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Comparing Excess in Morrison’s Sula and Ginsberg’s Howl Essay

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Application of Excess in Morrison’s Sula and Ginsberg’s Howl   


In William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell, he declares that "the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom…Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained." These beliefs are reiterated and expanded upon in both Toni Morrison’s novel Sula and Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem Howl. Both authors challenge the conception of socially imposed boundaries, which suppress the absolute freedom of thought and action, by venerating the human characteristic of excess. Instead of abiding by the social norms of the general cultural animosity towards excess, Morrison and Ginsberg use this vilified "attribute" as a means to transcend the aforementioned boundaries that have hampered intellectual growth and the liberation of the self. The fact that both authors are of minority backgrounds compounds the acuteness of oppressiveness that both have experienced in their lives and allows us to draw parallels between their beliefs and how they challenge such despotism.

Morrison’s Sula deals with the novel’s namesake’s journey to follow the road less traveled, and to escape the throes of a perceived life of perpetual imprisonment of the self that has engulfed most of the women of her time. The most obvious trait that resides in all aspects of Sula’s character is that of excess. She wages a one-woman war against society’s prescribed boundaries with an arsenal of excessive behavior and actions. The prospects of a fixed life of marriage and childbearing, which is the envy and ultimate objective for women of her age in Bottom, is unappealing and an altogether putrid existence to her. In order to understand the complex infrastructure of Sula’s character...


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... electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes roaring over the roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the hospital illuminates itself imaginary walls collapse O skinny legions run outside O starry-spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is here O victory forget your underwear we’re free"(111). Freedom is what Morrison and Ginsberg strive for in their respective works of Sula and Howl. Both authors implement the use of excessive behavior, deemed heretical to the social standards of the day, in order to transcend its boundaries and achieve self-actualization. Morrison and Ginsberg in effect countermand the adage of "conform or die" into that of "conform and die."

Works Cited

Ginsberg, Allen. Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript, and Variant Versions. Ed. Barry Miles. New York: Viking, 1986.

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


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