Depiction of Community of Medallion in Morrison’s Sula
Community in the World of Sula
The novel Sula by Toni Morrison centers its focus on the community of Medallion, Ohio. Within this town located in the hills is a less wealthy and typically black population, this area is referred to as “The Bottom”. Even within The Bottom there is scrutiny and separation between groups of people due to lifestyle choices. With the strife involved between the townspeople it is clear to see that while there is the larger community of Medallion, it is further broken down into mini-communities by wealth, race and lifestyle. When using these identifying factors, the novel demands that we rethink the parameters in which we define our communities. By analyzing each of these traits we can gain a better sense of identity and belonging, and whether or not ostracizing those who don’t belong is valid for the health of the community as a whole.
Those who reside in the foothills of Medallion are generally white and wealthier than those in The Bottom. Eventually, the wealthier citizens of Medallion decided that they wanted to include the land of The Bottom as part of their community, but not the people residing on the land as explained in the text, “It is called the suburbs now, but when black people lived there it was called the Bottom (Morrison 9)”. This quote shows that being black, and identifying as a black person excludes a person from belonging to the overall community in the town of Medallion. Therefore, the culture of the neighborhood was regarded as not important, in fact “Generous funds have been allotted to level the stripped and faded buildings that clutter the road from Medallion up to the golf course (9)” to destroy any sign of those who did not belong to the wealthy white population. With the rich and vivid descriptions that Morrison uses to describe the neighborhood before deconstruction in the paragraphs following those quotes, she asks us to visualize ourselves within that community, and to think about the significance of race being a deciding factor in exclusion from the overall community of Medallion. The novel requires us to question whether Medallion benefitted more from a golf course than it did an active and thriving black neighborhood with its own history and culture.
“The Bottom” is a sub community of Medallion, not quite another town, but considered a neighborhood. It is almost exclusively black and poor. Even within the town people are out-casted. Those residing within Eva’s house are almost another sub community within the sub community of Medallion. There are the permanent residents of Eva’s family, and also boarders who come and go. The women in the household are known for being carefree and loose with their sexuality, which is frowned upon in the rest of the community. Eva has a steady stream of men who come to entertain her and Hannah enjoys the intimate company of the husbands in the neighborhood. Knowing the reputation the household has, Helene is initially cautious when her daughter Nel befriends Sula because “outside the house, where children giggled about underwear, the message was different (46)” in the Peace household. This is where even from a young age Sula learned “that sex was pleasant and frequent, but otherwise unremarkable (46)”. With this difference in philosophy and lifestyle, it may appear that the Peace family causes chaos within the black community. The opposite may be true though, the men of the neighborhood felt that ”she was unquestionably a kind and generous woman and that, coupled with her extraordinary beauty and funky elegance of manner, made them defend her and protect her from any vitriol that newcomers or their wives might spill(47).” While the women may have wanted to distance themselves from her and Eva, the men felt that she was such an essential part of their community that they would defend her place within it. This contrast requires us to rethink the place that the Peace household held in the neighborhood. Is it an entirely different community in that house, or is the community of The Bottom at least somewhat dependent on the house?
When Sula arrives again in Medallion after disappearing for 10 years, she is met with much criticism. Most already knew that her upbringing taught her to be sexually liberated, however, her rumored affairs with white men stirred much distaste from the community. The final strike is met when she begins a rendezvous with her childhood friend Nel’s husband. While The Bottom is ostracized from Medallion for racial reasons and the Peace household’s identity was separated due to sexual lifestyle, Sula finds herself not belonging to any of the community because of both racism and sexual identity. Her lack of belonging to the community is so extreme that she is not even welcome by Eva and the Peace household. While her mother was defended by the men, Sula was not. The men claim “The route from which there was no way back, the dirt that could not ever be washed away. They said that Sula slept with white men (105)” and she would be excluded from any mercy. She is not white therefore she does not belong to Medallion and her liberal view on sexual relationships excludes her from The Bottom. She could leave and find her place within another community, but while traveling she discovered “All those cities held the same people, working the same mouths, sweating the same sweat (105)”. With this in mind, where does a woman like Sula belong? Morrison forces us to reexamine the parameters in which we choose to include or exclude someone or something into our society. In our modern society it would seem silly to completely banish a woman for affairs with a white man, but could we say the same about having an affair with the man married to your best friend? Especially when we consider that Sula brings the community closer together. When she died, that unity was also broken.
The novel demonstrates that our communities and who we accept to belong to them are strictly defined by the traits of those held within the community. In Sula the topics of racism and lifestyle were determining factors for who was involved and who was not. Despite the intention for these parameters to exclude people who may harm the community, it can be seen through the progression of the novel that these exclusions actually harmed the communities more than they helped. By building a golf course Medallion lost the lively culture of a black neighborhood in the hills, by excluding the Peace household the women of The Bottom lost out on the friendship of the generous and kind Peace family, and with the death of the infamous Sula the ties that held their community together dissolved. With this in mind, perhaps we can one day coexist as one vibrant community. The community of humanity.
The Dialectic of Individuality & Community in Toni Morrison’s Sula
Birthmark as a symbol of identity: The dialectic of individuality & community in Toni Morrison’s Sula
Toni Morrison’s fiction occupies a very important role in Afro-American literary canon. Like many other Afro-American writers, her novels also depict the themes of identity, racism, freedom, slavery, gender bias etc . . . Writers follow different strategies to highlight their themes in their works. The art of using various techniques in the fiction makes a writer popular and attract the attention of many scholars to search for the hidden meaning of these techniques in the text.
Morrison is such a prolific writer to use several symbols in her novels to reveal the sufferings of black people in general and black women in particular. Every symbol in her novels can be connected to the theme of identity. Black women face racial and gender oppression not only in White community but also in their own Black community. Morrison highlights the role of black community rather than self, for the demarcation of black women’s identity.
Morrison’s Sula is an eponymous novel. The main character of this novel, Sula Peace is strong and an independent character. But her strength, individuality and free nature is misunderstood by the community. The step by step downfall of Sula’s identity due to community’s misperception is referred by many symbols in the novel. One of such symbols is birthmark on Sula’s eye. Henderson points that
Sula’s birthmark, potentially a sign of an individual self, however fragmented and multiple, is rather an indication of relationship, being one of a series of marks, brands, or emblems that Morrison employs in most of her novels, not to distinguish individuals, but (as blackness itself is a mark) to symbolize their participation in a greater entity, whether that is community or race or both. ( ).
If Sula’s birthmark is considered a physical feature, then it is only a physical distinguishing mark from other characters and does not signify any meaning. When this birthmark is viewed through other character’s perception, it suggests many meanings and one can understand the society’s role for the downfall of Sula’s individuality.
Shadrack, a war veteran who invented Suicide’s Day in black community, views Sula’s birthmark as “tadpole”. As he is able to live according to his own defined rules, he is able to see Sula’s independent nature. Shadrack’s perception is rightly quoted by Henderson that “… tadpole represents potential transformation and rebirth”( ). Shadrack is the only person in the novel, who identifies Sula’s radical power and feels that Sula has great potential to live independently and can get an identity which is a hard task for black women in the community.
