The Evolution and Expressions of Racism
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Why aren’t books like this taught to high school kids? I feel like this is the perfect book for a freshman starting off their tenure in high school. The book had great symbolism i.e. Nightshade and Blackberries, Medallion City, and the Bottoms. Toni did a great job describing what black people had to deal with back in the day. Also, the difference between how Nel grew up compared to Sula was very interesting to read about, also to see how they would change as they grew.
Also, I can’t believe they didn’t save their friend who drowned. It reminded me of Rose from Titanic!
I agree that this book is a perfect material for teaching in high school, though the language might be a little hard for that level. the diversification of the curriculum is happening fairly quickly, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this book or another Morrison novel on school curriculum soon.
I agree that the text is not written in a linear fashion and often certain actions long precede their explanations. Personally, I found the scene where Sula and Jude slept together to be problematic because it seemed to be such a big event which ended up feeling quite anti-climactic. The characters were dismissive about the situation and Sula’s explanation was not clarified until years later. However, I did find the brief switch in perspective to Nel’s point of view to be refreshing and at least allow for some sentiments to come to light immediately. I don’t particularly take fault with switching through events and then coming back to them for a fuller story as the novel progresses. I think that relief of explanation feels relieving because it exists but not because the explanation feels like an adequate one. For instance, Eva’s explanation for killing Plum may seem weak or “random” at first, but it’s also from Eva’s perspective and in a way, her explanation of viewing Plum as a child once more allows for a deeper understanding of her love for him. Thus, even in not agreeing with a character’s course of action, we’re able to understand why they have made the decision that they have due to their past experiences. I also think the fact that each chapter is labeled by year allows for readers to follow the chronological timeline of events in a smooth manner. In addition, the novel continues on beyond Sula’s death which was an extremely interesting concept to me. Though the book is titled Sula and one would assume that her death would mean the end of the novel, Morrison looks beyond Sula as a physical person and displays her lasting influence on a community and those around her. I believe in some facet, Sula embodied a sense of nihilism within the black community and thus, her lasting importance (one that she, herself, did not believe she had) is indicative of the ability of the community to overcome internalized feelings of self-doubt and work in cohesion toward progress. I think the divides within the black community are also displayed through Sula and Nel’s vastly differing personalities which ultimately can work in cohesion through the acceptance of viewing both individuals as “good” and also “bad”. By this I mean that differing viewpoints or calls for actions have their strengths and faults but it can only be through this cohesion that a genuine path to progression is formed.
Thank you! these are all really great smart points. I love what you say about nihilism here, that the source of nihilism can be despair, the response of a person or community who try to change things for a long time and witness very little progress. We don’t know what happened to Sula in Tennessee in the intervening decade, but as she goes back from the south she seems even more nihilistic and self-destructive than before.
Morrison’s characters are shown to have a warped understanding of violence in that Eva lit Plum on fire, Sula and Nel watched the boy drown, and Sula was fascinated when her mother was on fire. But this was also symbolic and I think Morrison was trying to show that people always have to put an effort into being good, as shown with the town’s regression after Sula’s death.
Also, while I was somewhat familiar with Toni Morrison, I had no idea that she had such a large impact and pioneered a whole new generation of writers through her work. I liked how you mentioned that in her novels, the community is the protagonist and not a single person. I feel that in her work, Morrison’s approach to her characters in this way also made it easier for readers to understand them and their motivations when comparing their relationships with each other.
Thank you! she was indeed a huge influence, not just in literary terms but emotionally. I have a few Black writer friends, and all of them told me that they cried hard when they heard about her passing, as if they’d lost a beloved family member.
I really liked what you said about the openminded-ness of Sula, of her Largeness, in contrast to the small minded nature of the community. in some respects, she and eva are so alike, as they escaped the Bottom, only to return, secrets held in their breasts, secrets of the world as well as a beyond that those who have not left dare not consider. You see it so clearly in those final moments between Nel and Sula, Nel wanting or having wanted so badly for Sula to be like her (Nel), to tow the line, to live within the lines, to not seduce others, to born babies. While Sula, she’s made her peace, ha ha, with herself, she understands who she is, she understands how flawed not only she is but everyone as well. Her mind is open to the possibility of herself, while her community abides by the hive.
Thank you! this is indeed the contrast that drives the story forward. there also two pairs: Sula and Eva as you mentioned vs. Nel and Helene, representing almost opposite values and worldviews within one family. this is a very tense novel because of all these contrasts and frictions.
