Hannah Peace’s Suicide in Toni Morrison’s Sula: A Psychoanalytic Approach

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

The present researcher chooses Toni Morrison in this study because she is considered as one of the greatest African-American author in the history of English literature. Her reputation in English literature is undoubtable. She has won many awards during her lifetime. Most of her works are well-known and often gain positive critics. Morrison was born on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. Both of her parents came from the south and decided to move to North in order to get better life. Morrison and her family often faced the racial discrimination since they are African-American. Therefore, this bitter memories influence most of her works, which are about the African-American people, especially their struggle on the discrimination in the society and their suffering due to slavery. Morrison was the first African-American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. She also won the National Book Critic’s Circle Award and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award. In 1996, she was honored National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Furthermore, there were two U.S. Presidents who gave her tribute.

First, the 39th U.S. President, Jimmy Carter, who nominated her to the National Council on the Arts. Second, President Barack Obama bestowed her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. During her life, she wrote many impressive literary works, such as The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Jazz, Paradise, and Beloved. The latter one is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. It was also adapted into film, which starred by Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover in 1988. The present researcher decides to discuss Toni Morrison’s second novel, Sula. The novel, which was published in 1973 by Bantam Books, was nominated for National Book Award in fiction in 1975. Sula is entertaining, gloomy and tragic simultaneously. The unpredictable plot surprises and increasingly attracks the reader’s curiosity. Moreover, the concept of this novel is very unique, such as the concept of National Suicide Day, friendship and betrayal, self-harm to get insurance, and also the discrimination faced by African-American. There is also one interesting thing in Sula, which is the concept of memory.

According to Kocabiyik, Morrison is tend to focus on past events and their influence on the present in most of her novels. The characters in the novels is often stuck in their past actions and their outcomes (344-345). In Sula, many characters are trapped in their past memories. For example, Shadrack, who got trauma after the war. He lived under the shadow of war since then. He is unable anticipate it, then he became a little bit crazy and weird. He also initiated National Suicide Day in the Bottom. Plum, Sula’s uncle, also got trauma due to the war. He didn’t have desire to live afterwards. He just slept for days in his room and ate only a little bit. Another example is Eva Peace, who is unwilling to have relationship with men after she was abandoned by her husband. Even though many men tried to approach her, she tended to avoid close relationship since she doesn’t want to be reabandoned by men, like her husband did. In this paper, the present researcher much focuses on the connection between character’s past and his/her present actions.

From several characters in Sula, this research focuses on Hannah Peace, who is Sula’s mother. Hannah is interesting to be dicussed because many characters in Sula are trapped by their past memory. But, Hannah is the only who commits suicide. The present researcher emphasizes on the core issue which Hannah Peace faces. This study also discuss about the relation between her unbearable past and her suicide. The psychoanalysis theory and Edwin S. Shneidman’s theory of suicide are considered as the appropriate theory for the discussion.

Objectives of the Study

In accordance to the research questions in the previous section, there are two primary objectives of this study. First, this study seeks to find the core issue which Hannah Peace faces. Second, this study seeks to find the relation between Hannah’s past and her suicide in the novel.

Scope of the Study

This research focuses on Hannah Peace’s psychological aspects. This study uses psychoanalytic approach to analyze the character’s psychological aspects. The scope of the study is limited on the character’s actions, feelings, thoughts, and the description from the author in the novel. The connection between the character’s current action or behavior and her past is the core discussion in this study.

Literature Review

Some studies on Toni Morrison’s Sula have been conducted previously. The researcher found five research papers related to Sula. First, there is a research paper entitled The Disabled Body in Toni Morrison’s Novel Sula. It was written by Irina Timofte in 2010 for her master degree in Oklahoma State University. Timofte uses Arthur W. Franks’s disability theory and Lennard J. Davis’s concept of the norm to see the connection between various types of oppression based on body differences and how the characters in Sula react to the disabled body. She describes the ways in which characters in Sula reinvent themselves in order to survive (25). For example, although Eva misses one leg, she accepts it and even shows her missing leg to public. Eva accepts her condition because she gets financial freedom right after she looses her leg. Another example is Shadrack, who gets trauma after the war. In this paper, Timofte believes his madness is considered as his strategy for survival. He initiates National Suicide Day to ease his fear of death. He believes that one day is dedicated to death, so the rest of the year will be free and safe.

