Sula By Toni Morrison

Sula By Toni Morrison Summary, Themes, Characters, and Analysis

Sula By Toni Morrison
Sula By Toni Morrison


         Sula is Tony Morrison’s second novel which deals with the life experiences of two African American friends, Sula and Nel, from their childhood to Sula’s death. It is the story of a small black community in Ohio, which takes place after World War 1. By depicting the lives of Sula and Nel, the author describes racial and gender relationships in postwar segregated America of the 20th century. Morrison began writing Sula in 1969 and first published it in 1973.

            The book addresses issues of racism, bigotry, and suppression of African Americans, it depicts the despair people feel when they can’t get decent jobs. For example, Eva, One of the characters of the novel cuts off her legs to get money to raise her family. Some people had to grovel to whites simply to get by, as Helene does on a train heading through the South. However, others fought back, as Sula does when she threatens some white boys who are harassing her.

            The book was nominated for a National Book Award in 1947.

About Toni Morrison

         Chole Anthony Wofford Morrison, known as Toni Morrison was an American novelist. Her first novel The Bluest Eye was published in 1978. She was born in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. She studied English at Howard University. She was the author of 11 novels as well as children’s books and essay collections. Among them were celebrated works like Song Of Soloman, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, and Beloved which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She was the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1933.

Character Analysis Of Sula Novel


            Founder of National Suicide Day, Shardrak is a veteran of War.


          The daughter of Hannah Peace and granddaughter of Eva Peace. She is a close childhood friend of Net Weight. Suja has a birthmark on her eyelid.

Nel Wright

          Nel is the daughter of Wiley and Helene Wright. She was friends with Sula in childhood. After graduation from school, Nel marries Jude Greene.

Helen Wright

            Helen is taken away from her birth mother Rochelle a Creole prostitute, by her grandmother Cecil Sabat. She marries Wiley Wright and gives birth to daughter Nel after 9 years of marriage.

Wiley Wright

          Wiley Wright is the great-nephew of Cecile Sabat. He is also Helene Sabat’s husband and Nel’s father. Wiley spends a lot of time away from home as a chef at a shipping company called the First Lakes Line.

Cecile Sabat

          Cecile is the great-aunt of Wiley and the Grandmother of Helen. She raises Helene in a religious way.

Hannah Peace

          Hannah is Sula’s mother and Eva’s eldest child. Hannah is known at the bottom for sleeping with many men, married or unmarried. She dies in a tragic fire accident. 

Eva Peace

            Eva is the mother of three – Hannah, Pearl, and Ralph. She mysteriously loses one of her legs after she is left by her husband BoyBoy.

Pearl Pece

          Eva’s youngest daughter Pearl is the only daughter of Eva’s children who moves away from Medallion permanently. Pearl moves to flint Michigan at age 14 with her husband.

The Suggs

          Mr. and Mrs. Suggs are neighbors of the Peace family. They assist Eva after she is abandoned by BoyBoy.


          BoyBoy was Eva’s womanizing and abusive husband. He abandons Eva and the children without money or food.


          Rochelle is Helene’s Creole-speaking mother from New Orleans. She is a former prostitute and smells like gardenias.

Jude Greene

          Jude marries Nel at 20 years of age. He is a waiter. Jude abandons Nel and his children.


          Rekus is Sula’s further. He dies when she is three years old.

The Deweys, Tar Baby, Henri Martin, Ajax, Pasty and Valentine, Chicken Litte, and Teapot.

Theme Of the Novel

          There are several themes in Toni Morrison’s novel Sula including – Friendship, Racism, Love, Sex, Motherhood, and Death.


         Nel and Sula’s friendship is the central theme of Sula. Nel and Sula spend all of their time together, playing by the rivers, fighting off bullies, and weathering tragedies. When Sula accidentally drowns Chicken Little in the water Nel confronts her, insisting that it isn’t her fault.

