Absence and Its Effect on the Black Society in Sula by Toni Morrison
Absence is an exceedingly powerful thing. Absence is one 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 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 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 ad triumph over is the evil that thrives in the narrow-minded comfort zones.
BoyBoy Abandoning His Family
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 true of many of the men in the novel. He represents a larger pattern of behavior that 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” (Morris 3). He has stayed, Eva would not need to leave her family for 18 months just to provide for her children.
Eve Giving No Love
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 Eva’s love is truly apparent 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 Plum, it is a perversion; she shows that she loves him by setting him alight in flames so that he may be 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 as far as to cut off part of her 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” (Aithal 10).
Sula Sleeping with Nel’s Husband
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 precedents 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.
Nel Rejecting Sula
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 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 as she can give no affection and leaves them wondering if she ever truly loved them. Sula, with all her love and devotion to Nel, cannot help hurting 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.
- Aithal, S. Krishnamoorthy. “Getting out of One’s Skin and Being the Only Person Inside: Toni Morrison’s ‘Tar Baby.’” American Studies International, vol. 34, no. 2, 1996, pp. 76–85. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23458426.
- Morris, Susana M. “Sisters Separated for Much Too Long”: Women’s Friendship and Power in Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif.’” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 32, no. 1, 2013, pp. 159–180., www.jstor.org/stable/43653369.
- Morrison, Toni. Sula. New York: New American Library, 1987. Print.
The Shift in the Role of Women in Sula by Toni Morrison
Life in the Bottom in the 1920s was not the most conducive to the self-sufficiency of women. Most women around the world at this time were obedient to the stereotypical gender roles. Women were meant to stay silent and aid in the needs of the men in their lives. However, this was not always the case. At this time, some women decided to fight for their own independence which can definitely be seen in Toni Morrison’s Sula. This novel depicts the shift in the role of women and the conflict between the old ideals versus the modern acceptance of independent women
The Relationships Between Mother and Daughter
In the Bottom, the relationships between the women hold families and the entire community together. One of the main qualities that define these women is motherhood. The women are very connected to their families than are the men in the novel. The men often abandon their families, while the profound presence of women and mothers in the lives of their children creates a very intense bond between the two, especially between mother and daughter. Often the women rely on these intense relationships between themselves and their children to get them through life. After long years of marriage to Wiley, when Helene had Nel she had “more comfort and purpose than she had ever hoped to find in this life” (18). Helene clearly states that she only married Wiley to be accepted by the other women and because in the sexist society of the 1920s, she needs a man to support and protect her. Yet, when she has Nel she finds a life purpose which exemplifies how the relationships between a mother and her daughter can help a person find their purpose in life and can keep the family together.
As the most determined and carefree of all of the female characters, Sula is the epitome of the modern independence of women in the novel. She even uses her independence as an excuse for her actions, explaining that she’s spent her adult life just trying to “live in this world” (Morrison 143). She wants to escape the inevitable fate of the black women of the Bottom, becoming compliant to the traditional roles of women, by being as strong and independent as possible. Even though she might grow lonely with this type of lifestyle because she has no one to share it with, Sula deduces that freedom and experience are the only things worth living for so she doesn’t mind being lonely in the process.
At a young age, the more conservative lifestyle she saw in Nel’s house was appealing to her, but instead, she follows in her own mother’s footsteps of being the most self-sufficient she can be. After traveling all over the country for many years, Sula realizes how the black women of the Bottom resign to the traditional roles of women. She notices “how the years had dusted their bronze with ash”(121) and how “those [women] with husbands had folded themselves into starched coffins” (122). Sula refuses to settle for a lifestyle like this. Because of this, the women of the Bottom despise her since they believe she is the antithesis of their submissive lives. Furthermore, when she returns, Sula has a newfound attraction to Ajax. This comes from her wanting someone more independent than she is. Ajax, in Sula’s eyes, is super strong and free-spirited, even more so than herself. When Ajax brings Sula some milk, she believes that “he had done something dangerous to get it,” (124) which she appreciates and also excites her. However, when Sula starts to have feelings for starting a family, Ajax begins to think that she is becoming the opposite of herself and conforming to society, which he was initially attracted to her for. Sula is the extreme of independence of the novel and is very dissimilar from the rest of the women in the Bottom because of those beliefs.
Nel Realizing Her Potential
Unlike Sula, Nel does not realize her potential autonomy until later in her life. She is raised by her mother to accept, without question, the passive roles of a wife, mother, and daughter. She envied Sula’s household growing up because they were a lot more free and self-sufficient, but instead, she follows in the footsteps of her mother for a life of submission. In her childhood when she and her mother are on their way to Louisiana to visit Helene’s family, Nel notices her mother complying with the rudeness of male train conductors and Nel vows that “no man ever looked at her that way” (22). Although, this does not reign true and she continues to live her life just as her mother did, compliant to men. After her marriage with Jude dissolves, Nel devotes her life to her children and decides to be chosen by men and not to do the choosing, once again being passive.
