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In Sula, Toni Morrison explores a community’s role in the individual’s search for wholeness. The story begins at the end, after the African American community known as “the Bottom” has been destroyed and replaced with a golf course. The narrator reveals the history of “the Bottom” forty years before it was destroyed, in chapters titled simply by the year of focus, beginning with 1919 and ending with 1965.

The community gained its name from a joke played on a slave by a white farmer. After promising his slave freedom and land upon the completion of some difficult chores, the farmer did not want to part with his choice land. So he told the slave that the hilly land—difficult to plant and plagued by high winds and sliding soil—was the bottom of heaven, the “best land there is.” Consequently, the slave accepted the land, and “the Bottom” is where Sula Peace and Nel Wright are born.

Nel, her mother Helene, and her father live in a home Nel considers to be oppressively neat. Carefully groomed by her mother, who is admired in the community for her beauty and grace, Nel prefers the disorder that she finds in Sula’s home, where “something was always cooking on the stove, . . . the mother, Hannah, never scolded or gave directions” and “all sorts of people dropped in.” During her only trip outside Medallion, ten-year-old Nel meets Helene’s estranged mother and sees her own mother’s usual grace disturbed by Southern remnants of racist oppression. Nel and Helene must sit in the “colored only” car of the train, and because there were no “colored only” restrooms past Birmingham, they urinate in the woods when the train stops. Helene is pleased to return home. After Nel insists, Helene welcomes the young Sula into her home, in spite of Hannah Peace’s reputation for being “sooty.”

Sula and Nel’s development into adults follows some predictable and some unpredictable patterns. Nel becomes a carbon copy of her mother. She marries, has children, and bases her entire identity on the roles of mother and wife, an identity disrupted by her best friend. After attending college and traveling to some major American cities, Sula returns to Medallion, where she continues her mother’s legacy of promiscuity and has her mean-spirited grandmother placed, against her will, in a home for the elderly.

To Nel’s dismay, Sula has sex with Nel’s husband, Jude. Feeling betrayed by her husband and her best friend, Nel says that her life and her “thighs . . . [are] truly empty and dead.” After nearly three years of not speaking to each other, Nel visits Sula after hearing that she is sick. Nel leaves unsatisfied with Sula’s shallow reason for having sex with Jude. Sula dies of an unnamed illness at the age of thirty.

On January 3, 1941, the National Suicide Day after Sula’s death, Shadrack continues his tradition, although with less passion since he misses Sula. This year, many town members participate in his parade. They march gayly to “the white part of town,” distinguished by the tunnel excavation and beginnings of remodeling for the city. Angered by not being permitted to work on the renovations, many citizens of “the Bottom” crowd into the tunnel as an action of self-assertion and protest. Unfortunately, the tunnel collapses, killing an unspecified number of them (approximately twelve to fifteen).

By 1965, the hills of “the Bottom” are largely populated by whites, and the narrator laments the lack of cohesion among the African Americans who have moved to the valley. As the narrator notes, there were not as many spontaneous...

(This entire section contains 676 words.)

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visits and everyone had his or her own television and telephone. After Nel visits Eva in the home for the elderly, Nel remembers calling the hospital, mortuary, and police after Sula’s body was found—eyes open and mouth open—in Eva’s bed. Only after Nel leaves the cemetery does she discover that all the pain and loneliness that she had been feeling was from missing having Sula in her life, not Jude.

Places Discussed

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Medallion. Imaginary Ohio town in which the main action of the novel is set. Morrison grew up in the small town of Lorain, Ohio. Bordered by Kentucky to the south but a Northern state in the Civil War with important Underground Railroad sites, Ohio functions in many of Morrison’s novels as a place of alternating prejudice and freedom for the black characters.

The fictional Medallion’s geography shows the distinctions between black and white characters: The white characters live in the fertile valley, protected from the harshest winds of winter, while the black characters inhabit the rocky, unproductive hillside where the poorly built houses cannot protect their residents from the elements. During a particularly difficult winter, when ice coats the ground and does not melt for days, the black residents lose their jobs in the valley because they cannot get down the steep hill in the ice.

By the end of the novel, the Bottom, the black neighborhood, is disappearing because the wealthy white people have decided the hillside on which it stands is desirable for a golf course and for luxury homes. The new development reflects the town’s power structure as did the earlier layout.

