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The following paper topics should test your understanding of the novel as a whole and allow you to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to get you started.

Topic #1
The birthmark on Sula’s face presents a different image to different people. The meaning of the mark seems to change also because of Sula’s actions at the time and because of the events surrounding her. Note each description of the birthmark over Sula’s eye. Through whose eye is the reader viewing each of these symbols? What are the circumstances, actions, and reasons surrounding Sula at the time which bring about this image on Sula’s face?

I. Thesis Statement: At various times, the mark on Sula’s face was a long-stemmed rose (according to the narrator when describing Nel and Sula as children), a symbol of Hannah’s ashes (according to residents of the Bottom when Sula comes home after ten years), a rose grown darker (according to Nel when Sula comes home after ten years), a copperhead (according to Jude before Sula speaks upon her return after ten years), a rattler (according to Jude after Sula speaks upon her return after ten years), a black rose (according to Nel upon seeing Sula on her death bed), and a tadpole (according to Shadrack when he remembers Sula’s visit to his home so long ago and when he sees her on the table after death).

II. Described as a long-stemmed rose when Nel and Sula are children
A. Mentioned first in "1922"
B. Described by the narrator in great detail in"1922"
C. Included in their Technicolor dreams of a presence, a someone who shared their delight in their dreams and was interested in flow of hair, thickness of flower mattress, voile sleeves, detail of birthmark
D. Presented as one of Sula’s physical characteristics
1. Had large quiet eyes, one featuring birthmark
2. Had spread of mark from middle of the lid toward the eyebrow
3. Had shape of rose
4. Gave Sula a broken excitement
5. Grew darker as years passed
6. Contained same shade as gold-flecked eyes
7. Maintained eyes as steady and clean as rain

III. Described in year 1937
A. Seen by Nel
1. Appeared darker than Nel remembered
2. Gave a suggestion of startled pleasure when she looked at Nel
B. Observed by Nel’s children when they studied Sula
1. Were puzzled by person who made their mother make strange laughing sounds
2. Were fearful of this one who made dark sleepy chuckling sounds
3. Saw scary black thing over eye
4. Saw Sula as threat to them in some way that they did not understand
5. Saw black mark "leap"
C. Noted also by Jude when he studied Sula
1. Saw Sula quiet
a. Looked like woman roaming
b. Seemed not exactly plain, but not exactly fine
c. Saw mark as copperhead
2. Saw Sula differently after she talked and made noise (rattled danger signal)
a. Believed she could stir man’s mind but not body
b. Believed she had an odd way of looking at things
c. Saw a wide smile take sting from rattlesnake mark over eye

IV. Described by people of the Bottom in 1939
A. Said mark was Hannah’s ashes
B. Said mark had affected her from beginning
C. Used Sula as scapegoat and blamed her for all woes

V. Described by Nel in year 1940 when Sula lay dying
A. Saw a black rose once kissed by Jude
B. Saw knife-thin arms and dark rose in bed
C. Saw symbol of approaching death

VI. Described by Shadrack

(This entire section contains 1805 words.)

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VI. Described by Shadrack
A. Recalled Sula’s visit to his home
B. Remembered she had a mark over her eye
C. Knew she was a friend because had the mark of the "fish" he loved
D. Recalled the belt and the tadpole-over-the-eye face
E. Recalled seeing her on the table with the same little-girl face and the same tadpole over the eye

Topic #2
There are three main themes in traditional literature; these themes include the picaresque theme, in which the reader follows a character who travels or makes a journey; the reversal of fortune theme, in which the character has his or her situation in life changed; and the survival of the unfittest theme, in which a character who is not really equipped for survival is able to endure. How does the survival of the unfittest theme apply to the three characters appearing in the last chapter of Sula?

I. Thesis Statement: The survival of the unfittest theme applies to Sula and the last two characters who appear in it. Shadrack is unfit psychologically yet he survives the cave-in and the ridicule of those in the Bottom. Nel is unfit emotionally because she defines herself through others yet she is able to outlive Sula.

II. Applied to Shadrack
A. Damaged on a battlefield in France
1. Withstood the time in the hospital
2. Withstood the time in jail and the sarcasm of the Bottom
B. Had no visitors or friends except Sula
C. Lost his fish—his recreation
D. Used alcohol to extreme yet conquered the alcohol
E. Led the people to the tunnel and yet did not die in the cave-in

III. Applied to Nel
A. Defined herself through her husband, even though earlier said she was an individual, but evidence to contrary
1. Said she never knew she had a neck until he commented on it
2. Lonely when he left; later found lonely because of Sula
B. Allowed others to make her lonely
C. Defined herself through her children after husband left
D. Defined herself through circle after children left

Topic #3
Many conflicts are evident in Sula. Conflicts can be person against person, person against self, person against society, and person against nature. Which of these conflicts did Sula wrestle with in her life? Explain your answer. Be sure to include examples.

