Instructor: N. Schroeder
Choice and the Characters of Sula
Toni Morrison’s Sula explores the power of choice and its importance in the course of human existence. Regardless of the fact that the African-American characters of Sula are of an oppressed nature, they forever maintain the freedom of choice. This theme of choice provides insight into the acquirement and personification of identity.
Sula and Nel, the primary characters of the novel, are utilized by Morrison to highlight how personal identity is established at our own accord. For example, early on in the novel when Morrison is describing the childhood of Sula and Nel, both characters make the conscious decision to act according to their own ideas about the world: “In the safe harbor of each other’s company they could afford to abandon the ways of other people and concentrate on their own perceptions of things” (55). Nel eventually abandons this concept and assumes a role similar to her mother’s (that of respectable housewife,) but Sula remains this way throughout her life. Because of Sula’s disregard of others’ opinions, she is eventually looked down upon by the townspeople of the Bottom. The actions of these two characters present the question of whether unabashed decision-making is liberating or condemning in terms of social acceptance.
Another question Morrison presents is whether we can choose to acknowledge our past or not. At the beginning of the novel, Nel is traveling to her great-grandmother’s funeral with her mother, Helene. Once they arrive, they come into contact with Nel’s grandmother, Rochelle. Rochelle is of Creole descent and makes a living by being an escort. Helene is quick to dismiss Rochelle: “’I don’t know,’ her mother said. ‘I don’t speak Creole.’ She gazed at her daughter’s wet buttocks. ‘And neither do you’” (27). It is evident that Helene thinks that by refusing to speak the Creole language that she is also refusing to...
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