Sula Study Guide

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Sula Reading Guide
IB Lang. & Lit. Part 4

Sula is a novel about two childhood friends, Nel and Sula, set in a small town of Medallion, Ohio. Through the girls’ story, we are exposed to the complexities of modern life. To read this novel effectively, you must suspend judgment. Look at what the author is trying to say, read metaphorically, instead of literally. Because the novel is so short (174 pages) you need to read carefully.

Discussion questions:
1. Sula is in many ways a study of opposites (think about characters, setting, and themes) Find an example where Morrison explores these opposites- how do they play off each other? What is the author trying to say?

2. Also consider how men are portrayed in the novel. Think about male characters, like Boy Boy, Tar Baby, Plum, Chicken Little, Shadrack, and Ajax. Do they have any similarities?
3. How does race affect our understanding of Sula? What are some of the complexities of how race is represented?
4. After reading Things Fall Apart, can you see any thematic similarities between the two? How has Morrison, an African American author, been influenced by African themes?
5. Sula is full of powerful descriptive language. Choose your favorite, and posting it in your discussion response, analyze it briefly, looking at style (and referencing the text specifically!)

Study Questions
Part 1:

Prologue: What role does racism play Sula? What evidence do we have of African Americans suffering at the hands of whites? Why is the name of “the Bottom” ironic?
​Racism plays a leading role in Sula. In the first few pages it becomes very apparent that African Americans suffer at the hand of whites. In the first pages Morrison goes onto explain how “the Bottom” was a cruel joke played on a black slave who asked for some land; the white man said “Oh, no! See those hills? That’s bottom land, rich and fertile…but when god looks down, it's the bottom of heaven- best land there is.” (pg.5) This was all a trick because the “bottom” ironically I hilly unfertile rocky land. This trick was the first hint of racism that the novel presents, also given the pretext to the setting in which the novel takes place.

1919: What is Shadrack’s story? Why is it significant to the novel? Why do you think Toni Morrison has included his character? How does war change him? ​

Shadrack is really the first character that Toni introduces in depth. He is a war veteran that experiences the war and becomes traumatized. The Author explains in great depth how Shadrack becomes terrified of his “growing” hands. He spends a while in a hospital trying to regain his mental health. I think that the growing of his hands represents the damage he had done in war. After he is released from the mental institute he returns to the bottom and everyone is terrified of him. Instead of growing hands he is now terribly frightened of unexpected death and therefore creates “National Suicide Day” every January 3rd. NSD consists of him ringing a cow bell and carrying around a noose. This day is created for people to kill themselves or eachother at free will. Obviously everyone in the town is terrified of shadrack so he lives secluded by a river where he spends his day drinking until things make sense and fishes.

1920: Think about how opposites come into play with the characters Nel and Helene. How are they similar? How are the different? What is Helene like as a mother? Explain the extended metaphor of “custard” on pp 21-22. Why doesn’t Helene speak Creole? How are Nel & Sula opposites?

Nel is Helene's daughter, so she carries similar characteristics, for example her ability to keep her calm under very stressful situations. For example when chicken little dies, Sula becomes very emotional but Nel appears to keep calm. Helene shows the same behavior when she is humiliated on her journey to see cecile. Although Helene raises her daughter, Nel is very...
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