What Shadrack thinks about Sula is right; she frames her own rules for her life and lives according to them. She never follows community’s standard rules for women like staying in the community, marrying and having children. Due to this, community starts viewing her differently by giving different meanings for her birthmark.
Sula’s birthmark seems to be a “stemmed rose” to her mother Hannah Peace. Rose is most frequently used symbol in most of the Morrison’s contemporary women’s writings. According to Henderson opinion rose “is a symbol that has been appropriated by black women writers from Frances Harper, who uses it as a symbol of romantic love, to Alice walker, who associates it with sexual love”.
If only the rose symbol is taken, its referential meaning can be understood as per Henderson’s opinion. But Morrison’s use of rose along with stem extends its meaning. Sula sleeps with many men including white men. Community has the standard notion of understanding the relation between white men and black women is that “… all unions between white men and black women be rape; for a black woman to be willing was literally unthinkable”. ( ) But Sula develops an unusual relation with white men.
If rose signifies Sula’s sexual love, the stem indicates her eccentric nature. Rose’s stem has thorns. Thorn will prick, if it is touched. Sula’s strange behavior may perforate the standards of black community. As soon as the community knows about Sula’s free movement with white men, community fears about its values and starts avoiding her.
Sula’s birthmark is viewed by Jude (Nel’s husband and Nel is Sula’s best friend) as “rattle snake” ( ). Wang Lei in his, “The Uncanny objet a in Toni Morrison Fiction” relates this symbol “… to the serpent which inveigles Eve out of the Garden of Eden”(206). According to Wang Lei’s opinion Sula entices Jude to leave his wife Nel. Sula never plays any tricks with Jude. She does not have any special feelings towards Jude. Sula says about her relationship with Jude that “I just fucked him” ( ). This clearly indicates that she freely chooses any men for sex. Free choices of men by black women are atypical characteristic trait in black community. They feel that if they talk with Sula they may be tempted like Eve and may loose their identity in the community. Everyone becomes dumb, never interacts with Sula.
Sula’s isolated life evidences the society that she is different from them and that’s why she has “evil birthmark”( ). Christopher Okonkwo notes, “In Sula’s over reaching eccentricity-for which the Bottom designates her evil …” ( ). This remark is aptly given by Christopher. Sula looses her identity as women and gets the identity of evil. Society takes some measures to avoid the effects of evil. “. . . they laid broomsticks across their doors at night and sprinkled salt on porch steps” ( ). Society becomes very cautious to overcome the effects of evil.
Sula never acknowledges all these things and ignores about all in the society. This further makes society to watch her closely and starts gossiping more and more about Sula. A series of common actions; Teapot’s sudden fall on the ground, Mr.Finley’s death, Sula’s only one time sexual relation with men, are seriously observed by the society. It blames Sula for all these actions and gets to a conclusion that her birthmark “ … was not a stemmed rose, or a snake, it was Hannah’s ashes marking her from the very beginning” ( ). Henderson says that “ … the community closes ranks against one who transgresses the boundaries prescribed for women” ( ). As per Henderson’s opinion, Sula’s identity came to an end. Ash comes after burning. Society burns Sula’s identity with its over critical attitude.
Morrison uses birthmark symbol to highlight the identity of an individual, at the same time she also uses this to express the society’s role in framing one’s identity. Identity can not be formed individually; society also plays a major role in framing one’s identity. Sula’s self identity fails to get recognition from the society. As Bell Hooks says that due to her free nature Sula “… seems powerless to assert agency in a world that has no interest in radical black female subjectivity, one that seeks to repress, contain and annihilate it”. (Bell Hooks 48). Sula is finally annihilated because of society’s negligence.
Winter and Warmth in Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness
In Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, protagonists Estraven and Genly Ai embark on a bleak journey across the Gobrin Glacier only to discover that they will fail without the balance of light and shadows. In response to Estraven falling into a crevasse neither character could see, Genly Ai draws a yin-yang sign and says to him, “light is the left hand of darkness…how did it go? Light, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, Therem. Both and one” (Le Guin, 267). Although their journey depends on the combination of darkness and light in order to see on the ice, the novel makes use of each of the contradictions he mentions and their codependence on one another. The contradiction of coldness and warmth appears almost instantly since the planet Genly Ai visits, Gethen, is just steps away from being a frozen wasteland. However, the weather in Gethen and it’s opposing warmth between characters prove significant beyond the story’s setting. Indeed, there is much significance to the ideas of warmth and coolness to the plot beyond temperature and setting in The Left Hand of Darkness.
Warmth has a wide range of meanings in literature, and its meaning changes throughout The Left Hand of Darkness as the plot develops. When he arrives in Gethen, Genly Ai participates in a celebratory parade only to find himself uncomfortable and hot. Moments later, Genly Ai notices his instant distrust for Prime Minister Estraven, saying “I don’t trust Estraven, whose motives are forever obscure; I don’t like him; yet I feel and respond to his authority as surely as I do to the warmth of the sun” (Le Guin, 7). This situation causes the reader to associate heat with the discomfort of a character, which proves true throughout the rest of the novel. However, for Genly Ai, this discomfort becomes a symbol of the value of certain relationships. For instance, throughout their journey, Estraven prepares to go into kemmer, the state of sexual readiness or being “in heat.” Just prior to Estraven mentioning this, Genly Ai repeatedly mentions the “heart of warmth” that surrounds them when they are together (241). He also discusses how Estraven used the warmth of his hands and his breath to thaw Genly Ai’s frozen eye. Then, after warmth is mentioned several times, Estraven admits to Genly Ai that he has been avoiding him since he is in kemmer, and they agree it is best that they do not have sex. When Genly Ai explains that their love is based on difference and that having sex would only cause them to be alienated for their differences, he is reiterating the fact that the discomfort he would find in feeling Estraven’s intimate “warmth” is a sign of how much he values their relationship. The dualism of warmth and coolness deepens the relationships between characters and therefore the plot since it relies on the reader’s own digging. Although the reader must seek out warmth and its significance to the novel, iciness and viciousness are everywhere.
After their uncomfortable conversation by the fireplace and Genly Ai’s revelation that he has been cold since he arrived, Estraven asks Genly Ai what the Ekumen, a United Nations-type organization, calls Gethen, to which Genly Ai replies “Winter” (Le Guin, 20). At this point, the discomfort does not belong to the characters, but to the reader: the Genly Ai and the Gethenians are skeptical of each other, but Estraven’s revelation that he has fallen out of favor with the king and cannot help Genly Ai makes the reader fear what is in store for them. After this point, both Genly Ai and Estraven are dealing with a bitter government and the bitter cold. Although the warmest parts of their journey are uncomfortable, the coldest parts are the most uncomfortable; for instance, when Genly Ai is at the Kundershaden Prison, the prisoners huddle together to protect themselves not only from the cold, but also from the guards. While the uncomfortable heat proves to have a deeper meaning and to not be completely good or bad, coldness fails to do this––the cruel weather and the cruel government force Genly Ai and the Gethenians to seek warmth within each other, forging relationships.
