What kind of narrator can be found in Sula? Find examples in the novel.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The 1973 novel Sula, by Nobel Prize–winning writer Toni Morrison , centers on the strong friendship between two girls, Nel Wright and Sula Peace, amidst various obstacles and challenges over several decades. The story is told by an omniscient third-person narrator, who gives the reader insights into the characters'...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The 1973 novel Sula, by Nobel Prize–winning writer Toni Morrison, centers on the strong friendship between two girls, Nel Wright and Sula Peace, amidst various obstacles and challenges over several decades. The story is told by an omniscient third-person narrator, who gives the reader insights into the characters' mindsets—things not otherwise revealed through dialogue or other physical representation. For instance, Sula chops off her own finger in order to be more like Nel, but this is never mentioned through dialogue to another character. We only learn it through Sula's thoughts as she's about to die.

Morrison employs the omniscient narrator to great effect by using it to show the competing and often conflicting viewpoints of different characters. It's meant to make the reader reconsider the nature of the characters and contemplate the fact that their roles as protagonist and antagonist, hero and villain, might not be so black and white.

However, she is careful not to reveal all of these viewpoints simultaneously. In fact, the narrator's omniscience seems to float between characters—focusing on the thoughts of one character in one chapter and then shifting to another character in a subsequent chapter. For instance, in one chapter, the narrator describes the childhood dreams of Nel picturing herself lying on a flowery bed waiting for her prince to come. In a later chapter, the point of view shifts to Sula's thoughts as she describes her appreciation for the cleanliness of Nel's house.

In addition, the narrator sometimes speaks for the entire community (a character in itself), especially in instances where the entire community shares the same mindset. For instance, the narrator sets up the history of the Bottom (the low-income area where the black people in this story live) early on by providing a historical account of how it got its name despite its being up in the hills. This is never communicated through character dialogue. It also sets up the way both the whites and blacks view things like jokes and humor and the cultural divide between races.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sula is told through an all knowing (omniscient), 3rd person narrator.  However, each chapter is limited to a focus on one character, with insight into that character's thoughts and perspective.  Each character is given an almost equal amount of attention throughout the book so the reader is able to get equal insight into each character.  In this way, there is a lack of narrator bias.

For example, chapter 1 focuses on Shadrack, chapter 2 moves to Nel, chapter 3 focuses on Eva, etc.  As you read, notice the thoughts, dialogue and reactions of the focal character of each chapter.  In this style, the novel comes to take on a mulit-faceted personality.  Sula is less a novel about a character and her story, and more chronicle of friendship, community, and a time period in America's history.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team