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Essay on American Feminism in Toni Morrison's Sula

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American Feminism in Toni Morrison's Sula


Toni Morrison's Sula is a novel that tells the story of the complex situations of two very different, yet quite similar, women who represent the society of African-American females in the middle twentieth century.  It allows the reader to see how people in the situation of these characters react to obstacles and events, showing a vision of American womanhood that might not be evident to people of other ethnic backgrounds and experiences.  In my opinion, this novel also portrays the changing role of women in the twentieth century, and the struggle between the old ideals versus the newfound independence of women.

Throughout this work, Sula and Nel, along with their respective families, represent the opposite ends of the spectrum of the role of women.  Nel and her family, with the exception of her grandmother, depict women who cling to traditional ideals about love, sex, marriage, and friendship.  Sula's family, with the exception of Sula's aunt, represents women who toss aside the traditional conventions of the roles of women, and embrace freedom in the previously mentioned ideals.  The absence of a strong male figure in either of the households allows for each group of women to develop themselves as women in whatever manner they choose.  Each household develops differently, following the ideals of the family matriarchs, but the two complement one another and emphasize the drastic differences and similarities between the two.

Nel's mother had an odd family experience as a child.  Her mother was a New Orleans prostitute, so she was raised by her grandmother to be a respectable lady, to be hardworking but submissive, and to have an emphasis on her faith.  She married, as a respe...


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...men in general.  The story itself begins in the year 1919, which was right before women were granted the right to vote in America in 1920. The novel was published in 1973.  The women's movement was at its height at this time, influenced by works such as Simone de Beauvoir's Le Deuxieme Sexe, which was published in English in 1953.  It is quite likely that Morrison, a highly educated college professor and award-winning novelist, would be familiar with the movement and these works.  Although this novel is a social commentary on African-American culture, the feminist vision contained within is an equally strong commentary on the roles of African American females in the twentieth century.

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. Sula. 1973. New York: Plume, 1982.

Work Consulted

Lewis, Vashti Crutcher. "African Tradition in Toni Morrison's Sula." Phylon 48 (1987): 91-97.


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