The Bottom

The Bottom. African American neighborhood in Medallion. Local legend holds that the neighborhood’s first settler was tricked by a white man into taking the rocky hillside land rather than the fertile valley land below. The neighborhood’s ironic name refers to the “bottom of heaven.” The residents are not consoled that they can “literally look down on the white folks.” The neighborhood eventually disappears as the homes of wealthy whites and a golf course are put in on the hillside. A tunnel built by white laborers offers a focus for the rage the Bottom’s residents feel at their economic and social privation. In their attempt to destroy it, many are killed when it collapses.

The residents of the Bottom interpret and pass judgment on events and actions of the novel’s characters. Morrison’s giving a communal voice to a place is reminiscent of a technique of William Faulkner, on whom Morrison wrote a master’s thesis. Like Faulkner, Morrison creates characters who seemingly could not exist in different settings.


Train. After Helene’s grandmother dies in 1920, Helene and Nel travel to New Orleans on a train. Their ride provides a vivid picture of the unequal treatment that African Americans received in the Deep South during the days of rigid Jim Crow segregation. The train’s conductor is extremely nasty when Helene accidentally gets on the coach for white passengers. The train stations do not even have rest rooms for black passengers. Although Helene is disgusted by the way she is treated on the trip and by the cold welcome she receives from her mother, her ten-year-old daughter Nel finds the experience exciting. The new sense of self she develops from her journey makes her feel brave, so that she starts talking to Sula Peace, who will become her best friend.

Helene Wright’s home

Helene Wright’s home. House in which Nel grows up. Like its mistress, the house is orderly and attractive, to the point that Nel finds it oppressive. Sula, coming from a more chaotic household, loves to visit the house.

Eva Peace’s home

Eva Peace’s home. House in which Sula grows up, also inhabited by her grandmother Eva, mother Hannah, uncle Plum, three boys all named Dewey, and various others over time. The house was constructed in pieces and contains rooms and stairways in no particular arrangement, in contrast with the orderly Wright home. Nel prefers the Peace home to her own.


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Morrison’s exploration of friendship between African American women makes Sula a major link between Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982). Furthermore, the friendship between Sula and Nel does not depend on or revolve around men. Morrison explores this friendship, its maturity and its eventual dissolution.

Nel and Sula’s relationship blossoms out of mutual admiration, for Sula appreciates the quiet orderliness of Nel’s home. In stark contrast, and in addition to Hannah’s sexual liaisons, the Peace home is characterized by Eva’s unpredictability. Sula’s grandmother has one leg, and the town rumor is that she either placed the other on a railroad track or sold it to a hospital. In either case, Eva provides food and shelter for her family. Yet Eva is not simply a provider; she is also a sacrificer. When her son, Plum, returns from the war in a questionable mental and physical condition, she burns him to death as he sleeps in his room.

Helene, Nel, Sula, Eva, and Hannah continually challenge stereotypes as the narrator reveals these women’s thoughts, fears, and concerns. Morrison’s depictions stress the fact that women cannot be limited to select roles; they are too wonderfully diverse. Not unlike Hurston, Walker, and a host of other female writers, Morrison gives voices to the many women who remained silent when required to choose between severely limited life options.

Although the possibilities for women in American society have expanded since the publication of Sula in 1973, the novel reminds its readers of a time that should be remembered. In the late 1960’s, the women’s liberation movement was in full force to combat sexual discrimination and gain legal, economic, vocational, educational, and social rights and opportunities for women that were equal to those of men. It is important to women, and clearly important to Morrison, that the history of this struggle and the stories of these women not be forgotten.

Historical Context

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The events in Sula span much of the twentieth century, during a time of great changes in civil rights for African Americans and other minority groups.

African Americans in World War I
When the events of the book open, in 1919, veterans like Shadrack and Plum are returning from service overseas. Like Shadrack and Plum, many of them were emotionally and physically scarred from the experience of war, but African-American veterans did not receive as much respect for their service as their white counterparts. In the book, Shadrack is discharged from the hospital because there's no more room, and when he hits the streets, whites assume he's drunk, and he's arrested and taken to jail. All he has to show for his service is "$217 in cash, a full suit of clothes and copies of very official-looking papers."

During the war, more than 350,000 African-American soldiers served in segregated units. When they returned, many began working for civil rights, reasoning that if they were considered good enough to fight and risk their lives for their country, they should be given full participation in society. Both African Americans and whites joined the newly formed NAACP to fight discrimination and segregation, but it would be many years before segregation laws would be overturned.

