I am not going to go on and on about the author as I presume everyone know who The Toni Morrison is. I was a little skeptical in reading this book as I had bought beloved and I did not get a chance to read it. I read this book and fell asleep in few pages twice. Then I read the book during the day and I could not put the book down and I finished the book in one go.
It is a sad yet beautiful novel. It touches you in such a way that it is hard to describe. It is a very well written book and everyone should read this at least once. It is a black feminist literary. It was published in November 1973. The writing style and the hidden messages make the book powerful. It deals with motherhood, freedom, friendship, societal stigma and notion, murder, love, resentment and many more. The main theme is friendship and freedom. The friendship of Sula and nel just brings tears to my eyes.
I loved the books portrayal of friendship supersedes marriage. As in the foreword the author mentions how this book will give light to different meaning of freedom to different people. All these women were trying to protect their vulnerability at that age at that time. They were shaped differently as per their experiences in life.
To Eva Peace it was taking control of her life after her husband left her. She becomes the matriarch and lives her life. This was her freedom.
To Hannah Peace (Sula’s mother and Eva’s daughter) death of her husband being a widow she explores sexual aspect as part of her freedom. For Hannah freedom meant being sexually promiscuous and enjoying it.
To Sula Peace freedom was going against societal established norms her own choice which she never regretted. She showed courage by cutting her finger and hurting herself so that she can be free. Her freedom lied in the fact she was her own master.
To Helen Wright (Nel’s mother) it was getting away from her mother’s life as a prostitute and becoming something exactly opposite of her mother and being a leader of church and following societal norms as against her mother’s choice which society despised.
To Nel Wright her freedom was not letting fear of being black and the way her mother felt at bus get her. She follows her mother’s footstep of seeking religious and social respectability.
The Story: (Spoiler ahead)
The book is divided into two parts. First part of the story revolves around Sula and till she completes her high school. The second part of the book is after 10 years when Sula has completed her college and is back to her old town. The story depicts the typical 1920’s of race and society, world war PTSD, racism and how many things changes people. In a fictional Ohio valley the whites live at the bottom and the Blacks live on the hills which is ironically called “The Bottom”. This is a story about two girls and how they are brought up in same atmosphere yet different atmosphere. Sula lives in a big house ruled by her matriarch grandmother. She has seen the cruelty and the power that can change things. She meets Nel who becomes her best friend.
On the other hand, Nel is the granddaughter of a prostitute in New Orleans and has seen how her mother was racially harassed while visiting her sick grandmother. Nel’s mother Eva Peace is completely opposite of her mother and Nel has seen her mother become the pillar of the community. Nel has vowed never to feel the same way her mother did in the bus ever.
Their friendship is described in detail in the first part of the book where while being harassed by white Irish Catholic boys and Sula cutting her own finger in defense and scaring the boys. They are two bodies and one soul. Their conversation is described as talking to oneself. They put each other first. Then there is the Chicken incident where a little boy is drowned and they keep it a secret.
The post world war PTSD leads to Sula’s mothers brother to get into drugs and alcohol which cannot be tolerated by her grandmother and she sets her son on fire after hugging him like a baby. Sula also witnesses her mother being sexually active and later catching a fire in her clothes and getting burned where she was shocked and is motionless. This incident is seen by her grandmother who thinks Sula as cold hearted. Then post high school Nel gets married and Sula leaves town.
Sula returns to Medallion (the bottom) after 10 years where Eva is still the matriarch and Nel has two children. Then catching her best friend and her husband naked she ends her friendship with Sula and her husband abandons her. They start living a different life where Sula experiences societal disgrace and is ostracized by the society. She becomes the society’s evil where having promiscuity, destroying her best friends marriage, coming to church with no underwear on, and sending Eva to a mental asylum and taking the victim money (her grandmothers disabled money). They lead a different life. They again meet just before Sula passes away. They converse and Nel leaves telling Sula she will never come back to visit her again. When Sula dies she realizes death is painless, something she must tell Nel.
After 25 years when Nel is volunteering at the mental asylum she meets Eva who tells her she saw Nel witness boy who was called Chicken drown and do nothing about it. The book ends where she realizes all these years she thought she missed her husband and felt alone. It was not that in reality she missed Sula her best friend her counterpart. It was Sula all along.