?Sula? By Toni Morrison Essay, Research Paper
Inherent to human nature and their morals, are dualities, such as good and bad, in a character which produces all the emotions, experiences, and forces that motivates an individual to overcome the struggles of life. One, without the other, will not suffice in its existence. Consequently, only the combination of both characteristics will succeed in constructing a solid identity. Such is the case in the novel “Sula”, by Toni Morrison. Throughout the progression of the plot, Nel and Sula complements each other in such a way that allows them to form a single functional unit. Therefore, only with Sula’s aide, is Nel able to surpass the restrictions that her mother places on her. Contrary to the statement that “Sula was the worst thing that ever happened to Nel,” Sula does not corrupt Nel, but rather, assists her in gaining the freedom that she craves. As Nel is desperately trying to fulfill the desire of being her true self, Sula is searching for “something else to be” (52). In the process of their coinciding pursuits, Nel and Sula discovers that they provide for each other, the missing fractions of their identity.
Sula and Nel, by themselves, appear to be polar opposites of one another. Whereas Nel is preserved and confined, the daring Sula displays a wild array of spontaneous action and thought. Under Hannah’s discipline, Nel is raised to be “obedient and polite”, with no freedom for personal expression. So much that, “any enthusiasms that little Nel showed were calmed by the mother until she drove her daughter’s imagination underground” (18). Sula, on the other hand, existed in the unrestrained essence of her turbulent home. In it, she learns “that sex was pleasant and frequent, but otherwise unremarkable” (44). While Sula is searching for the sense and morality that being “wedge[ed] into a household of throbbing disorder and constant awry” (52) did not provide for her, Nel is desperately trying to escape the confines of “the high silence of her mother’s incredibly orderly house” (51). So, it was with these two qualities that the two girls are drawn towards each other. Within them, one found what the other lack. As a result, each girl’s flaw is transformed into her advantage.
The union between Nel and Sula brings comfort and strengthen to each of their weaknesses. Because they are able to console one another, with Sula’s presence, Nel no longer “regarded the oppressive neatness of her home with dread” (29). In other words, Sula’s unique interest for Nel’s disciplined world enables her to accept and utilize the regulation that is used to bind her. Similarly, Nel’s appreciation for “Sula’s woolly house, where a pot of something was always cooking on the stove; where the mother, Hannah, never scolded or gave directions” (29), leads Sula to relish in the satisfaction that someone else shares her experiences. Therefore, the concretion of their friendship springs from the fact that “they found relief in each other’s personalities” (53); or so to say, they cure each other’s loneliness, a “loneliness [that] was so profound it intoxicated them and sent them stumbling into Technicolored visions” (51). Together, they are able to withstand obstacles neither would be able to face alone. In addition, their newfound power allows them to explore the freedom of expression and thought. As a consequence, through the support of Sula, Nel is able to achieve the courage to discard the repulsive clothespin her mother makes her use to “pull her nose” (55) and “slid the clothespin under the blanket as soon as she got in the bed” (55). Likewise, Nel also helps out Sula by comforting her in her times of need. Based on the fact that “Sula, like always, was incapable of making any but the most trivial decisions” (101), Nel seems to be frequently consoling her and giving her the best advise she can offer. Because of all the obstacles they have gone through together, Nel and Sula shares with each other what they can not with anyone else. So thus, “their meeting was fortunate, for it let them use each other to grow on” (52). In this fashion, they allow one another the freedom to be whoever they wanted to be, especially through Sula’s role in helping Nel overpower the oppressiveness of her mother’s grasp. On the whole, Nel’s “parents had succeeded in rubbing down to a dull glow any sparkle or splutter she had. Only with Sula did that quality have free reign” (83). Nel, in turn, provides guidance for Sula, as Sula remarks, “whenever I was scared before, you knew just what to do” (101). Through the process of their friendship, they both proceed in the same direction. Since Nel and Sula accompany each other so well, undoubtedly, they would come to seek after a common goal, to have a unique identity.
