Wednesday, February 08, 2017
Sula: Myth, Mirror, Warrior
Nel Wright and Sula Peace grow up in the Bottom, an all-black town set on a hillside overlooking the all-white town of Medallion, Ohio. The fastest of friends, they grow up close--two parts of a whole?--and then they diverge. Nel marries, has children, and runs her household, while Sula disappears on the night of Nel's wedding only to wander back into town to cause a stir 10 years later.
From the start, the girls are fast friends. Morrison writes, "because each had discovered years before they were neither white nor male and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden them they set about something else to be."
It's tempting to say that Nel and Sula are the "good and bad" halves. That they're the yin to the other's yang, but all of those things would be cliche and too damn easy. Nel and Sula have things in common, but they are also vastly different. They grow apart, they come back together, they grow apart again. There's joy, and disbelief, and sorrow in their relationship. They felt real.
I loved this book. Mostly, I loved Sula. I was a little shocked, upon reading the Goodreads reviews, that my opinion is the minority in that space. I adore and admire Sula in a way that's similar to loving Estella, Charles Dickens' antagonist and the namesake of this blog. Sula does some shockingly "bad" things in the novel. She accidentally (wasn't it?) drowns a young boy. She stands aside and watches while others come to tragic ends. She's an adulteress and a pariah. When she arrives back in town after living an uninhibited life for 10 years, her behavior makes the townsfolk feel better about themselves. They take care of each other better until she's no longer a threat, and then they can slip back into their old habits of ignoring and devaluing each other without their righteous indignation to spur them along.
Sula, in all her messy individuality, exposes the people around her just by being. Among other things, she's a vehicle for Morrison to examine small town life in all it's ridiculous hypocrisy and small-time beauty. Jackie Kay writes of Sula, in a review for The Independent, "Sula is part myth, part woman, part mirror, part warrior."