Morrison's novel is...vital and rich.... Her extravagantly beautiful, doomed characters are locked in a world where hope for the future is a foreign commodity, yet they are enormously, achingly alive. And this book about them—and about how their beauty is drained back and frozen—is a howl of love and rage, playful and funny as well as hard and bitter.... Toni Morrison is someone who really knows how to clank a sentence...and her dialogue is so compressed and life-like that it sizzles. Morrison's skill at characterization is such that, by the end, it's as if an enormous but too severely framed landscape has been unrolled and inhabited by people who seem almost mythologically strong and familiar...they have a heroic quality, and it's hard to believe we haven't known them forever.
Sara Blackburn - New York Times
Sula and Nel grow up through this novel in a small town called The Bottom, in Medallion, Ohio and in doing so got through different issues, situations, and strains, because of race, socioeconomic status, traditions, sexual orientation and intercourse. Through these issues human emotions are shown and just how different people can think.
Nel Wright is an example of the black bourgeoisie, structured in traditional roles and conventional life, and Sula lives in stucturelessness and her mother and grandmother are viewed eccentric and loose. The girls come from opposites, but come together, in which is like two halves making a whole.
Sula’s breakthrough about life occurs when she over hears her mother say that she doesn’t like Sula although she loves her. The reader learns that a mother will always love a child but doesn’t have to like them showing the difference between liking and loving. This also shows the novels exploration of human emotions. After hearing this Sula is changed forever, realizing you can only live for yourself.
The girls grow into adulthood. Nel stayed in their hometown and went into a conventional life that she grew up in; she got married, had kids, and was a housewife. Sula left for 10 years, went to college and traveled the country having affairs with many men.
The two reunite after Sula’s return to The Bottom. She caused trouble for the whole town, by being a threat to their convention and traditional ways of life. Woman changed and became more understanding of their husbands, working hard to keep them home so that they don’t fall into Sula’s bed. They treated children better and each other better. Sula’s return although some viewed as almost evil, brought good fortune to The Bottom, because the people change for the better.
Sula then commits the ultimate betrayal to Nel. It is through this betrayal and Sula’s demise that it is shown that Sula is not good or evil, she is merely indifferent to all. The events of her life leading up to her death such as her mothers comment has left Sula with any way of understanding human emotion or ability to have emotions. Without Sula the town then falls apart without the influence of her "evil" helping them to be better.
This novel causes the reader to look at "good" and "evil" and see that the good can be evil and the evil can be good. In the end Nel realizes that in some ways she is like Sula and that their relationship was even more important then the betrayal that had occurred in the Novel.
Daniel Dawkins - African-American Fiction
(Audio version.) Hearing an author read her own work creates a special ambiance. To hear Morrison read a short, unabridged novel published 24 years ago, to hear in her voice how much she still values the writing, well, who could ask for more? The only drawback is that Morrison, while very much in tune with her characters, often lets her voice drop to a whisper, making these tapes difficult to listen to while driving and almost impossible on a highway with the window open. On the page, Sula is one of her more clearly defined novels—the friendship and later hatred that envelopes the lives of two black women from "the bottom"—but the imagistic nature of the writing means listeners may have to replay passages if they want to follow the action. A small price to pay for a masterpiece. —Rochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, NYC
Told from the points of view of many characters, Sula provides a multifaceted portrait of a community and, within it, a friendship. Morrison confronts superstition, the role of women in black society, the ravages of war, legacy, and the gray areas of morality and perception that don't make any of the preceding easy to define. Students studying this work might want to concentrate on characterization (Sula's mother Hannah and her grandmother Eva are as complex as Sula and Nel) and the rhythm of Morrison's prose, especially in the first-person sections. Morrison has proven through her body of work that she is one of America's premier novelists, a writer who can portray multiple levels of even the simplest plot. Since she has written so few novels (eight at this writing), readers should easily be able to familiarize themselves with all her books. For those who have not read Morrison, I recommend starting with this book or Song of Solomon since the others are either more demanding or, in the case of The Bluest Eye, not as complex.
Debbie Lee Wesselman - MostlyFiction.com
The novel...explores notions of good and evil through the friendship of two childhood friends who have witness the accidental death of a little boy. Nel admits to herself that she had blamed his death entirely on Sula and set herself up as the “good” half of the relationship. In this regard, Sula is a novel about ambiguity. It questions and examines the terms “good” and “evil,” often demonstrating that the two often resemble one another.
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