Each of the girls has a vision of what she wants to be, after they discover what they want is more than what is being offered to them. Nel is the first to experience her revelation; after her trip to New Orleans, Nel has a realization of her individuality. Indeed, “she had gone on a real trip, and now she was different” (28). Her change results in her desire for a personal belonging. As Nel transcends her idea farther, she exclaims, “‘I’m me. I’m not their daughter. I’m not Nel. I’m me. Me’” (28). Sula, incidentally, is also after the same dream, to be her own person. Concurrently, they both search for an identity to reflect themselves, and not only what was expected of them. “Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had set about creating something else to be” (52). In the comfort of each other’s friendship, the blending of their personalities produces one solid identity. That “something else to be”, which motivates their passion, resolves to be the identity they had constructed simultaneously. Their friendship is so intense that it unites the two into one single unit; so much that, “they themselves had difficulty distinguishing one’s thoughts from the other’s” (83). As a result, the bond they share becomes so intoxicating that it still draws them together after years of separation and distraction. However, apart, they were anything, but the same.
During the ten years that separated Sula and Nel, after her wedding with Jude, Nel retorts into what she does not want to become. She adopts the character of her mother, settling in a conformed and ordered lifestyle, and even showing the same hated smile that her mother had expressed on the train [“then, for no earthly reason, at least no reason that anybody could understand, certainly no reason that Nel understood then or later, [her mother] smiled” (21)] to Jude and Sula. In accordance to the event, Nel explains, “and I did not know how to move my feet or fix my eyes or what. I just stood there seeing it and smiling” (105). The devastation of this incident tears Nel away from her lifelong friend. In her time apart from Sula, Nel becomes restricted by the notion of the “ideal”. Society, in the process, does not allow her to express who she really is, her true identity, in the face of who is “suppose” to be. According to Sula, “now Nel belonged to the town and all of its ways” (120). In this same sense, without Nel, Sula is no longer a complete self; she craves for “the other half of her equation” (121).
Sula also represents Nel’s own identity, that without one another, they both fall apart. Because of this need for each other, after Nel condemns Sula for sleeping with Jude, she feels a heavy sense of loss, which she cannot explain. At this point, Nel distinguishes herself from Sula by justifying her righteous morals in comparison to Sula’s indecent actions. Her grief is symbolized by “a ball of muddy strings, but without weight, fluffy but terrible in its malevolence” (109). Contraire to her belief, that her virtue is above Sula’s, Nel finally realizes Sula’s special role in her life and the gray ball shatters. “A soft ball of fur broke and scattered like dandelion spores in the breeze. ‘All that time, all that time, and I thought I was missing Jude’ . . . ‘We was girls together’ . . . ‘O Lord, Sula,’ she cried, ‘girl, girl, girlgirlgirl’” (174). Thus, Nel acknowledges her need for Sula and that they are not as different as she thought. In her account of “Chicken Little’s” death, she discovers her own hidden “evil” desires. Nel asks herself, “‘why didn’t I feel bad when it happened? How come it felt so good to see him fall?’” (170). In this instant, the lines of good and evil merge; in short, what is in Sula also appears in Nel and vice versa. Thus, Nel and Sula becomes one undistinguishable character. That fusing of their disposition constitutes their idea of friendship. Only through the continuance of their friendship, can their individualities be sustained. When apart, Nel and Sula blends into extremes that deter them from the path, which can strengthen them through life. Together, they are able to maintain their individuality, attaining a unity dependent upon their differences. Hence, the two girls, mutually, become the two spectrums of one another.
Nel and Sula represents the dual aspect of the characteristic of life, and thus, of morality. At first, Nel is considered to be “moral” and righteous, in contrast with Sula, who is impetuous and unlimited; but later, Nel discovers that those lines between right and wrong is not as clear. The ambiguity between the two concepts lies in the fact that morality can be interpreted in many distinct ways. When each of the girls are striving to live alone, they both have their own set of morals, each presented differently. But however, together, they were able to make use of their ideas to help each other out. Morrison attempts to show, through Nel and Sula, how the two extremes blend to form the perfect relationship, one that demonstrates the duality of human beings. Neither Nel nor Sula is complete without the other; they need each other for relief from their restrained conformities, in order to have a fulfilling existence. In that aspect, Sula and Nel both require the other’s polar personalities to form a healthy balance. They can not act independently of each other to surpass barriers, but rather, need to be as two parts interacting as one. Being versatile and capable of all sides of the spectrum, like the extremes of Nel and Sula, is the only way of survival. So therefore, the combination of the two characters is the perfect underlying understanding of both each other as a unit and their own individual personalities separately. The characters use each other’s strengths to project the needs of one another. On one hand, they did not want to see the problems in their own personalities, but at the same time; these realizations helped them to understand their own vices and virtues.