Summary: A “Headless Display”: Sula, Soldiers, and Lynching Chuck Jackson’s work, “A ‘Headless Display,’” shows Morrison’s use of place, character, and plot development in Sula as literary parallels of post-World War I racism and lynchings in the United States. Essentially, Jackson says that Morrison constructs: “…a lynching narrative, one of modernity’s most nightmarish facets” (1). While there are no actual lynchings in Sula, several events in the novel represent the looming threat of violence and racism toward African-American characters. He mentions Morrison’s use of plot developments like mutilation, burned bodies, Shadrack’s National Suicide Day, and the characters like the white train conductor as representative of societal racism and racial violence. Jackson points out there were an alarming number of lynchings in the United States between World Wars I and II, the time frame in which Sula takes place. Shadrack, Plum, and the soldiers on the Colored Only car on the train are African-American men who have served their country in battle on the European front, only to return home and see that America’s segregated and racist culture has no intention of allowing them access to the way of life they fought to defend. Despite their service and sacrifice to their country, their uniforms and rank seem to have no value with white Americans when they return home. Jackson mentions a comment by Lt. Colonel Michael Lee Lanning: “Instead of marching bands and grateful citizens to welcome them, black soldiers encountered mobs, complete with Ku Klux Klan members, who frequently beat them and stripped them of their uniforms” (2).
Shadrack’s creation of National Suicide Day as a coping mechanism with this horrifying experience is one of Morrison’s most obvious examples of lynching in Sula. Sula opens and closes with Shadrack marching around town carrying a hangman’s noose, ringing a bell, and shouting commands at the townspeople to end it...
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