plum returns from the war with a drug addiction, Eva pours kerosene over him and kills him by setting him on fire. She...
(The entire section is 1717 words.)
Black Spaces in Sula
In Sula, spacing—that is, closing down or opening up distances between things and persons—has extraordinary urgency. Houses and bodies are the sites of hyperactive mechanisms of containment and expulsion working to effect identity and distinction: of inside and outside, of self and other. Spacing, moreover, becomes crucial to issues of representation and meaning in the Bottom, the place in Medallion, Ohio, in which most of the action of the novel occurs. Houston A. Baker Jr. has called attention to the importance of place in Sula: "What Morrison ultimately seeks in her coding of Afro-American PLACE is a writing of intimate, systematizing, and ordering black village values," he suggests. But although the manipulation of persons and things in space can produce a symbolic order, Morrison seems more concerned with the placement of experience that orderly representation misses.
Two places in the novel that indicate her concern to locate missing experience are "the place where Chicken Little sank" in the river and the place Eva Peace's missing leg once occupied, "the empty place on her left side." Neither of these is quite what one would expect a place to be, for neither is the present location of anything. Like the empty spaces in a symbolic order, these places mark an absence. But unlike the lacks and open spaces that in works of Faulkner and James are necessary to structures of meaning, the experience of missing in Sula is a...
(The entire section is 5231 words.)