In 2013, Moon MoonShiriya from BRAC University wrote the undergraduate paper entitled Women’s Resistance Portrayed in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, The Bluest Eye and Sula. She said Toni Morrison tucked the historical fact of African-American people’s struggle against racial dimensions of the society in her works (29). This study especially focuses on African-American women’s struggle in the three of novels. In Beloved, MoonShiriya sees Sethe as the representation of a helpless African-American woman due to slavery. She has to kill her own daughter when she is almost taken back to the plantation after her escape. Sethe kills Beloved because she doesn’t want her child suffers in the plantation. Whereas Beloved is the representation of the horror of slavery. When Sethe is haunted by her, she is haunted by the bad memory of the slavery. In The Bluest Eye, the black female characters measure themselves into the white ideal of beauty. They see themselves ugly and inferior. For example, Pecola who believes by having the blue eyes, which is the representation of white people, can make people see her as a beautiful girl and would treat her well. Lastly, in Sula, the female characters are limited by social expectation, such as marriage. Eva, who was abandoned by her husband, still advises Sula to get herself a husband and to have children. Another example is Nel, who decides to follow the conventional norms of marrying and taking care of children. The character Sula demosntrates Morrison’s critics on this conventional norm.

The third research paper is written by Agnė Talmantaitė in 2008 in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master in Vilnius Pedagogical University. The tittle of the paper is Conceptual Metaphors of Death in Toni Morrison’s Novel Sula. The theory used by Talmantaitė is Lakoff and Johnson’s the conceptual theory of metaphor. The researcher uses the descriptive analytical and content analytical methods in the study. This study focuses on the analysis of metaphoric death related expressions and symbols in the framework of cognitive linguistics selected from Tony Morrison’s novel “Sula” and their functions in literary discourse. The finding reveals that Tony Morrison applies death metaphors along the story. Most of her death metaphors are related to Western and Afrrican-American culture. Talmantaitė also explains that those metaphors are used for signalling the important coming events, emphasizing the tension peak of the events, producing visual, aural, olfactory images in the mind of the reader, constructing the inner reality of the character, constructing the represented reality fiction, expressing the emotive and referential meanings in a condensed unified way, and adding intertextual dimensions to the narrative by evoking associative thinking in the mind of addressee (40).

Next, there is an undergraduate paper written by Maria Monica Camacho Ospina from University of Valle in 2014. The tittle is The Negation of The Other in The Novel Sula By Toni Morrison. Ospina combines four critical approaches all at once, which are historical criticism, sociological criticism, new historicism, and feminist criticism. She finds that in order to achieve the harmony and balance, a community needs to have variety of its individuals. Thus, a community must be flexible or they will lose the opportunity to progress if there is no diversity among its individuals. In the novel, for example, people in Medallion assume Sula as evil being because she doesn’t follow the conventional standards of her community. Most of people in Medallion see Sula as something weird due to her free-will and advanterous soul. However, when Sula dies, the community loses its center. The community loses the key element to measure themselves, whether they need to change or to see what is wrong with them. On the other hand, Sula’s isolation makes her hard to define herself. It makes her lack order, guidance and goals in life. Therefore, everyone needs each other to achieve the harmony and balance of the world (Ospina 52).

Lastly, there is a dissertation entitled Women’s Relationships: Female Friendship in Toni Morrison’s Sula and Love, Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter and Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come. This paper is written by Kadidia Sy in 2008 in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of doctor of philosophy in Georgia State University. This study concentrates on how women’s friendhsip helps black women to support each other or to soothe pain linked to oppressions in the novels. Sy focuses on Sula and Nel’s friendship in Sula, Enitan Taiwo and Sherifat Bakare in Everything Good Will, Christine and Heed friendship in Love, and Ramatoulaye and Aissatou in So Long a Letter. There are diverse oppressions faced by the characters in each novels, such as racial issue, class oppressions, patriachal constraint, political instability, and unhappy marriage, polygamy, etc. She finds that all of the novels tries to convey that female friendship is a strategy to fight back those oppressions. Sy believes women develop a female solidarity that offers them comfort, security and healing by friendship (19). They give and receive emotional support, sharing stories and experiences, caring each other, filiing in gaps in their lives, which make it makes it possible for women to survive from that painful experience.

While the previous studies much focuses on Sula, the present study analyzes Hannah Peace, Sula’s mother. Different from the previous studies, this study uses psychology lens in analyzing the novel. The present study analyzes Hannah Peace’s psychological aspect and the relation between her suicide and her unbearable past. In short, the present study is new and different from the previous studies which had been conducted.

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