This reading of the novel is similar to that of David Lake in his essay “Le Guin’s Twofold Vision: Contrary Image-Sets in The Left Hand of Darkness.” An early response to Le Guin’s novel, this essay focuses on the novel’s symbols of dualism, which Lake refers to as the “cold team” and the “warm team.” The cold team, which consists of qualities such as coldness, lightness, whiteness, and iciness, is known for “rationalism, certain knowledge, tyranny, isolation, betrayal, death” (Lake, 156). The warm team, meanwhile, consists of darkness, redness, earth, and blood, and is known for “intuition, ignorance, freedom, relationship, fidelity, life” (156). Lake argues that it is important to note that neither group is riddled with inherently positive or negative qualities, but instead, they are reflections of one another––however, there is little evidence to support any positivity associated with the cold. Lake takes this argument a step further, claiming that the city of Orgoreyn is portrayed as a member of the cold team and the city of Karhide a member of the warm team. At a glance, Orgoreyn seems much more friendly and welcoming than Karhide, but a closer examination reveals that the valuable discomfort in Karhide is merely masked by its rigid social structure and the cruelty in Orgoreyn is hidden by its false friendliness and claims of equality. The characters’ key qualities, such as discomfort in love, are revealed to the reader by being a part of the warm team or cool team, the dark team or light team, the awkward team or angry team, and the Karhide team or the Orgoreyn team.
Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is a novel composed of contradictions, and it relies heavily on their symbolism and the reader’s interpretation. As the title suggests, the novel is set in a realm of light and ice, the opposite of darkness, but the characters’ struggle to move between the two spheres brings the setting to life. As Genly Ai tells Estraven, life is reliant on contradictions––no matter the value of either side. Although warmth proves more valuable at certain times, the characters prove that they cannot survive without the balance of the two teams
Lake, David J. “Le Guin’s Twofold Vision: Contrary Image-Sets in ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ (Vision Contrastée Chez Le Guin: Les Oppositions d’Images Dans ‘La Main Gauche De La Nuit’).” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 8, no. 2, 1981, pp. 156–164.Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace, 1969. Print.
Essay on Nine Lives by Ursula K. Le Guin
Have students ever thought of what makes a short sci-fi/fantasy story so extradentary to read? “Nine Lives” by Ursula K. Le Guin “is a novelette that was first published in Playboy magazine in 1968.At the time of the story’s magazine publication, Playboy requested that she publish the work under her initials U. K. Le Guin to prevent male readers from becoming nervous about a female writer. The piece gained national attention after President Lyndon B. Johnson publically praised the work”(Cove), which to mention that it is a bizarre place that no one would have guessed was the greatest idea that overcome her journey to be an extradentary female writer till this day.
Nevertheless, Le Guin used setting as her most important elements because it immense effects on the plot and the characters it gives the mood throughout the story and it gives an idea on what the role of each characters are going to be which sets up how the story engages the reader to learn more about what is going to happen next. One way to see setting very important is when establishing how you want to start any short story. For instance, Nine Lives takes place on a remote planet named Libra and primarily involves two workers, Alvaro Guillen Martin and Owen Pugh, who are in charge of locating areas for mining.
Martin and Pugh send frequent reports back to Earth, which has almost been completely destroyed by wars and famine. Martin and Pugh receive help from ten clones, collectively named John Chow and distinguished through middle initials. The story depicts the clones’ symbiotic relationship as well as the process of developing the clones. When a powerful earthquake occurs, nine of the ten clones die, leaving one remaining clone, “Kaph.” Kaph physically and emotionally experiences all nine of the deaths, and he suffers from severe depression from the separation from his companions. Without having a full baseline to any story, a theme and tone should be included in order to give out some sort of reason why this story was made for to the reader. (Whitney)
Another way that setting is important is to demonstrate how the theme is created throughout the plot. Le Guin shows the capability of humans and clones to coexist and even have an understanding for each other. In the end, as the new shipment of clones arrive, one is reminded that the clones are replaceable. (Cove). This story is centered on the themes of individualism and the importance of social connection. In a way, this tale is split between a challenge and a defense of the idea of individualism. Though Martin and Pugh are an effective team, their combined efficacy is initially shown to be less than that of the clone collective. The clones’ perfect symbiosis is, in the opinion of Martin and Pugh, something enviable.
The idea of collectivism over individuality seems to reflect the social mores of their time. This is reflected in the discussions between Martin and Pugh of the events that took place on Earth that led to the start of the cloning initiative. The idea of the value of the whole over the value of individuals is also evident when Martin and Pugh explain the choices that led to the decision to launching the cloning initiative. The rationale given for pursuing cloning is that the clones are a valuable means to an end. Rather than focusing on the clones’ quality of life, they emphasize the clones’ value as workers and their worth to society as a functioning group. Though the unity of the clones is an asset, it is also a serious liability (Cove).
Throughout the tale, Le Guin refers back to the people who died on Earth during the famines and wars with a clinical sort of detachment. The tone for this story give an impact on how the one clone “Kaph” felt after the death of the 9 others which as depression, sadness, loneliness, and fear. When the earthquake occurs and when hours go by without contact from the clones, both Martin and Pugh become concerned and embark in search of them. What they find is one male clone, barely alive, and the lifeless body of one female clone.
Once they arrive back at the base, the remaining clone actually dies nine times, seemingly reenacting the deaths of each of his lost companions. Once stable, the live clone, John K. Chow, called ‘Kaph’, wrestles with depression stemming from being alone for the first time in his life. The connection between the clones ultimately breed the fear of being separated from the whole, and this fear leads each clone to make illogical decisions when the accident occurs.
The fear of existing as singular beings leads each clone to follow the rest into a mine of hazardous wreckage, which kills nine of the ten clones. When the remaining clone is forced to live apart from his siblings – for a lack of a better word – the extent of the problems with their collectivism becomes more apparent. Kaph’s instability and depression following the accident illustrate, in part, that though collectivism has its uses, it is important for people to be able to exist as singular individuals so that their understanding of their place in society is not entirely dependent on their relationships with others. (Whitney) In Conclusion, setting is a huge importance when criticizing a short story because without a setting, how will the reader know what is happening to each character demonstrating some type of mood effect to engage with the characters.
Le Guin makes references throughout the story to underline this point. If one makes a mistake, none tease him. If one makes a joke, nine others will laugh. If one cries, he has a support group around him at all times who understand what he’s feeling. This little closed community of people are able to function socially without needing to go outside their clique. (Mayden). That being said, it is precisely this independence that makes collaboration and caring relationships between individuals all the more meaningful. This is seen with the relationship between Martin and Pugh towards the end of the story, when Pugh risks his own life to save Martin – not out of the fear of being alone – but because of his genuine feelings of care, concern, and even love for Martin (Whitney).
The Arabian Peninsula Is Litty
There are many different agricultural features of the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabian Peninsula is located in Southwest Asia. This Peninsula is bordered by The Gulf Of Arabia and the Red Sea. Arabia is a plateau that is of ancient crystalline rock, and is covered with sandstone and limestone. There isn’t a single long and never ending stream and this is the reason for the large areas lack of water. There is a basin shaped interior that consists of desert landscape and water. Arabian Peninsula rainfall occurs mainly just in the winter. There is varied agriculture including grains, coffee and fruit. This exists only in Southwest Arabia, where agriculture is used. The Arabian Peninsula is the largest peninsula in the world. Saudi Arabia is the holder of more than 20% of the world’s petroleum reserves. Its national economy is based majorly on the oil industry. The Arabian Desert may be divided into three key parts, An Nafud, Ad Dahna and Rub” al are those three parts. The Sarawat is the largest mountain range on the Arabian Peninsula. It stretches from the border between Saudi Arabia and Jordan. This peninsula was formed as a result of the rifting of the Red Sea and it was between 56 and 23 million years ago. These are some geographical features of the Arabian Peninsula.
