Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Sula is a novel about self-creation, about women, about men, and about a culture. The girls, Sula and Nel, realize early on that the world does not easily accommodate people such as them: “Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they set about creating something else to be.” They would be black women. That means something different to each of them. For Nel, it means becoming a wife and mother, sustaining the values of the community. For Sula, it means living an “experimental life,” rejecting commonly held values. Nel tells Sula, “You can’t do it all. You a woman and a colored woman at that. You can’t act like a man. You can’t be walking around all independent-like, doing whatever you like, taking what you want, leaving what you don’t.” Sula will not accept such limitations. When Nel demands to know what Sula has gained from her choices—having no husband and no children; her grandmother put away in a nursing home; her mother, father, and uncle dead; residents of the Bottom all despising her—Sula responds, “Girl, I got my mind. And what goes on in it. Which is to say, I got me.” Nel, on the other hand, has loneliness, an empty space that Jude used to fill, and another one Sula formerly occupied. Sula’s self-knowledge and Nel’s connection to other people are both essential to human existence. Each woman, even if only momentarily, comes...
(The entire section is 604 words.)
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