What is the symbolism of the gray ball?

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alexb2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The gray ball symbolizes Nel’s worries and anxiety that eventually grows into self-awareness. It begins after Sula commits adultery with Nel’s husband, Jude. It is a gray ball hovering, “a ball of muddy strings, but without weight, fluffy but terrible in its malevolence.” This feeling remains with Nel for more than twenty-five years as she tries to learn how to know herself.