On March 3, 1938, Saudi Arabia drilled into what would soon be established as the biggest source of petroleum in the world. They drilled into an American-owned oil well in Dhahran. The discovery was made by the company later going to be known as Chevron. Before the discovery people of Saudi Arabia were largely nomadic, or in other words, they moved around a lot. The country’s economy was mainly based on tourism revenue from Muslims to towards the holy city of Mecca.
The people of Saudi Arabia established powerful infrastructure with things like wells and pipelines. Since of all of the other nations depending on this oil, it is considered that this lets Saudi Arabia have a big role in some of the foreign policy decision making. This was mostly surrounding the Middle East. The discovery of oil also changed the demographics. Now people from all around the world live and work in Saudi Arabia.
Around the whole world oil usage is a huge issue to the environmental world but it is extraordinarily worst in the Arabian Peninsula. Oil burning caused immense amounts of problems. These problems include air pollution, water was polluted, and even climate change. These things happen because of oil drilling and oil burning. When we drill for oil there could be an oil spill. Oil spills are big issues. Have you seen the Dawn commercials? Yes, that stuff happens in the real world. All of the ducks and birds are in danger because of oil. Burning of oil also releases CO2 into the air.
Oil contributes to rock fracturing. There are many other problems due to oil burning, drilling and usage as well but these are some of the worse effects. Some rules apply to people who are visiting Saudi Arabia. If there is any criticism of Islam or the royal family is strictly prohibited by the Saudi authorities and can lead to things including severe punishment. You will be penalized for the possession, import, consumption and manufacture of pork, illegal drugs and alcohol. There is no tolerance towards any type of drugs. The trafficking or use of it makes you a drug offender, which forces the Saudi Arabian authorities to give you a death sentence. People must not be photographed without their consent. It is also prohibited to photograph holy sites and official buildings including government and military institutions. If you get involved in any sort of public display or affection, punishment may include death penalty. This includes things like holding hands and homosexuality.
The importation, use or possession of items considered against tenets of Islam like weapons is also forbidden. All of these rules are applied and must be followed in Saudi Arabia to avoid punishment. In Islam beliefs are very important. You must believe and recite a statement of faith that is known as the Shahada, to be considered a Muslim.
One of the biggest religions in the world is Islam. It has over one billion followers. Some rituals like a prayer, are practiced daily. Some others are practiced annually, like the ones that correspond with a specific Islamic holiday. The rituals and religious practices are great in importance, though few in number. Certain are more sacred to Muslims than others. Muslims are treated and perceived very differently than everyone else. Against Islam, the world has rumors and boundaries along with extreme biases. It is not that difficult to see verbal attacks or harassment, discrimination, and very disrespectful treatment in usual places where we live today. In ways like this the topic is not taken lightly and is way more than just an extreme case.
Our world basically assumes that Islam is violent, dangerous and a symbol of terrorism. The world has been focused on how many lives have been slaughtered. Today all Muslims are viewed as to be afraid of them and to not trust them, but to fear them. With the image of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon, an unfurling blanket of debris and dust cover New York City on September 11th 2001, Americans grappled. Anyone that resembled a terrorist, including Muslims, whether in feature, accent or how they dress, all became targets of retaliation. That date had a tremendous impact on Muslim communities. They were traumatized. First by the attacks themselves and then by the violent backlash towards them. They are called cruel names regarding their appearance. After 9/11 hate towards Muslims drastically increased. Most then assumed that if you were Muslim, you were bad.
The Society of People High on Happiness and Contentment in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, a Short Story by Ursula K. Le Guin
In the story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, it discusses about a society of people where everything is all about happiness and contentment. This imaginary society is so perfect but yet it all relies on the torment of one child that is seen as ugly to their society. Without him present up, these people in Omelas can live their days of infinite happiness. The child in the story is used as a symbol with a strong message to make us realize that in today’s society people mostly care about their own happiness even if it includes the misfortunes of others.
Throughout the entire story, the symbolic use of the scapegoat is to make the reader come to a realization of what society is like today. The fact that children were being sacrificed to maintain the happiness of the community shows the terrible reality of the society we are part of. Le Quin was inspired in the statement “One could not accept happiness shared with millions if the condition of that happiness were the s suffering of a lonely soul” (James). How can people be happy while others are suffering? In our society, this would be considered as the old philosophy of “Survival of the fittest” Most of the times, we become aware of injustice but there is only little what we can do about it. Probably we could just think about it, and feel bad but there is very little action that is taken to change this. The ones who try to make a change are pushed away by their own society.
Le Guin wrote that her story states “the dilemma of the American conscience”, she probably was thinking specifically in the real situation within the American Economic System. When it comes to rich people, they get the better end of profit within this economic system. For example, rich people earn about a million times more money than most of their employees. This can lead to the conclusion that the less wealthy are those who often share less than of the Americans wealth, as well as attending poorer schools than the average upper – class Americans due to the economic structure that is established for the rich and the poor.
The message within the story demonstrates that the society in Omelas is no different as to the one we are currently living now. Le Guin’s mission within this short story was to “less to imagine alien cultures than to explore humanity” (Gioia 208). This means that she made a pretend society that shares the cruel rationality of our own. Even though they don’t have many resources, they still manage to maintain an ugly demeanor towards this “mission” to create a perfect, stress-free and happy society at the cost of enslaving a young child in a dark room. Le Guin’s message is plain and simple, which is that no matter how far we go to create a perfect society, it will always have an ugly side to it.
Being a white woman writing in the modern United States, she might be seriously conscious of the racial discrimination surrounding her. On the other hand, African Americans were leaving in totally opposite conditions. Black Americans were frequently discriminated through American history. African Americans poverty and imprisonment have been extremely higher than white Americans. “While America has been a Utopic land of plenty for many rich whites, it has been a world of pain for many African Americans who have been murdered, lynched, discriminated against, or excluded from middle- class America.” (Hill).
This is a real situation in our society where “the moral accountability of a society for which the happiness of the majority rests on the abject misery of a powerless few” (Sobeloff).This is the way how our society works there is a lot of people who will just accept society just the way it is with injustice it does not matter for them just as long as they are happy. In the story we have a clear example of how selfish and cruel those in society can be when it comes to their own fortunes. They would not like to change their situation because it will, mean the ending of their own happiness.
As we further journey into this story, we begin to realize that if this miserable child is receiving such horrible treatment from Omelas, then that would mean that all other children could face the same fate. It’s as if this child is a black sheep in a family made to be perfect without any flaws whatsoever. One can look at this child in the story and look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves what society is trying to get out of them. Some of us could be the most successful in life or following down the wrong path to our self-destruction. At the end of the day, it won’t matter because if society thinks that you’re poison to them then you might as well join that young boy in that dark room to spend your days just to satisfy certain needs to society. If that is what it boils down to, then for some of us that feel ugly and useless in a brutal society then you’ll just end up in a dark room in your world.
