What is symbolic about fire and water in Sula?

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Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The imagery of fire and water in Toni Morrison's Sula creates an important juxtaposition. Both fire and water are used to describe death. A few characters die by fire, and a few die by water. Historically, both fire and water have been used to purify, and both fire and water were also used during the trials of witches as symbolic purification. It is no different in Morrison's novel.

In the novel, Sula sees people die by both fire and water. Although she finds "comfort," for lack of a better word, in the part of fire in death, she does not find the same comfort in that of water. Sula finds fire to be comforting and destructive, a paradoxical tool used in many literary pieces. The fact that she finds fire beautiful allows her to accept the deaths as necessary—fire allows Plum's suffering to end.

Water, on the other hand, is only seen as destructive. Sula feels responsible for Chicken's drowning. He did not need to die like Plum in order to end her suffering. Instead, Sula is distraught by his...

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