Sula Peace

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Toni Morrison (b. 1931) American novelist


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Is the character who forms the center of action and controversy in Sula (1974), Toni Morrison's second novel. The only child of Hannah Peace and granddaughter of Eva Peace, in whose home Hannah, Sula, and a host of other characters reside, Sula is a restless adolescent who forms a lifelong friendship with Nel Wright, an equally lonely child. Having discovered that they are neither “white nor male,” the girls must find ways to grow and explore within the community of the Bottom. They share sexual awakening when Ajax, who will become Sula's lover twenty years later, calls them “pigmeat,” his epithet for attractively developing female flesh. They share guilt and failed moral conscience when Sula accidentally lets Chicken Little, a neighbor child, slip to his death in a nearby river; though remorseful, neither girl fully accepts responsibility for the act.

Bored with life in the Bottom, Sula departs as a teenager and sojourns for ten years. Her return marks her as the witchlike personification of evil: she puts Eva in an old folks' home, sleeps with and discards her neighbors' husbands, sleeps with Nel's husband Jude, disrespects the church ladies' social functions, and generally disrupts the community's sense of propriety. More damning than any of her other actions, the belief that she sleeps with white men makes her a pariah. When she becomes ill, all the townspeople except Nel ignore her. Instead of using her brief encounter with Sula as a moment of reconciliation, Nel still blames Sula for Jude's desertion, which only gives way to true pain, the true expression of the loss of this special friend, twenty-five years after Sula's death. With Sula, Morrison explores the impact of an independent female spirit upon a town that can envision such a manifestation only in masculine guise. Members of the community therefore judge Sula harshly, but, true to her refusal to portray absolutes in her works, Morrison makes it difficult for readers to pass similar easy judgment.

Trudier Harris

Subjects: Literature.

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