The purpose of the story is not only to show how society has become so brutalized in its attempt to be perfect but it shows us that gaining perfection is not needed for society to be stable. From the moment we are born, we think that we live in a perfect world filled with joy by our parents. As we grow up though, that joy created by our parents of this “perfect” world that we supposedly live in is suddenly crushed when society’s true colors begin to show. This would lead to confusion for the young girl/boy who thought that this world was a perfect place to live, which isn’t the case now. After much time of being revealed to the reality that we live in, these young boys and girls begin to accept society for their own and just go with the flow. As hard as it is to believe, when one really looks at it, maybe a sense of corruption is needed in order to balance out the good and evil of life.
If this world was so perfect, then it would be just as destructive as a society filled with corruption. The reason I say is because it would become a bigger issue to prevent any flaw from entering this world. The boy in this story is a prime example of what we would be sacrificing in order to keep a society pure and perfect. Le Guin describes the boy as “…feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition and neglect” (Gioia 211). A place like Omelas that would sacrifice children and lock them away to never see the outdoors just to keep a “happy and pure” atmosphere is somewhere that should never exist. This sense of urgency to create a society only built on seeing the bright side of things in life is all fine and dandy but when you have to sacrifice a human being, let alone a child, just to make sure that there are no imperfections in this society is just inhuman.
We can fight this off all we want but at the end of the day, the hunger for perfection will always appear no matter how much we don’t want it. The fact remains that just as the boy was imprisoned by the people of Omelas for the sake of perfection is almost the same as our modern society tries to attempt at making this world a better one. There is no such thing as perfection in this world no matter how much people tend to argue on the issue. However, if an opportunity presented itself that there was a way to make this world perfect at the cost of enslaving a lost soul, some wouldn’t hesitate to do so which is what the citizens of Omelas did for their “happy” society. This demonstrates that some people live with a “survival of the fittest” savage type mentality as well as selfishness. People now in days would take any shortcuts needed to make their world perfect and this is part of the world we live in today. All of this just to obtain perfection is a manifestation of how our modern society is driven out of the absolute power they wish to gain one day.
Part of the injustice that this child received by the people of Omelas also shows an example of how people can be so quick to judge people based on appearance. The fact that the boy became weak minded after so much time of being imprisoned in that dark room was all thanks to the manipulation that Omelas did upon him. As I expressed earlier, he felt as though he was a black sheep but to be more specific, he was more like poison to them. Being so quick to judge this child, they made him feel so inferior to life itself. It was to the point where they even locked him away at the chance of people of Omelas and their civilization to be perfectly stable. This leads us to question ourselves of how much are we willing to give up for a belief that there is a way of perfection in the world.
When this story is fully read, the readers will understand why the title of this story is “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”. The ones who walk away are the same people who go to visit the boy in the dark room. After they visit this boy, they walk far, far away from Omelas and never to return. This shows that these same people that walk out on Omelas are those who are fed up with the treatment of this boy. They also walk out since their entire society is based off of his misery and they didn’t wish to live in a town where they promote locking up lost souls just to maintain “perfection”.
Overall, what is to be understood from this story is that society should never be perfect nor should it be improved by the sacrificing of a lost soul. If we tend to judge people by appearance and taunt them, it would just make ourselves look ugly while they feel beautiful. However, there are some people with low self-esteem that could think they are inferior and the taunting would only make it worse. We should not be a society full of bullies to those who do not fit in because they are just as human as we are. Le Guin probably chose this title for the story to demonstrate that we are not the same as individuals and those who walk away are the people that stand out. In conclusion, if everyone in a society must be the same and not be different then maybe we should be the ones who stand out just like the ones who walk away from Omelas.
The Most Effective House Insulation Methods In Kodaikanal, India
Insulating a House in Kodaikanal, India
The temperature of the homes in Kodai are usually extremely cold all year for many families. As a result, Kodai residents would keep their homes warm by burning wood in their furnace, polluting the environment everyday. What if the houses in Kodai were constructed in a well insulated manner? Would the general well-being of the Kodai environment improve as there would be less demand for a fiery furnace (Rubric)? In Kodai, the general building material of windows are thin glass and the roofs are made up partially by wood, metal and plastic. The walls are structured using cement and stone and the floors are made up of cement and tiles. Also, the approximate height from the floor to the highest point of the ceiling is about 3 meters (Personal interview 1). As a result, a typical Kodai home would lose the most thermal energy through the walls, the windows and the roof (BBC News).
The goal of this essay is to find out the best ways in which a home in Kodaikanal can be insulated. This essay will discuss 2 popular and efficient methods that are used to further insulate homes. The first method is the Batts Insulation and the second method is the Blow-in Insulation. The method that will work the best in Kodai is the Blow-in Insulation. This method also has an advantage of the envrionmental factor with the disadvantage of an economic factor.
The first method to insulate a typical Kodai Home without having to use a furnace is the Batts Insulation. The Batts Insulation involves using a thin and flexible glass wool. Glass wool is a great insulating material and also has many benefits that would ensure a warmer home. This material does not catch on fire or melt easily. It also has a tough structure to it which protects it from becoming food to tiny animals or insects. Glass wool does not rot as well, acting as a long lasting heat insulator (Pinkbatts.co.nz ). This method of Insulation is used inside various areas in a home. The first and most well known place is the space between the exterior wall and the interior wall of a home which is also known as a wall cavity. The air within the Batt would replace the usual air gap between the inner and outer walls making it harder for the heat within a house to escape (Gcsescience.com). It is also placed in the ceiling to help reduce the amount of heat that a home could lose and the amount of cold air that a home could receive. It also reduces the amount of heat transfer between the air outside and the heat in the air inside the home (EcoMaster). This method also involves using the two methods of heat transfer to our advantage. When the weather in Kodai is cold outside, Conduction, which is the transfer of heat between a solid object would cause the walls and windows to become more cold and would reduce the temperature in the inside as well. Hence, the Batt Insulation would be good at slowing down the heat transfer between the the warmer air inside a home and the outside colder air. This process would result to an overall warmer temperature inside a home. Also, the Batt Insulation would be good at blocking the warm air in the home from leaving and transferring heat to the cold air outside, Convection which is the transfer of heat between fluids (liquid and gases) would be used in this case, to our advantage. These two processes would enable the home to contain the thermal energy within a home for a longer time (How Insulation Prevents Heat Transfer).
This method is linked to the environmental and economic factors. The Batt Insulation method is related to the environmental factor as it has positive effects on the environment. This method would help in solving the discussed issue as there would be less of a need for furnaces in Kodai. This factor would also help the Kodai environment to become more clean and less infected with smoke pollution (Rubric). It is also related to the economic factor because the price to install the Batt Insulation is quite overpriced. It would cost about Rs. 20,600 to Rs. 40,000 for a complete Insulation for a 500 square feet home (Homewyse). As a result, this factor would create a barrier to solving the discussed issue.
