Central Luzon State University
College of Arts and Sciences
A Critical Essay on Toni Morrison‘s Sula
Janine V. Samelo
Mercedes H. Blancas
An Inadvertently Defiance of Women to the Social Conventions in ―Sula‖
Social norms are the customary rules that govern behavior in groups and
societies. Since norms are mainly seen as constraining behavior, some of the important
differences between moral, social and legal norms, as well as differences between
norms and conventions, have been blurred. Much attention instead has been paid to the
conditions under which norms will be obeyed. Because of that, the issue of
sanctionshas been dominant in the social studies. (Lewis 1969; Bicchieri 2006)
Bicchieri argued that like a grammar, a system of norms specifies what is
acceptable and what is not in a society or group. And analogously to a grammar, it is
not the product of human design and planning.
There are three main canonical theories of conformity: socialization, social
identity and rational choice. Since all these theories make testable statements about
conforming behavior, they should be evaluated in light of a large body of experimental
evidence on whether and how normative beliefs affect behavior. Alternative views take
a different approach, considering norms as clusters of self-fulfilling expectations
(Schelling 1966). Such expectations result in behavior that reinforces them, but a crucial
element in sustaining the norm is the presence of conditional preferences for
conformity. Only the joint presence of a conditional preference for conformity and the
belief that other people will conform will produce an agreement between normative
beliefs and behavior (Bicchieri 2006).
Norms in the society are highly influenced by women. Most people argue that
women are more susceptible in conforming to the social norms rather than men.
However, five major female characters in the novel Sula have defied some of the social
conventions in the society they live in.
Eva Peace played a role of a mother in the story that was dumped by her
husband BoyBoy after five years of unfulfilled marriage. By then, she was left with
almost nothing to keep herself and her three children-- Hannah, Eva and Plum alive.
People in the neighbourhood were just kind enough to help her.
The oldest child, Hannah, was five and too young to take care of
the baby alone and any housework Eva could find would keep her away
from them from five thirty or earlier in the morning until dark—way past
eight. The white people in the valley weren’t rich enough then to want
maids; they were small farmers and tradesmen and wantedhard-labor
help if anything. She thought also of returning to some of her people in
Virginia, but to come home dragging three young ones would have to be
a step one rung before death for Eva. She would have to scrounge
around and beg through the winter, until her baby was at least nine
months old, then she could plant and maybe hire herself out to valley
farms to weed or sow or feed stock until something steadier came along
at harvest time. (p. 32-33)
She couldn‘t get a job because her eldest child cannot take care yet of the baby
alone. Her baby Ralph, whom she nicknamed Plum, acquired bowel disruptions. After
listening to his piercing cries for days, Eva lubricated her fingers with lard and dug the
compacted stools out of him, saving his life. After two days, she left her children with a
neighbor, Mrs. Suggs. She promised that she would return within a few hours but she
returned 18 months‘ time.In her return, she had inexplicably gained new wealth however
she had also lost a leg. Her neighbours guessed that she deliberately placed her leg
underneath a train in order to get insurance.
Whatever fate of her lost leg, the remaining one was magnificent.
It was stockinged and shod all the times and in all weather. (p. 31)
Eva didn‘t even fuss in losing one of her legs. Instead of hiding her disability with
long dresses, she proudly adorns the other leg with stockings and shoe.With her
mysterious money, Eva builds the rambling house where she now lives as a respected
matriarch with her daughter and granddaughter, Hannah and Sula.The dwelling also
serves as home to three unofficially adopted children, all whom Eva named Dewey, and
some stream of boarders. The Deweys become extremely attached to one another and
subsequently start first grade together regardless of their differences in age. Tar Baby, a
white alcoholic, lives in one room drinking himself to death. With this, she defies the
idea of patriarchy- domination of man- which is very common to many households.
Eva as old as she was, and with one leg, had a regular flock of
gentle man callers, and although she did not participate in the act of
love,there was a good deal of teasing and pecking and laughter. (p.41)
Eva enjoys flirting with men although she does not sleep with them.Even if she
suffered a shattered marriage, it didn‘t change the fact that she still needs a man to
praise and care for her. In our society today, it is not accepted for married women to
have a relationship with other man other than their partners if their marriage is not
legally separated. Eva has obviously defied this social convention.
Eva’s last child, Plum, to whom she hoped to bequeath everything,
floated in a constant swaddle of love and affection, until 1917 when he
went to war. He returned to the states in 1919 but did not get back to
Medallion until 1920. (p. 45)
In 1920, Plum, Eva‘s last child, returned to the Medallion from a war. However,
he had been addicted to drugs that he always confine himself to his room with the
record playing, and began to lose weight. Of all her children, Eva obviously loved Plum
the best. This has not changed even he returned from the war as a heroin addict. She
cannot accept him as a drug addict because she had informally considered Plum her
heir. She expected him to fulfil her dreams, but he failed. Eva worries for her child,
checked on him one time and after looking at his messed up condition, she decided to
end up his suffering.