I. Thesis Statement: In Sula’s life there exist all four types of conflict: person against person, person against self, person against society, and person against nature. These conflicts are evident as Sula moves from one stage to another in her life.

II. Had person-against-person conflict
A. Wanted Nel to forgive her
B. Wanted Ajax to love her
C. Threatened by Eva who accused her of watching Hannah burn

III. Had person-against-self conflict
A. Cannot allow herself to settle into routine
B. Considers Hell to be sameness so tries to vary life
C. Never tells how Chicken Little dies
D. Like an artist with no art form

IV. Sula’s person-against-society conflict
A. Was pariah of community
B. Encountered no rallying of community at sickness or death
C. Separated whites who bury and blacks who sing
D. Was object of rumors
E. Rejected because nonconformist

V. Had person-against-nature conflict
A. Unable to fight death
B. Had to succumb to death
C. Found death did not hurt

Topic #4
Compare and/or contrast the concept of love for the following characters in Sula: Ajax, Sula, Eva, Jude, Nel, Helene Wright.

I. Thesis Statement: Love means different things to different characters in Sula. To Sula, love of Ajax means possession. Ajax refuses to be possessed. His only love is his mother and airplanes. To Eva, love is responsibility. To Jude, love is comfort for him. Nel takes her identity from the love of her husband and her children. To Helene Wright, the love of her daughter for a man means a wedding and the culmination of all that she was, thought, or did in the world; she drew her identity from that event.

II. Love to Sula
A. Act of love different from love itself
B. Possessiveness toward Ajax

III. Love to Ajax
A. Refusal to be possessed
B. Objects of love
1. Mother
2. Airplanes

IV. Love to Eva
A. Responsibility
B. Sacrifice of own safety to save Hannah
C. Exchange of leg to pay for needs of family

V. Love to Nel
A. Loneliness after Jude’s departure
B. Identity of self derived from others

VI. Love to Helene Wright
A. Object of daughter Nel
B. Wedding of Nel the culmination of Helene’s life
1. All she had been
2. All she had thought
3. All she had done

Topic #5
Characters may be dynamic or static. A dynamic character changes, but a static character remains the same. Consider the characters of Helene and Nel. Which is static, and which is dynamic? Explain your answer.

I. Thesis Statement: Helene is a static character and Nel is a dynamic one. Helene was a mother and guide to Nel; her entire life was committed to her daughter. When her daughter married, this was the culmination of Helene’s life. She does not change. Nel, on the other hand, goes through several changes. She recognizes when she goes to New Orleans that she is an individual, but she forgets it along the way. She defines herself through others until the last chapter.

II. Exhibits traits of a static character (Helene)
A. Marries at the insistence of aunt
B. Has daughter after nine years
C. Culminates life at marriage of daughter
D. Is concerned with appearances
E. Shows no evidence of change

III. Exhibits traits of a dynamic character (Nel)
A. Recognizes self as individual when goes to New Orleans as a child
B. Defines self through husband
1. Gives him comfort
2. Does not realize had a neck until Jude comments
3. Was not aware of self until affirmed by Jude
C. Defines self through love of children when Jude leaves
D. Becomes angry with Sula because Jude left
E. Tries to define self through circle she joins
F. Changes and forgives Sula in end
G. Realizes she has always missed Sula—not Jude
H. Makes changes in life (hopefully) as a result

Additional Topics
I. At several points in the book the narrators and characters make a distinction between the words saw and watched.
A. Consider the following scenarios:
1. When the two 12-year-olds walk down the street
2. When Chicken Little drowns
3. When Hannah burns
B. Is saw or watched the appropriate term?
C. What is the difference between the two?
D. In your opinion did the men and boys watch or see the women and girls as they walked down the street?
E. Did Nel watch or see Chicken Little drown?
F. Did Sula, in your opinion, watch or see Hannah burn?

II. Writers use many devices to reveal the main character to their readers. They may show the character in action, reveal the thoughts of the character, show what the character says to others, show what others say to the character, and show the character in various environments. Which of these devices does Morrison use to expose Shadrack to her readers? Explain your answer.

III. Morrison uses many people to tell her story. Do you think one objective narrator could have presented the story better than a variety of narrators? Explain your answer.