The second method to insulate a typical Kodai Home without having to use a furnace is the Blow-in Insulation. This process is performed by using Fiberglass, Mineral wool and Cellulose Insulation. Fiberglass is made up of glass fibers that were spun. Mineral wool is made up of recycled waste such as rock or steel slag. Finally, Cellulose Insulation consists of recycled newspaper and cardboard. These insulating materials are all beneficial as they can withstand flame, insects, and more. The Blow-in Insulation process ensures that these substances are broken down into loose particles in the vacuum machine so that they could eventually be blown out on the area that requires Insulation (WiseGeek). This method of Insulation is really effective as the loose particles would be able to be blown into the smaller areas in an attic and the tiny gaps within a wall cavity and so, it is one of the most effective Insulation methods (Lowes’). This method also uses Convection and Conduction to our benefits. In this Kodai environment, Conduction would occur often as the cold air would conduct heat from the amount of heat in a home. As a result, the cold would affect the windows and walls of a home and without the Blow-in Insulation, the temperature of the home would gradually reduce. In Convection, the warm air that is contained in a typical Kodai home would try to transfer it’s heat with the cold air from the Kodai environment through ceilings, windows and walls. Without the Blow-in Insulation, the temperature in a home would be really cold as the uncontrolled flow of air would go back and forth between the home and the outside environment with ease. Therefore, the Blow-in Insulation would make sure that the walls do not allow the cold air to conduct heat from the inside of a Kodai home. It would also prevent the Convection process between the cold air outside and the warm air in a home from happening easily and the temperature in a home could be increased (How Insulation Prevents Heat Transfer).
This method is also linked to the environmental and economic factors. The Blown-in Insulation method is related to the environmental factor as it is beneficial to the environment. This method is what could be responsible for a Kodai that will no longer need furnaces to keep a home warm. This is because it would be able to successfully keep a sufficient amount of heat within a home and would also block off the cold air from entering a home at the same time (How Insulation Prevents Heat Transfer). This method is also related to the economic factor as it is quite expensive to carry out. Even though, this method is slightly cheaper, the price range to provide enough Insulation to cover a 500 square feet home would be about Rs. 20,700 to about Rs. 37,200 (Homewyse). Therefore, the environmental factor will help in solving the discussed issue however, the economic factor would create a barrier towards solving this problem.
Therefore, in conclusion to my research, both of the methods will be beneficial to the insulation of a typical Kodai home in order to get rid of a furnace and to keep the environment cleaner. However, the second method which is the Blow-in Insulation is more beneficial. The main reason is because the vacuum which is filled with loose particles made up of Fiberglass, Mineral wool and Cellulose would enable more Insulation as it would fill in small gaps and tiny spaces in the wall cavities, attic and so on (Lowes’). Overall, a typical Kodai home would also obtain more insulation as this method uses the two heat transferring methods, Conduction and Convection as great advantages. This method has the environmental factor as an advantage as it would help improve the general well-being of the Kodai environment. Although, this method has an economic disadvantage, it will still help people to have a less demand for furnaces. Hence, the Blow-in Insulation method is the most effective and efficient method that could be used to insulate a typical home in Kodai.
The Power of Absence
Absence is an exceedingly powerful thing. Absence is not a brief silence, or an easily forgotten moment, or a matter of little or no consequence. It is a feeling of perpetuity, a constant gnawing in the stomach and at the back of the mind. Absence is always present. In Toni Morrison’s Sula, absence runs rampant amongst the citizens of the Bottom; there is absence of love, of loyalty and understanding, of essentially everything that binds people together; there is blood, and a forsaking of everything else, of everything that matters so much more. Fathers abandon their children, husbands their wives. Mothers stay but leave their children wondering if they have ever been truly loved. Friends turn their backs on one another and choose anger, grief, and sorrow over catharsis. It is the lack of pure loyalty and understanding that leads, without exception, to the downfall of each and every character.
There is no betrayal so great in its devastation as the betrayal of a parent against his or her child. The people of the Bottom consider themselves connoisseurs on the topic of evil; they stand resolute in their collective belief that “the presence of evil [is] something to be first recognized, then dealt with, survived, outwitted, triumphed over” (Morrison 118). However, what they fail to recognize, outwit, and triumph over is the evil that thrives in their narrow minded comfort zones. The presence of evil can be found through the deliberate forsaking of family, an act committed by almost every male character in Sula. BoyBoy abandons his wife and children and then comes back to visit Eva years later, as if that single act of abandonment has not made him entirely worthless. BoyBoy has no loyalty to his wife, and this is true of many of the men in the novel. He represents a larger pattern of behavior – the many husbands who cheat on and leave their wives. It is his narcissistic absconding that makes Eva who she is, and therefore it is BoyBoy who sets off much of the chain reactions in the novel. Had he stayed, Eva would not need to leave her family for 18 months just to provide for her children.
Eva fulfills part of her role as a mother in that she provides for her children, gives them food, clothing, and shelter, but she also leaves her daughter with the question ‘“Mamma, did you ever love us?’” (67). The only time Adams 2Eva’s love is truly apparent is when she is when she kills one child, and when she fails to save another. It is love and it is loyalty Eva feels, but it is a stricter, harsher kind, and in the case of Plum, it is a perversion; she shows that she loves him by setting him alight in flames, so that he may die a death befitting a man. Eva passes on a perverted sense of loyalty to her granddaughter Sula. The only loyalty Sula feels is for herself and for her best friend Nel. Sula goes so far as to cut off part of her own finger to protect Nel from bullies. This is reminiscent of Eva’s willingness to lose her leg for her children, and it shows that Nel and Sula are more like family than friends.
However, family does not mean a right of way to sleep with other people’s husbands. It is not entirely Sula’s fault, as she is taught from a young age “that sex [is] pleasant and frequent, but otherwise unremarkable” (44). Though Sula’s love for Nel never wavers, her understanding of loyalty does. Whatever her intentions, whatever their precedent of sharing, Sula wounds Nel, resulting in Nel’s husband Jude leaving her. Jude has no loyalty, no understanding of the unequivocal value of family, and though he buys postcards for his children, he never sends them. Nel, rejected and abandoned by Jude, in turn rejects and abandons Sula. There is a refusal on both ends of the friendship to recognize and understand where the other is coming from, and this lasts until after Sula’s death, when Nel is left with “just circles and circles of sorrow” (174). There is no pure loyalty in Sula. It exists only in perverted forms that invariably lead to devastation in both large and small ways.
BoyBoy, like most men in the Bottom, abandons his family without a hint of remorse, as does Jude, and there is abundant cheating and misappropriation of values. Eva, who raises her kids as best she can, gives no affection, and leaves them wondering if she has ever truly loved them. Sula, with all her love and devotion to Nel, cannot help but hurt her, and Nel cannot forgive her. Loyalty is muddled and misunderstood, and the rampant lack of it in its pure form wreaks agony and disaster upon the people of the Bottom.
How Death Affects Different Characters
The role of death, both physically and mentally, has a heavy effect on characters in Toni Morrison’s Sula. Shadrack survives as a soldier during World War I, dealing directly with death that he sees all around. Like Shadrack, Plum returns home emotionally distraught from the war and is killed by his mother out of love. The struggling relationship between Hannah and Eva gets increasingly difficult after Eva kills her own son, Plum, but then sacrifices her own life for her daughter as she burns to death.
