What is symbolic about fire and water in Sula?

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angelacress | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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According to a Hungarian scholar, Eva Gyetvai, "When Eva gets prepared to burn Plum, she first holds him in her
arms. Plum draws blissful pleasure from his mother’s embrace; however, that embrace is also the grip of death for him. When he burns, the 'whoosh of flames engulfed him' (48): burning and embrace are repeated and joined. Plum is literally burning while he is metaphorically embraced.

Hannah is metaphorically burning in sexual pleasure while literally embraced. In chapter '1923,' in Hannah’s burning scene, her agonizing, convoluted, body is 'smoke-and-flame-bound' (76). Now, the motifs of burning and embrace are reversed." So according to this scholar, fire is a symbol for being embraced, for death, and for sexual pleasure.

Sula is often identified in conjunction with water in the novel. "When Sula returns and the robins finally leave in May, Nel senses the 'green, rain-soaked Saturday nights' (94): the surest sign for Sula’s presence back in her life.


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