Tony Morrison's Sula Term Paper

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Toni Morrison's Sula & Feminism

Feminism, TONI MORRISON & SULA

Among the many themes that are woven so interestingly by Toni Morrison in her novel Sula, feminist themes will necessarily be the pivotal focus of this paper. Among the female themes so wonderfully presented in brush-strokes of humanity, ethnicity, culture and gender, the human body emerges again and again against a backdrop of what is happening to the body, within the body, and because of the body and its place in the culture of families and man-woman dynamics. Following a series of analyses of Sula, the paper will review several aspects of modern feminist theory through the positions taken by respected authors and feminists.

As to Sula, readers are not jerked suddenly into any heart-wrenching pathos or morbidity in Sula - nor are they coaxed into identifying with the underdog woman Eva and the other females in this cast of characters in Ohio (somewhere) in a pandering way through overpowering descriptive narrative. There is an intrinsic empathetic element to any believable character who has faced life-altering challenges, and that dynamic is certainly here as well.

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Meanwhile, after Eva is abandoned by her husband BoyBoy, she is left with no identity and little else save her health, her heart and spirit, and her three children which she must now raise on her own. The empathetic part of this opening to Morrison's book is not just that Eva has been left to fend for herself, but that she believed - as women do in her culture - that that being married meant that the husband would provide for all those things a woman needed. The women in her society have only one means of self-realization, and that is marriage.

Term Paper on Tony Morrison's Sula Assignment

The Explicator, Rose De Angelis: Her pride tells her "that she must journey elsewhere" if she hopes to build a new financial future for herself, writes Rose De Angelis in the Explicator (De Angeles 2002). So Eva leaves the Bottom, in search of survival tools, financial security and personal fulfillment; she has $1.65, "five eggs, three beets and no idea of what or how to feel," Morrison writes (32). But she was woman enough to "postpone her anger for two years until she had both the time and the energy for it."

And 18 months later, "with two crutches, a new black pocketbook, and one leg" (Morrison 35), Eva returns. During the next five years, she builds a house big enough for her children, occasional friends, the Deweys, and "a retinue of boarders" De Angelis writes.

At this point, it is clear that Morrison has created a fictional black woman with courage and resilience, with stamina and some business savvy too. The survivor Eva is transformed into feminist Eva, fighter Eva, entrepreneur Eva, because she has already transcended the cultural, social and historical restrictions on acceptable female behavior - not to mention the restrictions placed on her because of the tone of her ebony skin.

And so in her new life she rents her spare room to a "constant stream of borders" and to "newly married couples," De Angelis continues. She is now also a woman who - instead of counting on an unreliable husband for sustenance and support - counts on herself, and is quite satisfied "holding court" (De Angeles).

Eva also becomes a storyteller, "inventing and reinventing the origins of her good fortune," De Angeles explains. She also gains control over something that had been explicitly denied to her - and in the big picture, is denied to millions of women world-wide - and that is her "authorship of her 'self'." She is not just a woman, of course; she is a black woman, and the reality and regenerative flow of her revitalized being is now the subject being spewed forth in her many stories. Being a storyteller of course is the very epitome of exuding power. The power of knowledge and expression, so long denied to her, is now in her hands.

She tells stories of her past, her present, and always the theme of economic prosperity and her defining new moments as a provider, woman, lover and storyteller. How does her lost leg come into play vis-a-vis her journey out of poverty and bleakness? That is not directly addressed, and De Angelis writes that "no one confronts her with questions about it."

Eva writes herself into the role of sexual object; "the Peace women simply loved maleness, for its own sake," Morrison explains (41). Eva had a "regular flock of gentleman callers," but did not have sexual relations with them; just "teasing and pecking and laughter." But Eva's daughter Hannah, following the death of her husband, certainly was engaging when it came to sexual relations with men, "mostly the husbands of her friends and neighbors." She "rippled with sex" (42)

The author makes a very serious point about the difference between Eva, the mother, one generation, and Hannah, the daughter, another generation. The juxtaposition of the two women is stunning. While Eva "...tested and argued with her men" (p. 43) and left them feeling as though they had been "in combat with a worthy, if amiable foe," Hanna made a man feel as though "he were complete and wonderful just as he was - he didn't need fixing - and so he relaxed and swooned in the Hanna-light that shone on him simply because he was." All this narrative explaining why Hanna had so many men, was so smooth and beautiful, and said "Hey sugar" like no other woman in the world, is by way of setting up the juxtaposition between the two women. Mom, with one leg and a new-found freedom to become a strong woman, an independent woman following the dumping by her BoyBoy husband.

Morrison is painting a picture here. Hannah sounds like a woman who can't get by for five minutes without a man's hands on her body. She would take the man down "into the cellar in the summer" (p. 43) back behind the coal bin where is was cool, and screw on the newspapers. In the winter, she and her lover have sex "up against shelves she had filled with canned goods, or lie on the flour sack just under the rows of tiny green peppers."

And when those places to fornicate were not available, she and whoever she was having sex with would utilize the "seldom-used parlor" - or even go up to her bedroom; Sula slept in that room, but that wasn't why Hannah preferred not to have sex there. It was that her lovers tended to fall asleep after sex, and sleeping with someone implied "...a measure of trust and a definite commitment." This well-written passage is certainly intended to be both sensual and pathetic, both sexually provocative and socially troubling. And it achieved both those ends.

She would ***** practically anything..." And by Hannah fornicating around the house, in the pantry, mostly during the daytime, "Sula learned that sex was pleasant and frequent, but otherwise unremarkable."

The local whores resented Hannah's generosity; she was giving sex away for free, while they were "hard put to find trade among black men..." (which implies there wasn't much money floating around to keep hookers financially secure). Here we have another Morrison juxtaposition, another irony, another kick in the teeth of feminism - or is it? Hannah had few female friends, and that is no surprise, considering that she was having quick sexual trysts with the husbands and boyfriends of her friends and neighbors. Even the "newly married couples" that Eva took in as boarders "soon learned what a hazard she was." Why, Hannah could "break up a marriage before it had even become one - she would make love to the new groom and wash his wife's dishes all in an afternoon" (p. 44).

Hannah wanted - and got - some "touching every day." Doesn't almost every woman want touching, loving, cuddling, warm conversation and intimate moments with her man, on a daily basis? But touching with any man? Letting a different man each day slide his fingers up Hanna's dress? The husband of one's neighbor? The man who is about to marry the woman down the street gets charmed into slipping into the pantry and having intercourse on a flour sack for a six-minute tryst?

What's the message here from Morrison? This is fiction of course, but she is Toni Morrison, writer of meaningful and critically acclaimed material that is the subject of late night literary discussions from Boston to Bangkok. Literature this sexy and involving women in such a stimulating genre of course is the straw that stirs discussion about women and sex, feminism, the role of men and women in American historical contexts, and of course African-Americans and sex.

One of Morrison's powerful themes in this novel is the strength of friendships (not lesbian friendships) between female characters, which leads to a sense that women have more power than they give themselves credit for when considering confrontations with men.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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