The first case of death involves Shadrack, a World War I veteran from the Bottom, who returns from war traumatized after seeing a fellow soldier’s head blown off in front of him. While he is in the hospital, his mindset is still as if he is in the war. Before doing any task such as eating, he has to convince himself that he is no longer in battle. Morrison says, “Thus reassured that the white, the red and the brown would stay where they were – would not explode or bust forth from their restricted zones – he suddenly felt hungry and looked around for his hands” (Morrison 9). Shadrack has gotten to the point where he is afraid of everything, including his own hands. He ironically returns from the war less afraid of death than he was when he was in battle and more while in safety. He is not afraid of death itself but rather more afraid of not knowing when his death will occur.
As a means of coping with the unknown, Shadrack creates a national holiday. “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 it…in this manner he instituted National Suicide Day” (14). Every January 3rd on National Suicide Day, he would walk down the streets with a hanging rope and cowbell encouraging people to kill themselves or others because it was the only opportunity to escape the memory of death. Those around him know what he went through but still think he is crazy and irrational. As time goes on, people come to accept National Suicide Day as part of their traditions and rituals. After an awful winter and thaw occur, the residents of the town look forward to and participate in National Suicide Day for the first time because it is an event they are used to and helps them to forget about everything that has happened by doing something familiar. Ironically, when the people are ready to participate in full force for the first time, it is also the first time that Shadrack does not want to have the march. For years he marched alone trying to rally supports, and now when he has them, the leader and creator himself no longer wants it to continue.
Shadrack was not the only character used by Morrison who suffered severe mental issues as result of World War I. Eva’s son, Plum, returns home from the war much like Shadrack did but, in contrast, turned into a drug addict to cope with his difficulties. Plum’s change into a drug addict had numerous signs that were slowly being seen more and more. Hannah as the one to actually find out he was on drugs. Morrison says, “Then he began to steal from them, take trips to Cincinnati and sleep for days in his room with the record player going…It was Hannah who found the bent spoon black from steady cooking.” (45). Plum’s descent into drugs was over a period of time. They noticed that he was stealing items from his own family members and leaving town to go on random trips. Hannah ends up being the one to fully realize the extent of his drug addiction when she finds the black spoon in his possession.
However, what happens as a result of his drug addiction affects more people than just his own body and self. While sleeping one night, Plum is awakened by his mother who is there to comfort him. They lay there as Eva holds Plum in her arms. Later, he thinks she is pouring water or a liquid on him as a blessing but it turns out not to be. “He opened his eyes and saw what he imagined was the great wing of an eagle pouring a wet lightness over him…She rolled a bit of newspaper into a tight stick about six inches long, lit it and threw it onto the bed where the kerosene-soaked Plum lay in snug delight.” (47). After seeing her son in such a state, Eva does not want him to suffer any longer nor does she want to see his drug addiction worsen.
Eva’s decision to toss the lit kerosene stick toward him benefits her own desires as well, though. Throughout Plum’s descent into drug addiction, Eva has had to take care and support Plum far more than a regular child at an adult age. She has essentially had to go backwards in motherhood and treat Plum as if he is a young child again. In order to escape the responsibility of caring for her son, she pours kerosene on his body while he’s sleeping and burns him to death. She burns him to death as a sign of her love for him, but it also shows selfishness in Eva. She thinks the future of those around her is under her control as well as her right so she takes Plum’s matters into her own hands. The concept that a mother would burn her own son to death out of love is confusing and unimaginable to the reader. As the other members of the household, including Hannah and Sula, and the neighbors rush to try and extinguish the fire, Eva stands by watching and raises confusion and questions by everyone else. Hannah and Eva have always had a complicated and struggling relationship, especially since it is common knowledge that Eva loved Plum more than Hannah. What Eva does to Plum only hurts and strains the relationship between her and Hannah even further.
Eva does, however, show that she still loves her daughter when she risks her own life for her. When Hannah is outside in the yard, her own dress lights on fire and burns her to death. However, Eva, who is watching nearby, nearly sacrifices her own life when she jumps on Hannah trying to extinguish the fire. When she is watching Hannah in the yard from inside the window, she looks away briefly and then back outside towards, witnessing her daughter’s dress in flames from head to toe ignited by a yard fire. “She rolled up to the window and it was then she saw Hannah burning. The flames from the yard fire were licking the blue cotton dress, making her dance. Eva knew there was time for nothing in this world other than the time it took to get there and cover her daughter’s body with her own.” (75). Instantly, Eva jumps out of the window and runs toward Hannah thinking that if she can cover her up with her own body, she can extinguish the fire and safe Hannah’s life. Eva’s actions contradict the current relationship between the two of them, indicating that Eva does still love her daughter. Neighbors and family members present quickly began pouring water onto both Eva and Hannah but by that time it is too late for Hannah. Her body and flesh has already burned too badly for any chance of recovery. “Hannah died on the way to the hospital. Or so they said. In any case, she had already begun to bubble and blister so badly that the coffin has to be kept closed at the funeral.” (77). Both Eva and Hannah were put on stretchers and brought to the hospital together. Upon arrival, Hannah was the priority of the doctors and Eva was simply left on the floor in severe condition because it wasn’t as bad as her daughter’s. However, she was left there and fortunately enough was found by a custodian and barely saved. “When Eva got to the hospital they put her stretcher on the floor, so preoccupied with the hot and bubbling flesh of the other…they forgot Eva, who would have bled to death except Old Willy Fields, the orderly, saw blood staining his just-mopped floors.” (77).
The tragic event that occurs to Hannah is devastating to all but what is perhaps the most surprising is Eva’s reaction. As mentioned before, Plum was always the favorite child and Eva went as far as to say that she didn’t even love Hannah. However, in Hannah’s time of need, everything that was said did not hold true. Eva risked and nearly sacrificed her own life for her daughter. If Hannah could have lived to see what her mother did to save her life, their relationship most likely would have, for the first time, strengthened.
Toni Morrison used the action of death to further describe the relationships between different characters and how they were affected by the death of others. Although it is common for many relationships to strengthen through death as a method of grieving, more relationships are hurt in a negative way throughout Sula. People thought Shadrack’s actions were crazy and disregarded them, but, by the end, many of the same people joined him in his efforts. Hannah and her mother’s relationship worsens, thinking that her mother does not love her or Plum, but Eva does love her as evidenced by her sacrifice to save Hannah’s life. Unfortunately, Hannah is no longer around to see how their relationship could have eventually changed and strengthened. Morrison portrays the relationship between characters by a means of death in unique and effective ways while creating a strong impact on the reader.
Discovering and Construction of White Power Structures
Toni Morrison’s Sula and Song of Solomon examine the ways in which black people in black towns with black ideologies can be physically and emotionally destroyed by the infiltration of any and all institutions that are orchestrated and controlled by white people. Morrison presents a new narrative that discourages the notion of “black stories” as a separate genre of fiction and instead presents stories that exemplify a spectrum of black identities that exist in a peaceful state until something generates a radical shift in their functionality. In these two texts, this radical shift is caused by forces that are outside of Morrison’s characters’ control and these forces create tensions that so violent and futile that they necessitate actions by black characters to maintain order in the text. Both Sula and Song of Solomon serve as anecdotal tales that charge black people with subverting and avoiding the desires of institutions that are capitalistic, racist, and sexist by utilizing characters such as Pilate and Shadrack to transgress institutionalized power structures and characters such as Helene and Guitar who submit to these same structures.