            When Sula returns as a young woman after 10 years away, Nel accepts her immediately and the two friends laugh in Nel’s kitchen as if they had never been apart. However, their meeting would soon turn from sweet to sour. Friendship is shattered by Jude’s infidelity with Sula and this is one wrong that Nel cannot forgive. After three years Nel decides to visit Sula after she falls ill. When Sula dies, at first Nel is not sure how she feels. Much later, Nel cries for the death of Sula. Sula and Nel’s friendship has gone togetherness, betrayal, and then forgiveness.


          The Racism experienced by the people of Bottom is pervasive and absolutely central to everything that occurs in the story. Early in the story, the two young girls are harassed by a group of white bullies Nel realizes this will be an unavoidable part of her life. But Sula decides enough is enough. As a young, powerless black girl, the only way she can retaliate is to scare them.

Later in the novel, according to the people of the Bottom, the most intolerable act Sula commits is sleeping with white men. Morrison here wants readers to know that because white people were viewed as the devil, any interaction Sula has with white men on a sexual level is also perceived as thoroughly evil.

            By the end of the novel in 1965. Nel notes that black people have moved from the Bottom and are now living in Medallion, Some even work at cash registers handling money, an unthinkable situation when she was a child. Racism hasn’t left, though segregation is loosening a bit, attitudes are just the same in most cases, and economic prosperity is still reserved only for white.


          One of the main themes revealed in The Sula by Toni Morrison is Love. The main characters revealing their of Love are Sula and Nel, who have been dependent on each other ever since the beginning of their relationship. Sul and Nel, two friends have starkly contrasting ideas, even then they love one another as friends, but they were reluctant to express their feelings due to their inability to recognize their emotional bonding.


          In the novel, Nel and Sula are twelve years old when they start waking past the men and they are experiencing the first stage of sexual awakening. They know they do not like the stares and Comment they get. Nel and Jude have just gotten married and they can’t wait to have sex. This scene represent a more traditional view of sex. Sula and Nel view sex differently. Nel feels that once Sula has slept with Jude, he’s no longer hers, he’s gone from her life together. But Sula doesn’t see it that way. Sula has slept with many men.


          The novel describes the various stress and sacrifice of motherhood and offers a varied examples of Motherhood. Rochelle, Helene and Nel, Sula and Hannah, and Nel and Helene all experienced their moments where things got tense Rochelle and Helene always had tense moments because Helene does not like the fact that Rochelle is Care free prostitute. Things got tense between Hannah and Sula when Sula hears that her mother does not like her but she claims that she loves her. Just as Cecile raises Helene in a disciplined and strict home, so too does Helene raise her own daughter, Nel, Stifling her imagination.


          In her novel Sula, Toni Morrison addresses many different themes. However, one of the themes that really grabbed my attention was the theme of death. Each character in this novel has a different way of coping with or accepting death emotionally. The first death in the book is witnessed by Shadrack on the battlefield during World War 1. Shadrack sees a soldier having his head blown off during battle and running without mostly affected by this soldier’s control and his fear of death, Shadrack creates a holiday called National Suicide Day on January 3, 1920.

            On 3 January 1942, Shadrack decides to celebrate National Suicide Day one more time. While he is marching through town, people start to join him to celebrate this day, but at the end of the road, the town’s people start to smash and destroy the tunnel. During all his chaos, the tunnel collapse and kills everyone who is behind Shadrack.

            Another important death in this novel is accidental. Sula was playing with Chicken Little when he lost his grip and landed in the river and drowned. Chicken Little death leaves a permanent impact on Nel and Sula’s lives.

Analysis Of The Novel

          Sula opens with a description of “The Bottom” the African American section of a town called Medallion in Ohio. In the first section of the novel, the origin story of the Bottom is revealed as well as how it got its name. A white farmer promised freedom and a piece of Bottomland to his slave if he would perform some difficult chores for him. Upon completion, the farmer regrets his end of the bargain. He did not want to give up the land. He gave the hilly land, convincing the slave the land was worthwhile by claiming that because it was hilly, it was closer to heaven.