Eva stepped back from the bed and let the crotches rest under her
arms. She rolled a bit of newspaper into a tight stick about six inches long, lit
it and threw it onto the bed where the kerosene-soaked Plum lay in snug
delight. Quickly, as the whoosh of flames engulfed him, she shut the door
and made her slow and painful journey back to the top of the house. (p. 47-
Eva's decision of killing her own son, Plum, is an expression of love of a mother
to her child. Because she loves him, she cannot bear to see her child fall further into
addiction to drugs, and so she kills him. She fulfils her role of being a mother – to love,to
do anything just to care and protect her children, just as she sacrificed her leg to make
sure her children were well fed after her husband abandoned them. At one point, this is
a sacrifice for her: a mother putting her beloved son out of his misery and thuscausing
his death. On another point, it is an act of self-centredness: because she loves him, Eva
believes she has the right to choose what is best for him, and believes death is better
than addiction. In the relationship of Eva and Plum, it appears that love is not merely a
thing of beauty and moral good; rather, it is a forceful amoral emotion that drives people
to act in both selfish and selflessways.
Then she trundled back to the window to catch a breeze, if one took
a mind to come by, while she combed her hair. She rolled up the window
and it was the she saw Hannah burning. The flames from the yard fire
were licking the blue cotton dress, making her dance. Eva knew that there
was time for nothing in this world other than the time it took to get there
and cover her daughter’s body with her own. She lifted her heavy frame
up on her good leg, and with fists and arms smashed the window pane‖
Eva again played the stereotypical role of a mother: doing everything just to
protect her children. After seeing her own child burning,she jumps off the window just to
save her child. Hannah and Eva were brought to the hospital but on their way, Hannah
…and try as she might to deny it, she knew that as she lay on the
ground trying to drag herself through the sweet peas and clover to get to
Hannah, she had seen Sula standing on the back porch just looking…
Sula was probably struck dumb, as anybody would be who saw her
own mama burn up. Eva said yes, but inside she disagreed and remained
convinced that Sula had watched Hannah burn not because she was
paralyzed, but because she was interested. (p. 78)
Eva's attempt to symbolically lay the blame for Hannah's death on Sula could be
an attempt to deal with her own secret guilt for Hannah's death as well as the guilt for
Plum's. She condemns Sula for standing motionless while Hannah died by fire. She
attributes her inability to correctly read the signs of disorder in time to Sula's fretful
adolescent behavior. She attempts to label Sula as the source of all chaos. However,
she skipped the fact that it was not her loss alone but also Sula‘s. A growing child
without parents—since her father had already died when she was younger—is surely
Another female character didn‘t conform to the conventions to society in some
The red shutters had hunted both Helene Sabat and her
grandmother for sixteen years. Helene was born behind those shutters,
daughter of Creole whore who worked there. The grandmother took her
away from the soft lights and flowered carpets of the Sundown House
and raised her under the dole some eyes of a multicolored Virgin Mary,
counselling her to be constantly on guard for any sign of her mother’s
wild blood.‖ (p. 17)
HeleneWright the daughter of Rochelle, a Creole prostitute from New
Orleans,was carried off by her strict, religious, grandmother, Cecile from her ‗filthy‘ birth
place. She was raised in a family that conforms to the social conventions of life. Helene
was safely married off at 16 to Cecile's great nephew, Wiley Wright.
So when Wiley Wright came to visit his great aunt Cecile in New
Orleans, his enchantment with the pretty Helene became a marriage
proposal—under the pressure of both women. He was a seaman (or
rather a lakeman, for he was a ship’s cook on one of the Great Lake
Lines), in port only three days out of every sixteen.
He took his bride in his home in Medallion and put her in a lovely house
with a brick porch and real lace curtains at the window. His long absences
were quite bearable for Helene Wright, especially when, after some nine
years of marriage, her daughter was born. (p. 17)
Wiley fancied Helene‘s charm and orderliness so he proposed marriage to her.
He didn‘t much took after his wife for he always leaves her wife at home for work. They
built a respectable life in the Bottom where Helene becomes a member of the most
conservative church. After nine years of marriage, Helene gave birth to her only child,
Norms influence behavior because, through a process of socialization that starts
in infancy, they become part of one's motives for action: conformity to standing norms is
a stable acquired disposition that is independent of the consequences of conforming.