However, towards the end of the novel, she comes to recognize the power of womanhood and she realizes that she has lost the chance to develop into her own womanhood. Nel cries out to Sula for her own wasted potential as she realizes that she has been extraordinarily jealous of Sula’s carefreeness all these years. She is so jealous that she feels joy when she watches Sula mess up and swing Chicken Little to his death. She contemplates “the good feeling she had when Chicken’s hands slipped…how come it felt so good to see him fall?”(170), which she realizes is because she wanted to see Sula fail. After watching Sula’s free spirit be reckless for their whole lives, she was overjoyed to see that it had finally resulted in a consequence. Although Nel is nowhere near the independence level of Sula, she does finally realize her potential at the end of the novel and will hopefully continue to live out that independence.
In conclusion, the women play a huge role in the community life of the Bottom. The relationships between these women hold their own families and the entire community together. Still, many female relationships are torn apart because the women are taught that their sole purpose in life is to find a husband and start a family. With very few exceptions, the female characters in Sula overturn these assigned roles set for women and become the self-reliant, powerful women all females are meant to be.
Good and Bad in Sula by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison writes the book Sula with the intention of questioning the idea of good versus bad. The novel talks about good vs bad and compares them between two main characters. The author uses the characters Sula and Nel; their values and qualities to prove her point. The actions taken by these characters gives examples of good vs bad.
Sula and Nel
In this novel there are many characters; few characters are portrayed as good and few portrayed as bad. The author compares the theme good vs bad using the character Sula and Nel. The character Sula seen as evil. Throughout the chapters we read how she is evil, and it displayed quite obviously, Sula, s lack of action after accidentally killing chicken little and watching her mother, Hannah, burn in a fire, show how Sula is metaphorically portrayed as evil. Nel and the other characters are good compared to Sula’s evil.
However, the character Nel is a small-town conservative and a quiet girl. She hides behind innocence, when her heart is evil. Sula is city girl that is completely independent and blunt. Though she does seemingly evil things, she is still honest and prideful which makes her heart good. The book Sula goes from the time periods of 1919-1940. During this time, we read about two girls, Sula and Nel as they grow up.
The Girls’ Childhood
The book takes place in ‘The Bottom.’ White landowners guaranteed liberated slaves a bit of paradise by giving them a chance to live in the medallion city, Ohio. The white landowners would take the richer version of the city leaving the liberated slaves with an unpleasant life. In the start of the novel at 1919, the two young girls Sula and Nel simply start to meet. They become best friends in their teenage years. In Nel’s family, they are respected members of the society they traditional. Her house is steady and more conventional than Sula’s. It represented as good because the family goes to church; they appear to be decent, and the house is perfect and clean. Sula’s house is very different. She lives with her grandma and her mom Hannah, who later passes on; both are viewed as odd and nontraditional to the town because house is disordered; the ladies have sex with different men, and there is no male figure in the house. Regardless of their differences the young girls become closest companions and live together. One day an accident happened. Sula swings her friend Chicken Little into a nearby river and he drowned. Nel and Sula agreed to never tell anyone about the accident.
After that the two girls starts to grow apart. Later Nel reflects on this incident remembering “the good feeling she had when chicken little hands slipped” (Morrison,170). While Sula had cried and cried when she came back from Shadrack’s house but Nel had remained calm. This quote shows us who’s heart is really evil, while Sula is showing remorse, Nel is excited to see the boy drop in the river.
The Later Life
Later in the novel we read how Nel settles down and gets married and have children. However, Sula lives an independent life and she travels for ten years; then returns to bottom. When she returns it seems that bad things follow her, beginning with her shipping of Eva off to a home then she breaks up Nel’s marriage by sleeping with Jude. Additionally, Sula even causes Mr. Finley to choke on a chicken bone and die. Many of these incidents are nothing but accidents it doesn’t prove that she is evil. Sleeping with Nel’s husband is an exception before we judge her actions that is not acceptable in the eye of society. I want to argue that we take a look at her family background its not hard to understand that growing up she didn’t have anyone to teach her the right things.
