Student Question

Why can't Eva distinguish The Deweys in Sula, and what is their story significance?

Quick answer:

Eva takes the three boys in because they have no one who will care for them. The boys accept Eva's view that they are all the same, and their brotherhood becomes a way to denote their individual identity. During my research I came across a group of people who have suffered from extreme cases of child abuse. These people share an identity called "survivor". They are not defined by their past experiences, but take on a new identity as survivors. The Deweys show this in their formation of a brotherhood. "But then again, I'm just talking crazy."

Expert Answers

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It is not that Eva is unable to tell The Deweys apart, she simply thinks that there is no reason for them to have individuality.  The Deweys come to Eva's home on separate occasions, and each boy looks strikingly different from the other two.  Eva has taken on these boys because they are not cared for by their mothers or other family members.  When Hannah asks her mother how they are going to tell the boys apart if they all have the same name, Eva replies, "'What you need to tell them apart for?  They's all Deweys.'"  Because the boys abandon their given names, they take on the identity of Eva's home instead.  So the unwanted children find a new identity as members of a group:

"Slowly each boy came out of whatever cocoon he was in at the time his mother or somebody gave him away, and accepted Eva's view, becoming in fact as well as in name a dewey--joining with the other two to become a trinity with a plural name. . . inseparable, loving nothing and no one but themselves."

This is significant because the novel tackles issues of identity, and The Deweys suggest one aspect of the formation of identity.  They become one, and in the end, even die together on Shadrack's Suicide Day.

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