Explore how Nel’s trip with her mother, Helene, leads to Nel’s self discovery in Sula.

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In Toni Morrison's novel Sula, Nel Wright is one of the two main characters. What separates Nel from Sula is that she is lighter-skinned and has a Creole lineage on her mother's side. Nel goes with her mother, Helene, to visit her great-grandmother, Cecile, in New Orleans. Cecile...

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In Toni Morrison's novel Sula, Nel Wright is one of the two main characters. What separates Nel from Sula is that she is lighter-skinned and has a Creole lineage on her mother's side. Nel goes with her mother, Helene, to visit her great-grandmother, Cecile, in New Orleans. Cecile raised Helene in a strictly religious household in which they spoke Creole.

On the train bound for New Orleans, ten-year-old Nel watches as her mother tries to ingratiate herself with a rude white conductor, grinning obsequiously in his face. The sight of this infuriates the other black passengers. By the time they arrive in New Orleans, Cecile has already died; but Helene's mother, Rochelle, is there. Rochelle worked as a prostitute in a brothel. Helene's observant and proper upbringing were intended to ensure that she would not become like her mother who, during the visit, tries to speak Creole with Nel. Helene tells Rochelle that Nel doesn't know any Creole. This could be the result of Helene moving north to Ohio to abandon aspects of her family history and culture that brought her shame.

Nel realizes on this trip how her family's attempts to be "respectable" never earn them any respect. Though Nel maintains some of her mother's habits in adulthood, her friendship with Sula becomes a form of rebellion against her upbringing. The Peace family, which is female-dominated, contrasts with the Wright family's sense of needing to be on their best behavior. One could argue that Nel discovers the futility of trying to win the approval of those whom one can never win over. The women in the Peace family seek no one's approval and, thus, are relatively free.

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