As I mention earlier in the 4th paragraph she grew up in a chaotic environment; her mother freely loved men. Growing up she watched her mother and thought it was okay to be sexually free. This does not prove that she is evil Throughout the novel the theme, good versus evil is shown. Nel is known as good overall. She is innocent, while she is also conservative and shy. She is married with children which makes her follow the female patterns of the town. With those qualities, she is an all-American good woman. In society Sula is showed as evil and offensive. She decides to go off to college and does not come back for ten years. When Sula returns, she comes back with a plague of robins. The robins came with “to much heat, or too much cold, to little rain, rain to flooding” (Morrison 81). Sula was also assigned the role of evil because she was free with her sexuality and freely flaunted her sensuality and her independence
However, Nel sleeps with her husband Jude because she feels as if it’s another job of hers. She is not free of her sexuality. She is confined to think her only goal during sex is to please her husband. During that time, it was normal for women to think that way. That was considered being a good wife. However, Sula did not want to fall into that category. Sula’s sexual expression is not attached to anything outside herself. Therefore, she does not see it as being sinful or evil she sees it as being free of herself.
In the story, Sula gets blamed for several things. The towns people blamed her for the boy falling, the man choking on a chicken bone, the lady getting a stye on her eye by looking at Sula and for bringing the plague of birds. These things considered Sula evil. However, what the towns people did not realize is that Sula brought a presence that improves the community. Sula was different. She embodied what all the wives wanted freedom which was something weird so that all cast her as evil. A true evil person would just bring a dark cloud to the community with a heavy unpleasant emotion.
After the incident with Jude, Nel became like the towns people. She judged Sula because she did not live by rules of the society. She was simply free, and everyone was jealous of that. Soon Sula falls in love with Ajax. He is the only person to see Sula for what she really was and independent women. She reminded him of his mother. He loved the fact that she was not domestic and that they considered each other as equals. Sula soon falls under the pressure of being domestic which is everything she is against and soon she left him.
Sula is a book about uncertainty. It questions good versus evil. Sula was blamed for being evil and bad, but she lived her life honestly. Nel lived her life private and as a lie. Honesty is a trait of someone with a good pure heart where lie reflects someone with an evil heart. This book questions beliefs about what is good and what is evil.
Character of Nel in Toni Morrison’s Novel Sula
The Gray Ball
In Toni Morrison’s novel Sula, the character Nel discovers her husband Jude having an adulterous affair with her closest friend, Sula. After Nel sees Jude and Sula, her husband leaves her and she leaves her friend. After the betrayal of Jude and Sula, Nel begins to see a “quiet, gray, dirty…ball of muddy string” (109) that hovered over her until it “broke and scattered” (174) at the end of the novel. This gray ball symbolizes Nel’s self conflict of feeling worthless after her husband leaves her.
The gray ball appears after Jude’s adulterous affair with Sula because Nel believes that she had lost her self worth with the lost of her husband. She saw herself not as an individual, but as a part of Jude, Jude’s wife. Even after Jude leaves her, she “behaved as the wronged wife” (120). Her identity was still being defined by her husband; she was still “Jude’s wife” and not just independently “Nel”. This attachment is mirrored by the objects that the muddy ball is made of: “fur and string and hair” (109). These objects were all once attached and part of something, but now detached, casted aside, and useless. Because of Jude’s abandonment, Nel sees herself as useless, saying “what am I supposed to do with these old thighs now…what good are they” (111). The gray ball is also “without weight”, which is symbolic of how Nel’s problem is not physically existent. Nel’s belief that she had lost her worth is only something that she had in her mind and something she set upon herself. At the end, the compact muddy ball frees itself “like dandelion spores in the breeze” (174), representing how Nel becomes free due to her realization that she was not part of Jude and that she is not a detached part of Jude that was “missing Jude” (174).
Nel sees the gray ball constantly hovering over her because she is unable to confront her self conflict of feeling worthless. The gray ball “just floated there for the seeing, if she want to, and…for the touching if she wanted to” (110). Instead of touching the ball and confronting her self conflict of feeling worthless, she avoids the ball, avoiding her self conflict. She says she “didn’t want to see it” because if she saw it, she “might actually touch it” (110). While Nel avoids the gray ball, she also says, “the terrible part [is] the effort it took not to look” (109). To not see the gray ball would be for Nel to acknowledge that her feeling of worthlessness did not exist and accept that she is not a part of Jude. Instead, she did not believe that, so she sees the gray ball, symbolic of her feeling of worthlessness from being detached from her husband. It took her effort to avoid it because she does not want to feel worthless, as shown by the grief that she feels that she believes is coming from her loss of Jude because she had still wanted to be a part of Jude. It was only when Nel confronts her self conflict of feeling worthless, that the gray ball “broke and scattered” (174) and disappears. It was at that time that she realizes that she is not a part of Jude and accepts the fact that she did not lose her self worth when she lost her husband.
The character, Nel, in Toni Morrison’s novel Sula, begins seeing a gray ball after she discovers her husband’s adultery with her close friend, Sula. This gray ball symbolizes her self conflict of feeling worthless because of her husband leaving her. She constantly sees this gray ball because she is unable to confront her self conflict. The gray ball disappears when she finally confronts it, accepting that she was not a part of her husband and that she did not lose her worth when her husband left her.
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.