In the novel Sula, by Toni Morrison we follow the life of Sula Peace through out her childhood in the twenties until her death in 1941.The novel surrounds the black community in Medallion, specifically “the bottom”. By reading the story of Sula’s life, and the life of the community in the bottom, Morrison shows us the important ways in which families and communities can shape a child’s identity. Sula not only portrays the way children are shaped, but also the way that a community receives an adult who challenges the very environment that molded them.
Sula’s actions and much of her personality is a direct result of her childhood in the bottom. Sula’s identity contains many elements of a strong, independent feminist character. However, the people in Medallion do not see Sula in a positive light. When she returns to Medallion as an adult Sula is seen as evil and regarded with much fear.
The reason Sula outcast from the community is specifically due to the fact that she is a woman who refuses to contain herself in the social norms set up for the town. She refuses to marry and frequently sleeps around. The characters that exist around Sula serve as a point to compare the different ways the community treats those who are different. Specifically the way the characters, Shadrack and Hannah are treated by the community can be compared to the way the community treats Sula. In one way or another, Sula, Shadrack, and Hannah are outcast from the community in the bottom. Shadrack and Hannah however are not regarded with near as much fear or resentment the town feels towards Sula.
The difference between the way the town treats Hannah and Sula is particularly alarming. After the death of Sula’s father, Hannah has no real relationships with men. She sleeps only with the husbands of her friends and neighbors husbands. Although Hannah sleeps with married men the people in Medallion have a certain respect for her. “The men, surprisingly, never gossiped about her. She was unquestionably a kind and generous woman…”(p 2013). Hannah has affairs with the same men over and over again. Because of this most often the wives of those men take it as a compliment when Hannah sleeps with them.
Hannah is Sula’s mother and has indirectly taught a young Sula to view sex as a source of pleasure. “Seeing her step so easily into the pantry and emerge looking precisely as she did when she entered, only happier…” (p2013). This affects directly the relationships Sula has with men in her adult life. She too sleeps with only the husbands of other women. Sula has never witnessed a healthy relationship between a man and a woman. This is regarded by the community as terrible.
Sula uses the men she sleeps with for pleasure, taking no consideration as to how the men feel. She refuses to have such patriarchal relationships as Hannah did. Hannah may indeed have received pleasure from the men she slept with but she remained the submissive participant in her relations. “Hannah rubbed no edges, made no demands, made the man feel as though he were complete and wonderful just as he was- he didn’t need fixing…” (p 2012).
Sula, on the other hand, has a need to feel in control right down to the mechanics of her affairs. “And there was the utmost irony and outrage in lying under someone, in a position of surrender, feeling her own abiding strength and limitless power.” (p2048). She not only took sex from men as pleasure, but sought out to claim power over them. “Sula was trying them out and discarding them without any excuse the men could swallow.” (p2044). This made the women upset and furthered their hatred for Sula. Sula had power by sleeping with these very same men who held power over submissive wives.
The town regards all of Sula’s actions as evil. They called her a “roach” and a “bitch”, but above that spread a nasty rumor that she slept with white men. “There was nothing lower she could do, nothing filthier.” (p2043). Though it is mentioned in the story that it was perfectly acceptable for black men to lay