African Americans had only recently been given the right to vote in the United States. Although they had supposedly held this right for much longer, various loopholes in the law ensured that few did. One law stated that an African-American man could vote only if his grandfather had. Poll taxes, literacy tests, voting fraud, violence against those who voted, and intimidation also kept people away from the ballot box. The NAACP fought successfully against the "grandfather clause," and it was overturned in 1915, but some of the other blocks to voting remained for many years.

The Great Depression
In 1929, the stock market crashed, leading to widespread depression and deep poverty. Skilled and unskilled, African-American and white, few people escaped the suffering involved. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in 1932, he presented "New Deal" programs that would help housing, agriculture, and economic interests. Although African Americans had fewer opportunities than whites to benefit from the New Deal programs, they did participate in some of them.

Through laws known as "Jim Crow" laws, Southern states were forcefully segregated, with separate facilities for travel, overnight lodging, eating, drinking, school, church, housing, and other services for African Americans and whites. These facilities were separate, and many times not equal; those for African Americans were frequently substandard or nonexistent. If an African American failed to obey the segregation laws, he or she could be arrested and imprisoned.

World War II and the Civil Rights Movement
Many African Americans served in World War II, and like those who served in World War I, returned home and were outraged that they could serve their country but yet not have equal rights in it. The civil rights movement grew with protests, nonviolent resistance, boycotts, and rallies, which received increasing attention in the national media. In addition, activists challenged the segregation laws in court. In 1948, President Harry Truman eliminated segregation in the United States armed forces. Through other battles, segregation in other areas of life, such as on buses and in schools, was attacked and outlawed, although racist incidents continued to cause trouble for African Americans, and other areas of life were not yet integrated.

In 1963, more than 200,000 people joined the March on Washington, calling national attention to the problems of segregation and discrimination. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famed "I Have a Dream" speech, calling for racial equality.

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act finally outlawed the use of literacy tests and other methods to exclude African Americans from voting. Before this law, only about twenty-three percent of African Americans were registered to vote, but after it, registration jumped to sixty-one percent.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968, known as the Fair Housing Act, more forcefully ensured that African Americans were legally entitled to all the rights that went with full citizenship in the United States.

Literary Style

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Point of View
The novel is told from the point of view of a wise, omniscient narrator, who sees into all the characters' hearts and minds with tolerance and acceptance. The use of such a narrator is interesting; the characters are all given equal time, and no one, even Sula—for whom the book is named—is more major than anyone else. In addition, the use of varied points of view allows the reader to see all the sides of any event and understand the complexity of what really happened. In the book, horrendous events are depicted, but the narrator avoids making judgments about them; they are simply presented, and the reader sees various characters respond to them and is allowed to come to an independent determination of what these things mean and whether they are good or evil.

Realistic Dialogue
The author frequently uses dialect speech, bringing the characters to life and letting the reader hear them talk, in a very natural way. For example, in the following dialogue between Eva and Hannah, Hannah has just asked Eva if she loved her children and played with them when they were little, and Eva deflects the question by telling her about the hard times she went through:

"I'm talkin' 'bout 18 and 95 when I set in that house five days with you and Pearl and Plum and three beets, you snake-eyed ungrateful hussy. What would I look like leapin' 'round that little old room playin' with youngins with three beets to my name?"

"I know 'bout them beets, Mamma. You told us that a million times."

"Yeah? Well? Don't that count? Ain't that love? You want me to tinkle you under the jaw and forget 'bout them sores in your mouth?"

By using dialect speech, Morrison allows us to hear the characters as real people, and shows their social class, education, and attitudes without having to explicitly discuss these aspects. We know from their talk that the characters are African American, poor, and most likely rural. They express themselves directly, with no social posturing or pretension; their speech is vigorous and active, full of energy and passion.

Although white people rarely appear in the novel, when they do, they also speak in dialect. In the case of the conductor on the train to the south, it's southern: he asks Helene, "What was you doin' back in there? What was you doin' in that coach yonder?" When she tells him she made a mistake and got in the white car by accident, he says, "We don't 'low no mistakes on this train. Now git your butt on in there." His dialect talk makes him seem uneducated and harsh at the same time that it underlines his similarity to the African Americans he despises, since the things he says, and the way he says them, could easily have been said by anyone in the Bottom in the same way. This similarity provides a subtle commentary on the misguided nature of racism, which erects artificial boundaries between people. He thinks he's "better" than the people in the "colored" car, but he is not as different from them as he'd like to believe.