Such lasting dispositions are formed by long-term interactions with significant others
(usually parents); through repeated socialization, individuals come to learn and
internalize the common values embodied in the norms. When norms are internalized,
norm-abiding behavior will be perceived as good or appropriate, and people will typically
feel guilt or shame at the prospect of behaving in a deviant way. If internalization is
successful, external sanctions will play no role in eliciting conformity, and since
individuals are motivated to conform, it follows that normative beliefs and actions will be
consistent. Helene raised Nel under the same strict rules that were imposed on her own
childhood, thus Nel will grow up abiding the conventionality of her mother.
Helene thought about the trip South with heavy misgiving but
decided that she had the best protection: her manner and her bearing to
which she would add beautiful dress.‖ (p.19)
When Cecile became ill, Helene sewed herself a magnificent dress in preparation
for the journey she will have to make to New Orleans in the Deep South for the
funeral.Helene illustrates the excessive orderliness. It may imply that much order can
suppress individual's personality. Celine raised Helene under the strict conventions of
religion. She wanted to overcome any spark of the wildness and independence that
characterized Rochelle. Helene obeyed this by settling into an unremarkable middle
class life. With this, she played the role of an obedient granddaughter but when she
later tries to force that same repressive order onto her daughter, Nel, she passed her
compliance to the conventions imposed on her. She doubts in returning in her
hometown because she is ashamed of having a whore for a mother and she thought
that wearing magnificent clothing with her refined manners will make a noticeable
difference to between her and her origin.
―What was you doin’ back in there? What was you doin’ in that
coach yonder‖’ Helene licked her lips. ―Oh…I‖. Her glance moved
beyond the white man’s face to the passenger seated behind him. Four
or five black faces were watching, two belonging to soldiers still on their
shit-colored uniforms and peaked caps. She saw their closed faces,
their locked eyes, and turned for compassion to the gray eyes of the
Helene still suffered from racism, as can be seen by her experience on the train.
The order and boundaries of her conservative, religious, middle class respectability do
not protect her from racism. Despite the splendor of her clothes, she was insulted and
humiliated by the white conductor on the train.
―We don’t allow mistakes on this train. Now get your butt on in
there.‖ He stood there staring at her until she realized that he
wanted her to move aside. Pulling Nel by the arm, she pressed
herself and her daughter into the foot space in front of a wooden
seat. Then, for no earthly reason, at least no reason that anybody
could understand, certainly no reason that Nel understand then or
later, she smiled. (p. 21)
She gave the conductor a dazzling smile, inciting the silent insensitivity of the
black passengers. Helene tried desperately to maintain composure, but her dazzling
smile has a hollow, disturbing implication. She unintentionally gave her approval to a
biased, racist authority, inciting the anger and hatred of the other passengers. Her effort
to soothe and please the rude conductor only made his sense of superiority more
Hannah, daughter of Eva Peace, also defies few conventions when she was still
Hannah simply refused to without the attentions of a man, and
after Reku’s death had a steady sequence of lovers, mostly the
husbands of her friends and neighbors. Her flirting was sweet, low
and guileless. Without ever a pat of the hair, a rush to change clothes
or a quick application of paint, with no gesture whatsoever, she
rippled with sex. (p.42)
Hannah Peace committed the same defiance to the conventions as Eva did. The
only difference is that her husband is already dead.
She would fuck practically anything, but sleeping with someone
implied for her a measure of trust and a definite commitment.‖ (p.43-
She slept with any man that took her fancy, but she does not develop long-term
relationships with them. This is subversion for her though, having many relationships
with men, but still, she doesn‘t want to settle down with one of them.
Hannah exasperated thewomen in the town—the ―good women‖, who
said, ―one thing I can’t stand is a nasty woman‖; the whores, who were
hard to put find trade among black men anyway and who resented
Hannah’s generosity; the middling women who had both husbands and
affairs, because Hannah seemed too unlike them, having no passion
attached to her relationships and being a wholly incapable of jealousy‖
She is often the cause of broken marriages due to her fleeting relationships with
the husbands of her neighbors and friends. The retribution for her for disobeying the
socials conventions is that, the women in her town started to call her offensive names.
―Sure I do but he is still a pain. Can’t help loving your own child no matter
what they do‖. ―Well Hester grown now and I can’t say love is exactly what
I feel‖. ―Sure you do. You love her, like I love Sula. I just don’t like her.‖
Sula, Hannah's daughter had overheard the conversation of her mother Hannah,
together with two of her friends about child rearing. Hannah‘s casualremark that she
doesn‘t like Sula even though she loves her, again,subverts her role of being a mother.
This comment of hersprecursor Sula's loss of childhood innocence because at
adolescence, Sula started to do trouble.Hannah's comment revealedto Sula that love
cannot be defined as a simple thing and do not conform to impractical, romantic
understanding, rather, love can be an emotion carrying a heavy weight of responsibility.
