A feminist perspective can be seen throughout the entire novel and in most of the characters. Toni Morrison clearly critiques the negative force of patriarchal domination and recounts the efforts of numerous female characters to reject or overcome patriarchy. Because male dominance is so strong, however, each of the women struggles primarily in an individual basis rather than through embracing female solidarity.
Sula and Nel both strive to overcome patriarchal restrictions, but they do so in very different ways. Their competition, including their rivalry over Jude, destroys their love for and the possibility of positive dependence on each other. Sula rebels and strikes out on her own, but she mistakenly sees her ownership of her own sexuality as entitling her to sleep with her friend’s husband. Nel is determined to live a good life and reject the sexually submissive bondage that her mother had lived. Her concern for morality goes astray when she becomes as submissive in her own way, through her passive attitudes and marriage, as her mother had been.
Eva Peace is a strong, independent woman who makes her own way after leaving her husband and, as such, could be considered a feminist hero. She too is held back from developing feminist consciousness by her hatred of men. Eva’s inability to become a full, giving member of society along with her defiance of social conventions is symbolized by her disability together with her glamorous sole shoe.
Morrison discusses this topic in her article "Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature" in The Black Feminist Reader (2000).
Much has been written about Sula and feminism. If you understand "feminism" as an examination of female power and subjectivity, then some examples to consider would be:
- Sula herself. Sula does not conform to social norms or gender stereotypes. She is transgressive in the sense that her sexuality cannot be controlled by social norms or racial prejudice. She makes her own rules.
- Family structures. Another important theme in Sula is the nature of family and the interrogation of family roles. In this regard, Sula works to show that the role of "mother" is socially constructed rather than biologically determined.
In each case, the novel works to show that identity (especially female identity) is not a fixed thing but instead is the result of a process or a system of relations between genders, races, and social classes.
Feminism is a critical theory applied to a text by a reader. Most authors do not choose to write from a specific perspective--the perspective (or lens) is applied after the fact.
Feminist critical analysis (or feminism) is when a text contains social, political, physical, or psychological oppression of women. Women are simply measured by the rules established by the patriarchy (man's rules) and their ability to follow them--or not follow them. Feminist literature wishes to change the way which culture and society oppresses women.
Typical ways to find a feminist perspective in a text is to look at a few key questions:
1. How are women treated in the text? How are men treated in the text? Are they looked at as equal?
2. How does the author define the roles specific to both men and women?
3. Do any characters possess traits typical of the opposite sex? How are they regarded by other characters?
All of this being said, it is up to a reader to identify and justify feminism in a text.
One character to examine in Sula, by Toni Morrison is Sula Peace. First, Sula decides not to take the road chosen by Nel Wright. Nel chooses to take the path which women were supposed to take. Marry, have children, and role of the conscientious black woman in a close community. Sula, instead, chooses to leave, go to college,and embrace a life very different from her own. Upon her return to her childhood neighborhood/community, Sula faces great hatred.
Therefore, one could justify that Sula's character possesses characteristics of the opposite sex (going out on her own and going to college) and is shunned because of it. The people she knew growing up simply do not accept her choices given they do not follow what is expected of the black woman of her day.