Absorbing and interpreting Toni Morrison’s novels is no easy feat! At a young age, I was a voracious reader and spent countless hours browsing local libraries. My dad recommended The Bluest Eyes, her first novel, and to say it was a difficult read would be an understatement. On multiple occasions, I would read the first page, struggle through the first chapter, and lay it aside in frustration; I could not grasp the story. Hence, my hesitancy to broach her other books, just too intimidating! Last year I finally grabbed the book again, and this time I finished it. As a result, 2021 was precisely the year for me to tackle all of her books in the order they were published. So, Sula, her second novel, was my next read!
Sula is a novel that centers around the friendship of two black girls, Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who have different personalities and family backgrounds. The two live in a black community in Medallion, Ohio, in the 1920s. Nel lives with her parents and becomes unassuming and polite as a result of her smothering mother. Sula, who is fearless and unflappable, lives with her carefree mother, grandmother, uncle, and other intriguing characters. As the two grow up to become women, they build a formidable bond that weathers every adversity they encounter until one hardship proves too great.
The book highlights the black community, racism, friendship, motherhood, and the loss of a positive male presence. The two themes that captivated me the most were friendship and motherhood. The camaraderie between Nel and Sula was endearing – I mean, to have a friend from childhood to adulthood is such an extraordinary thing. Their bond is best illustrated in this passage: “Only with Sula did that quality have free reign, but their friendship was so close, they themselves had difficulty distinguishing one’s thoughts from the other’s. During all of her girlhood the only respite Nel had had from her stern and undemonstrative parents was Sula…They never quarreled…the way some girlfriends did over boys, or competed against each other for them. In those days a compliment to one was a compliment to the other, and cruelty to one was a challenge to the other”. What a special connection! How many people can say they currently have this type of friendship? I suspect a selected few, which is why I found Nel and Sula’s last adversity so painful.
The other fascinating theme was motherhood. This book depicts how mothers and daughters convey love differently. The way both Nel and Sula’s mothers expressed affection to their respective daughters was inadequate, even though both felt they did a great job. Hannah, Sula’s mom, talking to her friends: ” …I love Sula. I just don’t like her”. Can you imagine your mother saying this about you? How would you feel? I felt an overwhelming sadness while reading this line, and a part of my heart would shatter if I were a little girl overhearing my mother.
I like this book, but the depressing thing about this book is that some of the problems highlighted in the novel are still present in the Black community today due to structural racism.
I love Toni Morrison and recommend all her work! Her proses are complex, poetic, vivid, and challenge you to stretch your mind. Have you read any of Morrison’s novels? What is your favorite?
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