Use of a PrologueSula, like many other novels, but unlike any of Morrison's other works, has a prologue that describes the Bottom and its origin, and makes the reader aware that this is a book about African-American people, set in an African-American settlement. In a discussion about the book in the Michigan Quarterly Review, Morrison noted that her original beginning simply began, "Except for World War II nothing ever interfered with National Suicide Day." After getting some feedback about the book from others, she realized that this was too sudden a beginning, and that it didn't make clear to the reader where the book was set or what was going on. She thought of the prologue as a "safe, welcoming lobby," and believed it was necessary to make readers comfortable in her African-American world before they could move on with the story. She said that she would not need this "lobby" now, and indeed, none of her other books have this "lobby"; they refuse, she said, "to cater to the diminished expectations of the reader or his or her alarm heightened by the emotional luggage one carries into the black-topic text." She also said, "I despise much of this beginning," and noted that her other books "refuse the 'presentation'; refuse the seductive safe harbor; the line of demarcation between...them and us."

Literary Techniques

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Morrison's greatest talents lie in her descriptive abilities. Her prose is extremely poetic, full of lush, vivid descriptions of the setting and characters. Even the opening sentences blend mundane historical detail with careful description:

In that place, where they tore the nightshade and blackberry patches from their roots to make room for the Medallion City Golf Course, there was once a neighborhood. It stood in the hills above the valley town of Medallion and spread all the way to the river... . One road, shaded by beeches, oaks, maples and chestnuts, connected it to the valley.

The descriptions of the towns' foliage is more than an effort toward botanical accuracy. Morrison's use of words simultaneously invokes an imagined vision and a sense of sadness at the neighborhood's loss. Throughout Sula, Morrison adeptly gives her language this double meaning.

Morrison's characters are as vividly drawn as her descriptions of the natural environment. Eva, Sula and the rest of the Peace family are entirely believable characters, as are the rest of the Bottom's residents. One technique that makes Morrison's characters seem more real is their moral ambiguity. The actors who perform the drama laid out in Sula's pages cannot be conveniently categorized as good or bad. Each character, like people who populate the real world, demonstrate the capacity for both benevolence and spite. Eva, for example, is at turns cold, calculating, and sublimely nurturing. In the same way, her daughter shows a penchant for betraying her loved ones, including her childhood friend Nel as well as her own mother.

Ideas for Group Discussions

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Sula is a fascinating study of black life in rural America during some of the nation's most trying moments. While appealing as a document focused on a particular time and racial group, Morrison's novel also expounds on universal themes concerning familial ties, love, jealousy, and ambition. Its characters are complex individuals, each capable of committing acts of unmatched devotion and extreme cruelty. There is not a sense of absolute morality in Morrison's created world. Instead, characters have relative merits and faults understandable only in the context of their entire lives.

Operating behind the individual dramas Morrison crafts is a national movement toward greater acceptance of African-Americans. Sadly, however, this acceptance moves far too slowly and never raises itself beyond the level of tokenism. Sula's denouement demonstrates the extent of African-American frustration at the white community's failure to adequately address the calls for equality of opportunity emanating from the nation's black neighborhoods. Spanning years from the 1920s to the early days of the Civil Rights movement, Sula tracks profound changes which struck the United States during the middle years of the twentieth century. Unlike a conventional history, however, Morrison's novel is intensely personal, highly dramatic, and profoundly moving.

1. Shadrack appears only momentarily in the main body of the novel. Only at the very beginning and in the final pages does he contribute significantly to the plot. Why, then, is he a part of Morrison's story? What thematic function does he fulfill in his brief appearances?

2. Does Morrison's novel contain any truly sympathetic male characters, or are they all potentially callous, abusive womanizers against which Morrison contrasts her strong female characters?

3. Put the events related in Sula on a timeline. Though it follows conventional chronology for the most part, Morrison's novel clearly makes free use of the medium's capacity for distorting time. Why might Morrison take such freedom with her story's narrative sequencing?

4. Explain the significance of the River Road to the residents of the Bottom.

5. Consider the relationship of Eva and her daughter Sula. Is Sula justified in the anger she feels towards her mother in the novel's concluding sections? Is Eva a good mother?

