How does generational trauma manifest in Sula?

Generational trauma manifests in Sula via the disturbing, distressing incidents that take place between Sula and her mom, Nel and her mom, and Hannah and her mom.

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For discussing manifestations of generational trauma in Toni Morrison’s novel Sula, an apt place to start is with the character in the title: Sula.

Sometimes trauma can occur through terrible, violent assaults. Other times, trauma can develop via relatively minor incidents. A word or an action that doesn’t...

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For discussing manifestations of generational trauma in Toni Morrison’s novel Sula, an apt place to start is with the character in the title: Sula.

Sometimes trauma can occur through terrible, violent assaults. Other times, trauma can develop via relatively minor incidents. A word or an action that doesn’t seem like a big deal ends up having a lasting impact.

When Hannah is sitting with her friends and telling them that she “loves” but doesn’t “like” Sula, it might not seem like a major event. After all, it’s just three friends hanging out on the porch talking about motherhood. Yet Hannah doesn’t know that Sula is listening. Hearing that her mom “loves” her but doesn’t “like” her appears to have a visceral, piercing impact on her. The mom’s words send her “flying up the stairs.” Yes, Nel helps Sula stomp out her “dark thoughts,” but it’s not uncommon for people to immediately try to hide and bury their trauma.

Another instance of generational trauma might be Hannah’s death. Remember, Hannah meets a violent end. She burns to death. In a way, Hannah’s fiery death could relate to her mom, Eva, and the way in which she burned her own son to death. It’s possible that Hannah is somehow reenacting the trauma that her mom inflicted on her brother, Plum.

Generational trauma could also be noted in the relationship between Nel and her own mom. The trauma of witnessing her mom yield to the racist train conductor seems to have compelled Nel to adopt a cautious and “on guard” personality for the rest of her life.

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