Sula


Many works of contemporary American fiction involve one individual's search for identity in a stifling and unsympathetic world. In "Sula," Toni Morrison gives us two such individuals. In Nel and Sula, Morrison creates two individual female characters that at first are separate, grows together, and then is separated once more. Although never physically reconciled, Nel's self discovery at the end of the novel permits the achievement of an almost impossible quest - the conjunction of two selves.
Morrison says she created Sula as "a woman who could be used as a classic type of evil force" and that she "wanted Nel to be a warm, conventional woman." She says "there was a little bit of both in each of these women... if they had been one woman... they would have been a rather marvelous person. But each one lacked something the other had." Morrison, thus, creates two completely different women yet allows them to merge into one. The sustainment of the two selves as one proves difficult and Morrison allows them to pursue different paths. But the two women's separate journeys and individual searches for their own selves leads to nothing but despair and Sula's death. Nel's realization that they were only truly individuals when they were joined as one allows them to merge once again.
Morrison portrays Sula and Nel as binary opposites at the beginning of the novel. In our first view of Nel she is as conventional and conforming as a young lady can be: Under Helene's hand the girl became obedient and polite. Her mother calmed any enthusiasms that Nel showed until she drove her daughter's imagination underground. (p.18) In this passage Nel is merely an extension of her mother with no autonomy of her own. Helene's hand is the iron fist of authority from under which Nel cannot release herself. Morrison makes it clear here that Nel is a calm and unimaginative girl who conforms completely to her mother's strict orders. Sula, on the other hand, comes from a totally different background. She is her own person as she has "none of her mother's slackness" (p.29) and, unlike the "oppressive neatness"(p.29) of Nel's house, lives in a woolly house, where a pot of something was always cooking on the stove; where the mother, Hannah, never scolded or gave directions; where all sorts of people dropped in; where newspapers were stacked in the hallway, and dirty dishes left for hours at a time in the sink, and where a one-legged grandmother named Eva handed you goobers from deep inside her pockets or read you a dream. (p.29)
Where Nel is confined, Sula is free. Where Nel has been raised to be an extension of her mother, Sula has surprisingly few ties to hers. Nel's imagination has been so restricted that the messiness of Sula's house along with its strange inhabitants and many visitors must seem like an absolute dream world. Similarly, the tidiness of Nel's house compared with the disorderliness of her own allows Sula to "sit still as dawn." (p.29) Morrison makes it clear in these instances that "each one lacked something the other had." That "something" is neither small nor insignificant. It is the fundamental make-up of each girl's character. Morrison deliberately portrays Nel and Sula in this manner to illustrate emphatically how entirely different they originally are. They are so different, in fact, that they are two facets of the same being - Nel conventional and orderly; and Sula unconventional and unsettled. The comfort each feels in the other's home demonstrates their initial and subconscious desire to merge into one being. Morrison intimates, in these instances, that the two facets cannot thrive individually and hints that they will soon become one. This merger takes place most dramatically with Sula's accidental murder of Chicken Little. Looking back on this incident Nel recalls that: All these years she had been secretly proud of her calm, controlled behavior when Sula was uncontrollable, her compassion for Sula's frightened and shamed eyes. Now it seemed that what she had thought was maturity, serenity and compassion was only the tranquillity that follows a joyful stimulation. Just as the water closed peacefully over the turbulence of Chicken Little's body, so had contentment washed over her enjoyment. (p.170) This passage reveals that the original binary opposite characters are no longer very different. During