Sula Essay, Research Paper
Chaos often breeds life when order breeds habit.
In the real world, there are many good examples of chaos: disease, political unrest and family and community dysfunction to name a few. Disease can cause chaos because at any moment there could be an outbreak of some deadly disease for which there is no cure. This would cause terror and chaos. Political unrest is very unstable because people can revolt, throw over the government and create vast war. Family and community dysfunction is also unstable because if you have a tiny problem with one, a few, or a huge problem with many people, the outcome will be huge with many people involved and many people s lives in ruin. When the central character Sula Peace in Sula by Toni Morrison returns home to the Bottom after years of absence, her unconventional lifestyle disturbs the order of the community. The need for order, repression of life, and the opportunity for chaos are threaded throughout the novel in the characters of Shadrack, Nel, and the community. Is Sula s unconventional lifestyle enough to elevate the community to a state of chaos?
War is an act of chaos that is sometimes unavoidable. It happens usually when all other forms of resolving a conflict have been exhausted. This is because the horrors of war are permanent and devastating to those who live through its experience. This is the case of Shadrack who is a living example to his community what a chaotic event can do to a person. The horror of war annihilated the boundaries that once contained his perception of reality, as can be seen in his thinking that his hands are growing out of control. Slowly he directed one hand toward the cup and, just as he was about to spread his fingers, they began to grow in higglely-pigglely fashion like Jack s beanstalk all over the tray and the bed . Shadrack s character represents the terror of chaos. His struggle is to maintain order from a world he perceives to be chaotic and uncontrollable like his hands. He is unable to cope with the many choices and paths available in life so he responds to his fears by ordering his own existence. The neatness, the order startled her, but more surprising was the restfulness. Everything was so tiny, so common, so unthreatening. He initiates Suicide Day as his attempt to assemble his fear of death into a single day.
He knew the smell of death and
was terrified of it, for he could
not anticipate it. It was not death
or dying that frightened him, but
the unexpectedness of both. In
sorting it all out, he hit on the
notion that if one day a year were
devoted to it, everybody could get
it out of the way and the rest of the
year would be safe and free. In this
manner he instituted National
While Shadrack s character illustrates the terror of chaos and the need for order, Nel s illustrates the problems inherent when there is too much order present in one s life. She was raised in the same conventional way as her mother Helene. It was under this repressive order with strict religious conventions that eventually stifled her growth and personality. She left Medallion only once in her lifetime, and it was to be her only real experience of what the world had to offer outside of Medallion. In fact, it was the one time in her life she recognized herself as an individual, and dreamed of a different kind of life. I am me. I m not their daughter, I m not Nel, I m me. Me. Each time she said the word there was a gathering in her like power, like joy, like fear. However, this revelation wasn t enough to propel her to break free of the conventional boundaries in which she was raised. In a sense, Nel s life became a reflection of what the community grew to become, dull, stifled and lifeless.
She had looked at her children and knew
in her heart that that would be all. That
they were all she would know of love.
but it was a love that, like a pan of syrup
kept too long on the stove, had cooked
out, leaving only its odor and a hard,
sweet sludge, impossible to scrape off.
for the mouths of her children quickly
forgot the taste of her nipples, and years
ago they had begun to look past her face
into the nearest stretch of sky. In the
meantime the Bottom had collapsed.
It was sad, because the Bottom had
been a real place.
The opportunity for chaos plagued the community with the return of Sula after her prolonged absence. Quickly her actions got their attention and threatened to put the community in chaotic state. The community is horrified to learn that Sula has placed Eva in a nursing home, slept with Nel s husband Jude, and has had consensual affairs with white men.
When word got out about Eva being put
in Sunnydale, the people in the Bottom
shook their heads and said Sula was a
roach. Later, when they saw how she
took Jude, then ditched him for others,
and heard how he bought a bus ticket
to Detroit, they forgot about Hannah s
easy ways (on their own) and said she
was a bitch. But it was the men who
gave her the final label, who finger
printed her for all time. They were the
ones who said she was guilty of the
unforgivable thing the thing for which
there was no understanding, no excuse,
no compassion. They said Sula had slept
with white men.
Sula s actions raised more than an eyebrow or two in the community. However, her actions never materialized into chaos that posed any real threat to the social core of the community. Everyone was united against her and she was labeled evil and a pariah. She was pariah, then and knew it. Knew that they despised her and believed that they framed their hatred as disgust for the easy way she lay with men. On the contrary, her amoral conduct reinforced the need for order and influenced tighter control within the community. This allowed them to completely distance themselves from her. Women became better mothers and wives to their children and husbands.
Teapot s Mamma got a lot of
attention anyway and immersed
herself in a role she had shown
no inclination for motherhood.
So the women to justify their
own judgement, cherished their
men more, soothed the pride and
vanity Sula had bruised.
As we see in the character Shadrack, the affects due to chaos in its extreme can be destructive and long lasting. On the other hand, Nel s character and the community illustrate how mundane life can be when the main focus in life is order. Perhaps when there is a gentle mix of the two; there can be bliss.