One character who clearly submits to the infiltration of white power within the realm of the black community is Guitar. As a member of the Black Power organization, entitled The Days, Guitar is responsible for enacting violence of equal force against any white person to replicate a form of retribution. Guitar clearly believes that his motives and actions are distinctly justifiable in contrast to the same violent actions done by white men. Guitar reflects, “’I am not, one, having fun; two, trying to gain power or public attention or money or land; three, angry at anybody” (157). Though Guitar is attempting to justify his actions he does so by presenting them in a way that separates him from the same modes of terror that exists in white power groups. Guitar is thus, unknowingly, participating in a system that he wishes to destroy. Though Guitar is clearly knowledgeable about the disparities in the value of black and white lives his mission to kill white people demonstrates the opposite of his supposed intentions. Guitar questions, “What that means is that a black man is a victim of a crime only when a white man says he is” (160). Guitar’s understanding of the justice system relies on the fact that white bodies are perceived as more valuable than black bodies but Guitar chooses the enact violence on white bodies to target his white oppressors. This violence takes into account Guitar’s belief that white bodies somehow are worth more therefore his murderous motivations will combat all of the institutional oppression that he faces.
Though Milkman eventually exists on a higher plane of life that is free from oppression, Milkman and Guitar’s attempt at stealing Pilates’ gold can be simply viewed as a way in which these two men seek to maintain the notion that money is power. The American Dream or in this case the white American Dream is the notion that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve success. Guitar and Milkman desire the end result of the dream and try to target Pilate to achieve this ending. This aspiration for money is the result of a desire for some form of power within the black community. Throughout the book desire for money is seen as something that exists in people who do not empathize with other black members of the community, like Macon Dead. However, Morrison describes Milkman’s desires for wealth in a negative way to the point where it appears to be a perverse. “Milkman’s own excitement was blunted. Something perverse made him not want to hand the whole score to his friend on a platter” (175). The greed that Milkman possesses is due to the fact that he adheres to notions of capitalism that he believes will eventually give him something in his life that he has never had: agency, ownership, and power. Ultimately, what these men desire is to maintain control and power and to invoke a sense of fear. In both Sula and Song of Solomon black male characters seem to persistently exist on the margins of the narratives, looking for a way in. Milkman and Guitar find that pathway through their understanding of terror as a means to be heard or seen as human. Morrison writes, “Now they were men, and the terror they needed to provoke in others, if for no other reason than to feel it themselves, was rarer but not lighter” (177). For these two men, terror becomes their only means for comprehending the world, Milkman believes he can terrorize, or at least obtain power and agency, by obtaining wealth and Guitar believes he can terrorize by replicating the tactics of the Ku Klux Klan. However, it is their subtle adherence to racist and capitalistic ideologies that forces them surrender to the truth that is embedded in their past.
Though Milkman Dead seems to be the central focus of Song of Solomon, Milkman cannot obtain the truth or seek the truth without the help of Pilate who, according to Susan L. Blake in her essay “Folklore and Community in Song of Solomon, represents, “the spirit of community inherent in the folk consciousness” (78). It is through Pilate that Milkman is able to question his own motives and presumably fly by the end of the text. The magical realist elements are not in question within the text, the only question that Milkman and Pilate must face is whether or not they can learn to comprehend their past as a way for them to push towards the future. Flight, whether it is physical or not, becomes the mode of ultimate unification of ones’ roots to the truth of the narrative: the surrender of the material (greed, power, oppression) yielded the ability to transcend all that is earthly and Pilate is the mode by which Milkman is able to discover this truth.
In Sula there is not a concrete manifestation of truth through something like the ability to fly, truth lies in resistance of white infiltration not solely relying on the modes of escapism that slave ancestors implement. Helene Wright represents the influx of white ideals and internalized feelings of inferiority manifesting through her insistence of being holier than though in relation to other black townspeople. Helene is devastated when she finds out about her sick grandmother because she feels that she must debase herself in order to return to a town with people who are darker and thus less intelligent and cultured than she is, but it is her perpetual adherence to racist stereotypes that force her to become passive in the face of white people. For example when Helene is on the train and she accidentally enters the whites only section she becomes fearful, weak, and complacent. Nel observes, “Then, for no earthly reason, at least no reason that anybody could understand, certainly no reason that Nel understood the or later, she smiled. Like a street pup that wags its’ tail” (21). Helene effectively submits to the white man on the train but in doing so socially conditions Nel to do the same. Her submission extends beyond her experience on the train, Helene believes she is somehow better than other black people because she is Creole and therefore a more cultured woman with lighter skin. Her haughtiness comes across as pride and despite her air of callous self-perceived exceptionalism Helene, “lost only one battle – the pronunciation of her name. The people in the Bottom refused to call her Helene. They called her Helen Wright and left it at that” (18). This resistance to Helene’s desires to fit into a perfect mold of black exceptionalism demonstrates the resistance of the townspeople to the infiltration of the notions of black inferiority that Helene adheres to in her everyday life. Helene is determined to separate herself from other black people and in doing so she strategically places herself in a middle ground where she can never really belong.
Shadrack, on the other hand, represents the respective opposing force to Helene’s narrative function. Though Shadrack is clearly oppressed by war and marginalized, it is his indifference to belonging that gives him the key to understanding life and death without fear of either. Racial, gendered, and sexual promiscuity that the town perceives as evil in Sula do not effect Shadrack because his is almost completely separated from the community. Through Plum and Shadrack experience the same residual effects of war they both react in two very different ways. Plum turns to drugs and Shadrack decides to express agency in a way that gives him a renewed sense of self. In war, Shadrack views a soldier get his head blow off, Morrison describes, “the rest of the soldier’s head disappeared under the inverted soup bowl of his helmet” (8). It does not matter if the soldier is black or white what matters is the literal consumption of bodies in war that make men disposable agents of the state. In order to combat this role Shadrack creates National Suicide Day as a way to demonstrate the control and order he can have over death. Shadrack does not fear the ultimate threat of non-existence which is a tool of white power structures but rather he orchestrates a way in which he can exist in a liminal space of separateness from anything and all things that can hurt him.
What Morrison argues through these texts and through all of her texts is that she has the right to interrogate how political, economic, and social institutions attempt to control black people and how black people react when they are faced with these challenges. In both Sula and Song of Solomon Morrison uses words like veteran, exceptional, and black to describe her characters but in using these words she attempts to show the meaning of these words void of white ideology. For example, blackness in The Bottom does not have a negative connotation, whiteness does. It is imperative in these two works to understand how language and ideologies function within a black community that do not lean on white oppression to garner meaning. Morrison writes in her essay “Unspeakable Things Unspoken”, “The most valuable point of entry into the question of cultural distinction, the one most fraught, is its language-its unpoliced, seditious, confrontational, manipulative, inventive, disruptive, masked and unmasking language” (17). Morrison uses language and the ideologies of her characters to show varying sides of the black condition and how these characters function both in and outside of white ideologies. Characters like Pilate and Shadrack and ultimately Milkman in the end of Song of Solomon are able to subvert white ideologies and in doing so demonstrate how blackness can be, in and of itself, a neutral term that does not necessitate whiteness or white ideologies to validate it.