Toni Morrison's Sula


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Toni Morrison's Sula


In the book Sula by Toni Morrison, Morrison’s ambiguous link between good, evil, and guilt, she is able to show that these terms are relative to each other and often occur mutually. In her comparison of good and evil, Sula states that "Being good to somebody is just like being mean to somebody. Risky. You don't get nothing for it" (145). Good and evil are being compared as if they are equal and that is how the book is structured. For instance, Eva's burning of Plum is a complex conjunction of motherly love and practicality and cannot be described as simply being a good act or a bad one. The killing of Chicken Little is a similarly ambiguous situation from which Sula and Nel's feelings are unclear. Lastly Sula, upon her death bed, questions what it means to be good and suggests that it what may be considered bad could in reality be good. Both in the syncopated style of Morrison's writing and the morally ambiguous portrayal of characters, cause the reader to question morals and think about them on a larger scale.

Although on the surface, Eva's burning of Plum appears as a ghastly and un-motherly act (not to say that it isn't ghastly), with more analysis becomes a more perplexing question. When Eva pours kerosene on Plum, it is described as a sort of baptism, "He opened his eyes and saw what he imagined was the great wing of an eagle pouring a wet lightness over him. Some kind of baptism, some kind of blessing he thought" (47). Eva believes that she is liberating Plum from his depressed, drugged life and saving his soul. The eagle that plum imagines seeing is a symbol of liberty and the wing is a symbol for maternal love as a bird may nestle its chicks with its wing. Even when Nel later visits Eva in the nursing home, Eva approves of her liberation of Plum. She disapproves of Nel and Sula's throwing Chicken Little in the water, yet justifies killing Plum by saying, "It's awful cold in the water. Fire is warm. How did you get him in?" (168).

Sula and Nel are both guilty for Chicken Little’s death, one for throwing him into the river and the other for watching it. No one is going to defend their actions, however whether Nel is guilty or not is a far more difficult question.

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However when Nel visits Eva in the nursing home, Eva tells her, “You. Sula. What’s the difference? You was there. You watched, didn’t you? Me, I never would’ve watched” (168). Therefore, according to Eva, Nel is guilty for Sula’s throwing Chicken Little into the river, despite the fact that Nel did not do anything. Eva further provokes the guilt when asked, “‘You think I’m guilty?’ Nel was whispering. Eva whispered back, ‘Who would know that better than you?’” (169). Clearly Morrison wants to hint that people who do not consider themselves guilty actually could be and visa versa. Nel would seem innocent because she had not done anything but she is guilty because she watched and did not do anything to help.


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