6. Why do the Bottom's residents react with such fury at the end of the novel? Who is ultimately responsible for the deaths that occur in the final pages?

7. Was Eva justified in burning her son, Plum?

8. At one point in the novel, Hannah asks her mother if she loves her children. Eva responds by saying that she does. What do you think? Given the information you have on their relationship, do you think Hannah was justified in asking her mother this question?

Social Concerns

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As a historical novel, Sula's social concerns are particularly focused on the time and place in which the novel's action occurs. Spanning the months following the conclusion of the World War I to the tumultuous days of the Civil Rights movement, Sula is concerned primarily with the struggles against poverty and racism faced by the African-American inhabitants of a small Ohio town. Relegated to the curiously named "Bottom" neighborhood (which actually consists of the homes on hills surrounding the white district) Medallion's black inhabitants are both figuratively and literally separated from the prosperity and security enjoyed by their white counterparts.

Throughout the novel, the African-American residents of Medallion wait patiently for the opportunity to work on the road and tunnel which runs out of town. Until the end, however, the work remains available only to white residents. At one point there are hopes that the work will become integrated, but these are quickly dismissed:

For three years there were rumors that blacks would work it, and hope was high in spite of the fact that the River Road leading to the tunnel had encouraged similar hopes in 1927 but had ended up being built entirely by white labor—hillbillies and immigrants taking even the lowest jobs.

The exclusion of even highly educated and skilled black men from the work of the road explodes the notion that American society works as a meritocracy, benefiting those who work hardest or best. Morrison thus infuses her novel with constant references to the discrimination that kept people of color from sharing the prosperity enjoyed by the United States from the 1920s through the post-war years (except, of course, during the Great Depression). For Morrison's characters, the Depression is just another decade, bracketed on both sides by periods of exclusion and want.

This want is often extreme. The world of Medallion is one without the social safety nets we enjoy today. Numerous female characters lose their means of support when husbands die or abandon them. One such character is Eva, the grand matriarch of the Peace family. The disappearance of her husband, Boy Boy, comes after years of unhappy marriage and at a time when Eva is particularly susceptible to the privations his loss causes:

After five years of a sad and disgruntled marriage Boy Boy took off. During the time they were together.... [h]e did whatever he could that he liked, and he liked womanizing best, drinking second, and abusing Eva third. When he left in November, Eva had $1.65, five eggs, three beets and no idea of what or how to feel.

This passage, of course, points to two social concerns simultaneously: the precariousness of women dependant upon their husband's incomes and the abusiveness endured by these women.

Fortunately, the former concern is dealt with by the generosity of Eva's community. Morrison asserts that this generosity—which manifests itself in donations of milk, meat, and other necessaries by Eva's neighbors—is an integral part of black neighborhood life. In a community where all the residents face privations because of their exclusion from white means of prosperity, individuals naturally buoy each other up in times of trouble.

The callous behavior of men towards their wives, on the other hand, seems to be a social problem for which Morrison does not have an easy solution. Even when they are not physically abusive, Morrison's male characters seem particularly lacking in the moral strength which makes her mothers and wives such supportive individuals. Nel's husband, for example, sacrifices his wife and children to a moment of physical pleasure with Nel's friend Sula. Though Morrison thus identifies the root cause of her male characters' penchant for abandoning their wives, she does not offer a prescription or mode of behavior designed to improve them. Morrison's strong women can endure men, but they cannot substantially improve their behavior.

In addition to economic concerns, Morrison demonstrates an interest in the way American society deals with deviance. More specifically, Morrison's novel betrays a concern about the marginalization of the mentally ill. The novel's primary narrative stream begins with the return of Shadrack from France where he fought in World War I. The experience left him unstable; only a break in the text marks the passage of time from his first charge across the wasteland to his realization that he is in a hospital in the United States. Unfortunately, the medical treatment of the time does adequately deal with his shell shock, and he is released.

More pressing than the inadequacy of treatment is Morrison's concern about the criminalization and neglect of the insane. Upon his release, Shadrack, unable to operate normally, is picked up by a policeman and thrown in jail. Released from this second confinement, Shadrack, relying only on his own capacity to make himself well, pulls himself together enough to set up in a shack along the Bottom's river. There his antics are eventually tolerated: "Once the people understood the boundaries and nature of his madness, they could fix him, so to speak, into the scheme of things." In a sense, Shadrack's plight parallels the condition of his black neighbors. Both are misunderstood by those around them and degraded only for the differences over which they have no control. Shadrack can no more make himself well than his neighbors can make themselves white.

