Toni Morrison's Sula is a book about Sula, the heroine, her family and neighbors, and the small town of Bottom, where she lives. Although the book is named after Sula, one of the main characters, it is also about the whole community of Bottom, as each person represents a societal figure or symbolization of life at the time. Sula, written in 1973, and set around that time, is full of powerful themes, much like all of Toni Morrison's works are; themes that are deep, almost always disturbing, and with a touch of supernatural elements.
Sula is is a free-spirited girl that comes from a family of free-spirited individuals who defy societal conventions and think little of how or if their actions affect others around them. As a pre-teen, Sula befriends Nel, whose character and background is as different from hers as oil is from water; Nel's family is conventional, conservative, and does not approve of Nel's relationship with Sula. Both young girls become 'one halves of a whole' as their friendship grows and blossoms. However, an incident occurs that brings a wedge to their friendship. One day, Sula and Nel are playing with a neighbor, a child named Chicken Little, and as Sula is swinging him around with both hands, he slips from her grip and flies into the river, where he sadly drowns. The two children decide then not to tell anyone about what happened. When the white authorities show up, they begin to ponder on whether to have to send the corpse to the dead boy's parents, or just leave him there in the river to rot, since he was black and unimportant. This event changes the lives of the children, perhaps not at first, as they both choose to not think about it since it 'really wasn't their fault'. Over the years however, it comes to affect both of them and the decisions and actions they make, albeit unconsciously.
This article could go on and on to narrate the breathtaking events that eventually follow in this book, but I won't say more, other than the fact that, although it is definitely not a book for the faint-hearted, it is a most powerful literary work that has ever been written. Sula, the main character and heroine, is so flawed and so unlike normal (innocent and unassuming) heroines, yet she is the perfect heroine for literature. She is complex, unorthodox, outspoken, and -might I mention again- majorly flawed. She doesn't care about what anyone thinks of her or her actions; she is envied and detested by women, detested by men but irresistible to them at the same time. She is a free spirit who is deeply disturbed partly from her upbringing, partly from the incident with Chicken Little, and partly from societal issues that were rampant during the time.
The heavy theme of racism is prevalent in this work, as Morrison shows light on how life as a Black person was at the time and the discrimination that was never hidden but was everywhere: in the streets, on the bus, and even with the very name of the town, which was named Bottom, which referenced where 'whites' believed the 'blacks' belonged. Another theme that was heavy all over the novel was that of love. Morrison, I believe, is trying to show us that there are other sides to love. Love isn't all cute or about deeply happy or joyous feelings. Love is portrayed here as a burden, a feeling that cannot be helped or resisted even if you tried. Love isn't always pure or good, nor does it conform to any moral laws or views; it can be sickening, twisted, and lead us to do disturbing things. An example (among a few) of this is shown when Sula's grandmother, Eva, kills her son, Plum, to 'save' him from his post traumatic disorder (an after-effect of war trauma), which always left him miserable, drunk and useless.
If you're an avid lit lover with a love for the really deep stuff, and your heart is strong, i.e. you don't mind sad scenes that have deeper layers of truth than what the mere (amateur reader) eyes can see, then you should definitely read this. Toni Morrison always has this way of engaging her readers, that even when you think you can't bear to read on, nothing can stop you from turning to the next page, and the next and the next. She is a true lit warrior, is Morrison!
**I borrowed this book from my public library for my reading pleasure and for the purpose of this review.