Opportunities For Personal Development In Toni Morrison's Sula

1996 words - 8 pages

Human life is often experienced as a slow and steady drift from one day to the next, with nothing in particular distinguishing each day as unique. In passively conforming to societal norms and expectations, individuals fashion lives for themselves that lack the spark of passionate purpose that characterizes true individuality. Such a poor soul soon develops habits that allow her to cope with the monotony of her existence, and once caught in this perpetual cyclic motion she finds herself advanced in age without ever having truly grappled with the fundamental questions underlying her own existence; she finds herself having already lived her life without yet knowing the life that she ...view middle of the document...

When Helene reacts to the conductor’s racism with a voice in which “an eagerness to please and an apology for living met” and a large, bright, downright obscene smile that causes the other black passengers’ blood to boil, Nel realizes that there is more to the world and her mother than the perfectly cleanly home and sanitized lifestyle that Helene keeps back in Medallion (20). Nel cannot stand to look at either her disgraced mother or the disgusted black soldiers, but instead stares “deeply at the folds of her mother’s dress…, wanting to believe in its weight, but knowing that custard was all it hid” (22). Unable to accept this fate for herself, wanting nothing more than to be strong; independent; dignified; truly black, Nel resolves to “make certain that no man ever looked at her that way” (22). Racism and the way in which it led Helene to reveal her true character and courage, or rather lack thereof, ultimately led Nel to commit to being something more, to rising above the expectations of a racist society that her mother was inadvertently supporting with passivity. In providing the impetus for this personal revelation, racism acted as a positive force in Nel’s life. Although it remained oppressive, it also prompted her to step back and consider who she wanted to be, to establish a sense of identity and self that might otherwise have never developed.
Sula embodies this spirit of rebellion and independence, even from a very young age. When Nel and Sula were still but twelve years old, Nel was harassed by a group of three Irish boys while walking home from school, and subsequently took a much longer route home with Sula. Unable to stand for this injustice, however, Sula soon demonstrated her capacity for courage by insisting that they go home along the shortest route. When the same Irish boys came up to them, intending to harass them as before, Sula pulled out a knife and a slate, and proceeded to slowly and willfully cut the end of her own finger off, declaring “If I can do that to myself, what you suppose I’ll do to you?” (55). Violence against her friend Nel prompted Sula to react violently, yet very deliberately. Not only did violence provide the impetus for change in Sula, but it also served as a memorable expression of the courage she had found in herself to protect her friend; it was something she would never forget. The revolution in her character was permanently cemented in her being by her violent act of self-mutilation.
Death is also portrayed as a natural transformative force that is ever-present in life. Nel and Sula are playing innocently under a tree by the river when Chicken Little comes over to play with them. After Sula and he come back down from climbing the tree, they are in a gleeful frenzy, so Sula grabs him by the hands, swinging him around as is common play with little children. Even as “he slipped away from her hands and sailed away out over the water, they could still hear his bubbly laughter” (60). ...

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