Compare and Contrast

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1920s: More than 350,000 African-American soldiers, who serve in segregated units, return home from World War I.

Today: The United States armed forces include large numbers of African Americans, who serve in every capacity and are no longer segregated; some African Americans, such as General Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State during the administration of George W. Bush, achieve the highest rank.

1920s: Overall, the unemployment rate is about 5.2%, but this figure is much higher for African Americans because of prejudice against them.

Today: Unemployment ranges between 5 and 6 percent and African Americans are integrated into all sectors of society, though they still experience a higher level of unemployment than whites.

1920s: "Jim Crow" laws, which were implemented in the late nineteenth century, segregate the South, mandating separate spheres of existence for African Americans and whites. Restaurants, stores, buses, hotels, transportation, housing, and other areas of life are rigidly separated, and African Americans who cross the barriers can be arrested and imprisoned.

Today: The widespread and growing civil rights movement brings increasing attention to the problems caused by discrimination and segregation. Although old laws restricting African Americans from voting and full participation in society were finally overturned in the 1960s, racism, bigotry, and other prejudices still exist and act to restrict full participation for many people.

Literary Precedents

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Morrison's novel fits into a rather lengthy tradition of novels which simultaneously celebrate black identity and descry the inequities endured by men and women of African descent. As early as the Colonial Era, African-Americans were finding their voice. The most notable of these early authors was Phillis Wheatley. She published her collection, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in 1773. These poems appear rather problematic to today's reader. In some poems, she celebrates her removal from her home continent, asserting that it was better to live as a Christian in slavery than as a free heathen. Obviously, such rhetoric only perpetuates the myth of cultural and moral superiority that legitimated the practice of slavery.

Roughly seventy-five years after the publication of Wheatley's works, America witnessed an explosion of writings by African-Americans. The slave narrative became a genre of literature unto itself even while it aided the cause of emancipation. Many of these narratives were told from a male perspective and therefore lack much of the thematic attention to familial bonds that makes up much of Sula. The most notable exception is Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). Told in the first person and relating details of her bondage, escape, and life of freedom, this work parallels Sula in two ways. First, it dwells on the particular concerns of women under the oppressive systems of racism and slavery. Just as Morrison give voluminous attention to Eva and Nel's concern for their children, Jacobs launches into many impassioned passages regarding the dire fate of her offspring. Morrison, though, takes a more comprehensive view of womanhood. Jacobs, partially because of expectations of the time, desexualizes herself as a character; she represents herself as a mother only and not as a woman with her own desires. Morrison, on the other hand, demonstrates that femininity involves more than instincts to nurture. Characters such as Hannah Peace are celebrated as both mothers and sexual beings.

In its close scrutiny of a particular region at a particular historical moment, Sula recalls the work of Zora Neal Hurston, an author who functioned as both artist and anthropologist. Before writing her first and best known novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Hurston published two collections of folklore, Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934) and Mules and Men (1935). These works, like Sula, give careful and affectionate attention to the peculiarities of a small corner of the world. Morrison's invention of Medallion is no less interesting as an historical document than Hurston's collection of the folktales passed on orally in the Florida town of Eatonville.


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Sula is available on audiocassette. Random House Audio published an unabridged reading by the author in 1997.

Media Adaptations

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Sula (1997) is an unabridged audio book narrated by Morrison and available through Random House.


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Bakerman, Jane S. “Failures of Love: Female Initiation in the Novels of Toni Morrison.” American Literature 52 (January, 1981): 541-563. Presents Morrison’s first three novels as accounts of female initiation. Maintains that they show female characters looking for love and self-worth but ultimately failing in their search.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Toni Morrison. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005. Collection of scholarly essays on Morrison; includes analyses of the self/other dialectic and of the lack of peace in Sula.

Bryant, Cedric Gael. “The Orderliness of Disorder: Madness and Evil in Toni Morrison’s Sula. ” Black American Literature Forum 24 (Winter, 1990): 731-745. Maintains that in the worlds of Morrison’s novels, the community not only tolerates but also integrates individuals whom the larger world would deem insane or evil.