I think Sula is a great book that illustrated multiple main characters (within the book)’ fate. The overall story did not shock me much (since we know that black people were living an extremely challenging life during that time), people had to make difficult decisions to live (Eva threw her leg under a train for insurance claims). However, I’m still troubled by Sula’s decisions throughout the book (Did not save her friend who’s drowned, and watched her mother burn to death. Despite that Sula overheard Hannah saying that she does not love Sula that much, but Hannah is still Sula’s mother, who contributed to Sula’s growth.). The part that was fascinating to me in this book is where people in town turn on each other after Sula (the one that takes blame for everything to justify terrible events) died (because it’s kind of a payback for ignoring the true cause of their conflicts).
Thank you! Sula’s behavior is totally unjustifiable, but the weird thing when you read the book is that she never strikes you as the villain, even though you don’t agree with what she does. that’s the art of characterization I was trying to focus on.
In contrast to the other people living in the Bottom, Sula is oblivious to the omens and superstitions that accompany her return. Traditionally, robins are thought of as birds of harmony, bringing peace and the rush of new life and fresh air. Ironically, however, when they are associated with Sula’s return, they symbolize her perceived threat to the black community’s psychological identity even as their droppings encrust everyone’s shoes and the streets of the Bottom.
Thank you! great point about robins
In Sula, “The Bottom” and the whole community play an essential role that can be interpreted in many different ways. I found it interesting analyzing the different characters stories and their personalities who at the end of the day the share the same sorrow. I personally interpreted the Bottom as an upside society, where misery and pain rule over everything. The inhabitants of Medallion seem to be hopeless, they just accept their life for what it is but they strongly rely in their sense of community and their small land to carry on with their life.
The fictional history of Bottom, where white people marginalized the black community on top of a hill, and after years of despising it , they are now interested to take such land “back” occurs in our realty today. After reading the story of Sula I knew that somehow The Bottom storyline sounded familiar to me. Months ago, I was reading an article on The New Yorker called “Kicked off their Land”. The article explains why black families are losing their land in the south, and in several ways, the articles reminds me of the community portrayed in Toni Morrison’s book.
I strongly recommend everyone to check it out……….it’s a page turner!
Oh this looks riveting. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for the link! looks like an amazing read. I’ll go through it over the weekend.
The writing of the novel is strongly against tradition. I say this not only because of the novel’s themes of defiance against traditional patterns of white privilege and patriarchal society. The novel adopts non-linear narration and rejects the coherence and completeness of traditional novels. Although the chapters of Sula are arranged in chronological order, the novel’s treatment of plot and events has completely broken the linear description in traditional novels. The narrating process is completely fractured and discontinuous. On the other hand, the narrative perspective of the novel is absurd. The grotesque characters and absurd things depicted in Sula are unconventional content. Shadrach and his creation, the National Suicide Festival, are some of the most striking grotesque images in the novel. Perhaps Morrison is trying to imply the absurdity of the hostile, oppressive and discriminatory society inhabited by black people through such an exaggerated writing technique and to express the spirit of rebellion against this social tradition.
very well-observed. It’s also further evidence of how Faulkner had influenced her as a writer. she deploys literary technics of high modernism to write about the Black American experience, which was a very novel and courageous move for its time.
I am a lifelong Harlem resident and I will tell you now – Covid only put a minor dent in the community congregation (lol)!
The importance of the community as a living, breathing, uniform entity is important, especially to blacks. The opinion, acceptance and rejection of your own people can be rise you up or knock you down. Its funny, its not something you realize until you either read about it or think about it. Growing up I was a bit more sheltered honestly, but once high school hit, the opinion of others that lived in my community became a tool used for decisions to be made. Not to say I was a follower – peer pressure, especially at that young age, doesn’t always happen the way your textbook teaches you.
When Eva decided to kill Plum, who I think was her favorite child, it was a show of maternal love that I haven’t read about before. In literature, we are exposed to many fringe ways of showing love or out-of-the-box family dynamics. With this one, I know it was sad and gruesome. I don’t even think it was right, but I do believe Eva killed her son out of love. I know you mention in your video that the book doesn’t go into much detail, the author just moves on. I think that makes the writing stronger, sometimes you can overkill something with text. In order to be impacted by this moment, the reader needs to take the moment in on their own and fully interpret it themselves. I also think that is why Eva isn’t fully villainized. If you don’t see her point of view, you can think Eva is a monster. However, if you have the ability to understand that she didn’t want to see her son degrade his life any further and she wanted to help him go out while he still had a bit of honor behind his name then the lack of villainizing Eva allows room for the reader to see the love behind the horrible crime.
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