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  • Writer's pictureThe Black Syllabus

Review | Sula

Updated: Aug 21, 2019


I’m both in love with Sula and frustrated with her at the same time. I’ve always been attracted to strong willed, independent thinking women like her. I love how she refuses to conform to society’s expectations of what a young woman should be and do. I love that she has the agency to do exactly what she pleases and doesn’t feel the need to get permission from anybody. What I don’t like is that it seems like she was punished for it in the end. The only thing I’d say she was at fault for was the way she betrayed her best friend, Nel, even though I understand the rationale behind doing so (not that I think it’s justifiable, but I do understand her logic).

Nel, on the other hand, grows up to be the complete opposite of Sula, even though she’s described as being Sula’s other half. Growing up they were inseparable, and were engaged in the same, slightly rebellious lifestyle. (Sula always a little moreso than Nel.) Nel lives out a traditional adulthood for a young Black woman; she gets married, has kids, and her primary responsibility becomes taking care of her family.

Sula grew up to be a version of her mother and grandmother, and while she expected Nel to maintain the personality of their youth, Nel ultimately grew up to be just like her mother as well. But what did Sula expect after she left Nel for 10 years? Sula appeared to be a significant influence in Nel’s life growing up. When Sula left, Nel didn’t have her to take after anymore.

One area of the story that I didn’t fully understand was Shadrack’s role. There is specific significance between Sula and Shadrack’s meeting, but I didn’t quite catch on to it. This was one part of the story that I was expecting to become more clear in the end, but I was still left with questions about the meaning behind their encounter, and Shadrack’s role in general.

For this and other reasons, this is a book that you don’t read just once. It will probably take me reading it a few more times to fully grasp all the implicit messages within this story. I love the way Morrison keeps you dangling; she’ll drop a bomb on you and make you wait a while until she explains. She really takes her time to expand the background and give you detailed context, before she gets into the meat of the story, which she is more concise with. This was her style in The Bluest Eye as well; I imagine this the style she maintains throughout all her books.

As I’m drafting this review, I’m finishing up a conversation with my mom, where she said growing up, reading Toni Morrison wasn’t like any of the other authors she’d read. Morrison makes you think, maybe a little too much for someone who just wants an easy read. My mom described having to sit with one section and really process it, before moving on to the next. This is the brilliant intricacy of Morrison’s work. This is a short book, but it isn’t a quick read.

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