Christian, Barbara. “The Contemporary Fables of Toni Morrison.” In Black Women Novelists. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. Argues that Morrison’s first two novels “chronicle the search for beauty amidst the restrictions of life, both from within and without.” Her main characters in both novels search for meaning through connection with the greater world.

De Weever, Jacqueline. Mythmaking and Metaphor in Black Women’s Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Examines contemporary black women writers as part of the “return to myth” tradition in letters. Insists that the experience of black people in the New World cannot be told through realism or naturalism and that Morrison and others use myth to order that experience.

Mayberry, Susan Neal. Can’t I Love What I Criticize? The Masculine and Morrison. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007. This study of masculinity in Morrison’s novels includes a chapter on the elegiac quality of her representation of boyhood in Sula.

Stepto, Robert B. “’Intimate Things in Place’: A Conversation with Toni Morrison.” Massachusetts Review 18 (Autumn, 1977): 473-489. A wide-ranging discussion of Morrison’s life and work, with special attention given to Sula.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Bakerman, Jane S., Review of Sula, in American Literature, March 1980, pp. 87-100.

Blackburn, Sara, Review of Sula, in New York Times. December 20, 1972, p. 3.

Blackburn, Sara, "You Still Can't Go Home Again," in New York Times Book Review, December 30, 1973.

Carmean, Karen, Toni Morrison’s World of Fiction. Troy, New York: The Whitston Publishing Company, 1993.

Century, Douglas, Toni Morrison: Author. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1994.

Davis, Faith, Review of Sula, in Harvard Advocate, Vol. 107, No. 4, 1974.

Gray, Paul, "Paradise Found," in Time, January 19, 1998.

Kramer, Barbara, Toni Morrison: Nobel Prize-Winning Author. Springfield, New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, 1996.

Lambert, Walter J. and Charles E. Lamb, Reading Instruction in the Content Areas. Chicago: Rand McNally Publishing Company, 1980.

Marvin, P. H., Review of Sula. Library Journal, August 1973, 98:2336.

Morrison, Toni, Sula. New York: Penguin Books, 1973.

Morrison, Toni, "The Salon Interview: Toni Morrison," in Salon, 23, 2001).

-----------, "Unspeakable Things Spoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature," in Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. 28, Winter 1989, pp. 1-34.

-----------, Voices from the Gaps: Women Writers of Color, (July 23, 2001).

Nigro, Marie, "In Search of Self: Frustration and Denial in Toni Morrison's Sula," in Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 28, No. 6, July 1998, p. 724.

O'Brien, Maureen, "Novelist Toni Morrison Wins Nobel Prize for Literature," in Publishers Weekly, October 11, 1993, p. 7.

Otten, Terry. The Crime of Innocence in the Fiction of Toni Morrison, Columbia, Missouri: The Curators of the University of Missouri, University of Missouri Press, 1989.

Prescott, P. S., Review of Sula, Newsweek, January 7, 1974, 83:63.

Samuels, Wilfred D. and Cleonora Hudson-Weems, Toni Morrison, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.

Turner, Darwin T., Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans, Doubleday, 1984.

Yardley, Jonathan, Review of Sula, in Washington Post Book World, February 3, 1974.

For Further Reading
Angelo, Bonnie, "The Pain of Being Black," in Time, May 22, 1989. In this interview, Morrison discusses racism in society and in her novels.

Basu, Biman, "The Black Voice and the Language of the Text: Toni Morrison's Sula," in College Literature, October 1996, p. 88. This article discusses Morrison's use of African-American vernacular in the novel.

Bloom, Harold, ed., Toni Morrison's "Sula," Modern Critical Interpretations series, Chelsea House, 1999. This is a compendium of critical essays on Sula.

Carabi, Angels, "Toni Morrison," in Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women, Spring 1995, p. 40. In this interview, Morrison discusses her novel, Jazz, and race in American society during the middle of the twentieth century.

Grewal, Gurleen, Circles of Sorrow, Lives of Struggle: The Novels of Toni Morrison, Louisiana State University Press, 1998. This critical text examines Morrison's novels and the African-American experience.

Rice, Herbert William, ed., Toni Morrison: A Rhetorical Reading, Peter Lang Publishers, 1996. This collection of critical works on Morrison examines her work and its place in American literature.

Ryan, Katy, "Revolutionary Suicide in Toni Morrison's Fiction," in African American Review, Fall 2000. This scholarly article discusses the theme of suicide in Morrison's works.


Critical Essays


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