            The bottom is a black community in Ohio, situated in the hills above the mostly white, wealthier community of Medallion. In the 1910s there is a man living in the Bottom named Shadrack. In 1917 he goes off to fight in world war 1. He witnesses great violence in Europe and returns to Bottom a broken man suffering from a shell shack. Shadrack then proposes a holiday for the people of Bottom National Suicide Day. On this holiday, people who don’t want to continue living with the fear of death are invited to bill themselves.

            Another resident of the Bottom is Helene Wright. She is the daughter of a prostitute but was raised by her grandmother in a strict environment. Helene marries Wiley Wright and moves to Bottom. They had a daughter named Nel. She raised her daughter as a respectable woman. When Nel is a young girl, Helene takes her back to New Orleans to visit her grandmother Cecile. On the train, a white train conductor harasses Helene Nel and Helene arrives too late Cecile is already dead. They meet Rochelle, Helene’s mother, who is a prostitute and shows no affection and concern for Helene or Nel.

            Another resident of the Bottom is Sula Peace, a girl with a strange birthmark, shaped as a stemmed rose on her face. Sula is raised by her grandmother. Eva Peace and her mother Hannah Pearl. Eva was married to a man named BoyBoy, who left her after she’d given birth to three children – Hannah Pearl, and Plum. Eva devoted herself to raising her children.

She cut off her leg in order to collect the insurance money. Eva’s youngest child plum, went off to fight in World War 1 and when he returned home, he become addicted to drugs. Eva doused Plum with Kerosene, while he was sleeping and set him on fire, burning him alive, Hannah Eva’s eldest daughter sensed that Eva was responsible for Plum’s death.

            Sula and Nel are twelve years old and have become good friends. Sula protects Nel from bullies in the city. One day Sula and Nel go down to the Ohio River where they find Chicken Little, a young boy. Sula dares Chicken Little to climb a high tree. Suddenly Chicken Little flies into the river. Terrified that they have killed a chicken Little Sula and Nel run for help and to see if anyone witnessed the accident.

The nearest house is a shack that belongs to Shadrack. Sula thinks that he did witness the accident. Sula and Nel run out. During these years Hannah Pearl is burned alive, for reasons that nobody can understand. When Nel turns 17, she marries local boy Jude Greene and has three children with him. During his time Sula goes to college and travels to the American cities looking for love but only ever finding men who want to sleep with her.

            Sula returns to Medallion and reunites with her old friend Nel. When Sula greets Jude, Jude is immediately fascinated by her shortly thereafter Jude begins an affair with Sula. One afternoon, Nel comes home to find Jude and Sula in bed. Jude leaves Nel and his Children to be with Sula. After Sula discards him, he buys a bus ticket to Detroit and is never again seen. Meanwhile, Sula starts a romance with Ajax, a local man.

            Several years later Sula falls ill and Nel visits her. Unable to get a clear answer from Sula about why she slept with her husband, Nel leaves her friend and never sees her again. Sula dies shortly thereafter.

            After Sula’s death, a frost comes to the Bottom, followed by a wave of disease. In January 1941, Shadrack walks through the streets, celebrating his annual National Suicide Day. Dozen of people walk behind him, yelling and cheering for National Suicide Day. Disgusted with the hypocrisy of white businessmen, the people of the Bottom hurl stones at the road. Suddenly, a piece of the Cliff breaks off, and dozens of people fall to their deaths.

            In the end, Nel is a middle-aged woman. She goes to visit Eva Peace. Eva asks Nel why she killed Chicken Little. Nel shocked, insists that it was Sula, not she, who killed the boy. Nel realizes that she’s missed Sula all these years. She cries out for her old friend, but no one can hear her.


         Thus, the Novel Toni Morrison‘s “Sula” shows us the harsh realities of poverty, race, and class. Further, this story is mostly about female friendship among African American women. Although Sula was written over a decade ago, many of its themes and settings such as poverty, class, violence, and fear as well as social, racial, and religious status still surround African American Society.

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