Sula has been acclaimed as Morrison's masterpiece by many critics. Both sula and Beloved present Morrison's unique world view very effectively. If Beloved peeps into the past, Sula looks forward to a new-world for blacks Americans. This novel can be studied at various levels. Topographically, it describes in great detail the physical features of the place called Medallion. The novel behind with the phrase "In the place." The Bottom, as it was called, stood in the hills above the valley town of Medallion. A place of black people, the Bottom had plenty of birches, oaks, maples and chestnuts. The pear trees blossomed. It was land which was hilly" where planting was backbreaking, where the soil slid down and washed away the seed and where the wind lingered all through the winter."(Toni marrison.,5)
However, with the passage of time when the valley town of Medallion became overcrowded and study the hill place Bottom with its cool shades was still lovely.
Morrison has described in great detail the various places of public interest right in the beginning. Time and a Half Pool Hall, Irene's Place of Cosmetology, Reba's Grill etc.
The rover has a special significance. Firstly, it connected the white and the black world. Secondly, Sula and Nel witnessed the death of chicken little there Thirdly, Shadrak lived near the river. The river was also a major trade link.
Time and again, Church as a building is also mentioned. May be as a symbol of Christianity. Two significant features of the place were the new tarmac road, that was the New River Road wending through Medallion on down to the river(81). The construction of a bridge was also proposed but later it took the shape of an unfinished tunnel, where evenly many inhabitants of the Bottom lost their lives.
The novel also ends with a description of the place. In fact Morrison seems to define the word 'Place.' Nel described it clearly in the chapter titled 1965.
"It was sad becomes the Bottom had bee a real
place. These young ones kept talking about
Community, but they left the hills it the poor,
the old, the stubborn and the rich white folks.
May be it hadn't been a community but it had
been a place. Now there weren't any places left,
just separate houses, with separate television and
separate telephone and less and less dropping
by". (Toni marrison.,166).
The connotation of a small circumscribed area associated with 'place' is now perhaps extinct. The binding force of gregariousness seems to be absent now. Whether incidental or deliberate, the novel begin and ends with an emphasis on place. The Bottom is not merely a silent observe but an agent of change in the lives of those who lived there. The interchange of black and white folks residing there gives future insight into the rapid socio-economic changes taking place in the second half of the twentieth century. A further scrutiny reveals the psychological strings attached to this metamorphosis.
Another significant feature of Sula is its symbolism. Morrison has designed Sula on certain symbol which are deftly woven into the fabric of the novel.
Life and death are symbolized by various references to death. The National Suicide day of Shad rack, death by fire in case of Ralph Peace (Plum) and death of Hannah Peace by fire. Water also is an important symbol of death. Death of Chicken Little in water and the death of the crowd inside the tunnel due to flooding wasters are good examples of this. The death-in-life existence of the black folks, all point to the novelists' basis concern with life and death.
Earth, water, fire, sky (ether)_ all signify ideas related to life. Bottom as a place (earth), bottom (earth), bottom as the bottom of heaven (sky) the river in various forms (water), fire within and without form the basic pattern of the novel. Eva peace burring her own son Plum and Hannah's death by fire and Sula's reference to Eva as hell fire point to the fundamental human concerns of Morrison and her ubiquitous appeal.
However the main symbol of the novel is Sula's birthmark. It is interesting to note the contrivance of the of the novelistic to interpret life through a single mark. This reveals Morrison's sound wisdom and deft craftsmanship. In the beginning of the novel four lines have been quoted:
Nobody knew my rose of the world
but me... I had too much glory
They don't want glory like
That in nobody's heart.
(-The Rose Tattoo)
Morrison uses this birthmark as the left-motif of the novel. In this novel Sula peace is the hinge of all action. She is a person, who from her childhood had a mind of her own, who thought and behave differently from the other female characters of the black community. In other words she refused to accept patriarchal hegemony and strongly believed in the autonomy of women.
Sula's birthmark has been interpreted in five different ways in the novel. The narrator (Toni Morrison) and Sula's best friend saw it as the stemmed rose. If we connect it to be lines from 'The Rose Tattoo', then Sula's character can be interpreted as someone who is aware of the grandeur of soul she possesses. Often this splendor goes unrecognized by others and self. Only those individuals who listen to the great urge within them realize it. Sula was different from the beginning. All her actions point to a search directed towards realizing her unique power and beauty.
The next two lines of the rose Tattoo explain other other Morrison 166
half of Sula's character. Sula was rejected by her community because she dared to be different from them.
She was a pariah, then and knew it. Knew that
They despised her and believed that they framed
Their harted as disgust.
Sula's knowledge of her rejection by the community clearly indicated her resolve not to be dismayed by it. The Rose Tattoo clearly indicated that anyone possessing unusual glory is often despised by others. Till the very end sula persisted on following her own conscience. She did not please others who wanted her to be mechanical rather than rational in her choices in life. Her autonomy of self is described by Morrison in no equivocal terms.
She lived out her days exploring her own
Though and emotions, giving them full reign,
Feeling no obligation to please anybody unless
Their pleasure pleased her... She was completely
free of ambition or compliments no ego.
Sula's uniqueness was also proved in her capacity to rejuvenate people.
Sula never competed. She dimply helped others
Other people seemed to turn
Their volume on and up when sula was in the
Room. More than anything , humor returned.
The above are the positive manifestations of Sula's birthmark. A Second interpretation of her birthmark was given by Jude, her best friend Nel's husband.
Jude...Looked at this friend of his wife's, this
Slight woman ,not exactly plain but not fine
Either, with a copperhead over her eye.
The last interpretation of the novel is given by Shadrack, the idiosyncratic war veteran who loved no one, respected no one, expect sula. He had introduced the National Suicide Day and celebrated it one every January 3rd. Shadrack like sula was a non-conformist who did not care for the deadened mores of black community, and craved for a new life for his people. His approval of Sula's is obvious in the following lines:
He had stepped into the door and there was a
Tear stained face turning-Turing towards him,
Eyes hurs and wondering :mounth parted in an
Effort to ask a question. She had wanted
Something from him. Not finish, not work, but
Something only he could give. She had a tadpole
Over her eye that was how he knew she was
Friend-she had mark of the fish he loved.
Shardrack saw in Sula a kindred soul. Sometime who needed help and he was willing to offer her all the help.
There seems to be balance of opinion. Suls's birthmark is considered beautiful and good by Nel and Shadrack. The narrator herself likens it to a keloid scar. Jude and Mr. Finley considered it as bad, they suspected Sula's goodness.
Morrison has designed Sula on the rose tattoo. Her own interpretation of the stemmed rose which looked like a scar can be taken as the unique beauty and peerless grandeur of the African American race which had suffered a permanent wound and hence the analogy of a 'scar'.
"They don't want glory like that in nobody's
After all it is the way of the world.
-The Rose Tatoo-(Epigraph)
1.Toni Morrison, Sula (New york: Alfred.A Knoff.1982)
2. Morrison 166
3. Morrison 52
4. Morrison 122
5. Morrison 118-119
6. Morrison 95
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