Love can be something that promptsannoyance, it can feel unfair, or be a burden.
Hannah's comment has the effect of making Sula secure and insecure at the same time.
When Nel was only child, sat on the steps of her back porch
surrounded by high silence of her mother’s incredibly orderly house… (p.
Nel resides in a house where excessive order is imposed. She lives with her
mother and her great grandmother who are both conservative and follows the
conventional of being prim and proper.
Under Helene’s hand, the girl became obedient and polite. Any
enthusiasms that the little Nel showed were calmed by her mother until she
drove her daughter’s imagination underground. (p. 18)
Nel was also raised in conformity with social standards that are somehow
repressive on her part because she cannot do what she really wants. Her mother
always manipulates her into doing ―what is accepted‖ in the society.
She felt both pleased and ashamed to sense that these men, unlike
her father, who worshipped his graceful, beautiful wife, were bubbling with
hatred for her mother that had not been there in the beginning but had
been born with a dazzling smile. (p. 22)
Nel was brought in her mother‘s home town. On their way there, her ―elegant
mother‖ was humiliatedon the train. She recognized that even though her mother was
obeys the social conventions, other races don‘t even care.
She could not risk letting them travel upward for fear of seeing that the
hooks and eyes in the placket of dress had come underdone and exposed the
custard- colored skin underneath. She stared at the hem wanting to believe in
its weight but knowing that custard was all that it hid. If this tall, proud woman,
this woman who was very particular about her friends, who slipped into
church with unequalled elegance, who can quell a roustabout with a look, if
she were really custard, then there was a chance that Nel was too. (p.22)
By then, Nel realized that her mother is not invincible when she sensedthat
Helene was struggling to maintain her tranquillity. She compared her mother's insides to
custard, a weak, runny food. She thought that if her mother is not that strong, then there
is a possibility that she is also weak.
Nel sat on the red-velvet sofa listening to her mother but remembering
the smell and the tight, tight hug of the woman in yellow who rubbed burned
matches over her eyes.
But she was gone on a real trip and now she was different. She got out
of bed and lit the lamp to look in the mirror. There was her face, plain brown
eyes, three braids and the nose her mother hated. She looked for a long time
and suddenly a shiver ran through her. ―I’m me,‖ she whispered. ―Me.‖ (p.28)
After meeting Rochelle, Nel realized that there are women who defy the
conventional limitations, whether of religion, femininity, or race: that conventionality
does not really mean strength. Because of this apprehension, Nel decided to put up
herself in her own identity, her own desire—not to conform in the likeness of society.
Leaving Medallion would be her goal. But that was before she met
Sula, the girl she had seen for five years at Garfield Primary, but never played
with, never knew, because her mother said that Sula’s mother was sooty. The
trip, perhaps, or her new found me-ness, gave her strength to cultivate a
friend in spite of her mother. (p.29)
Nel started to build herself as she pleases by having Sula as a friend. That was
then she disobeyed her mother‘s standard for the first time.
Sula Peace lived in house of many rooms that had been built over a period
of years to the specification of its owner, who kept on adding things: more
stairways—there were three sets to the second floor—more rooms, doors
and stoops. There were rooms that had three doors, others that opened out
on the porch only y going through somebody’s bedroom. (p. 30)
Sula Mae‘s household was built on an unconventional family structure. She lives
in a multigenerational household run by women—Eva in particular. Eva added rooms
over the time. From the structure of the house itself, it can be seen that she illustrates
excessive disorder. In contrast to Nel‘s, Sula's home is vivacious and dynamic. The
houses symbolize the differing potential for growth and change in the girls' families.
Their meeting was fortunate, for it let them use each other to grow
on. Daughters of distant mothers and incomprehensible fathers(Sula’s
because he was dead; Nel’s because he wasn’t), they in each other’s eyes
the intimacy they were looking for.(p.52)
Their friendship was as intense as sudden. They found relief in each
other’s personality. Although both were unshaped, formless things, Nel
seemed stronger and consistent than Sula, who can be counted on to
sustain any emotion for more than three minutes. Yet there was one time
when that was not true, when she held on to a mood for weeks, but even
that was in defence of Nel.(p. 53)
Sula became friends with Nel and somehow, due to theirsimilarities and little
differences, they found themselves being comfortable with each other‘s company. While
Sula was spontaneous and aggressive, Nel was always calm. She was the one who
protected Nel from the bullies of school.
Sula fled down the steps, and shot through the greenness and the
baking sun back to Nel and the dark closed place in the water. There she
collapsed in tears. Nel quieted her. ―Sh, sh. Don’t, don’t. you didn’t mean it. It
ain’t your fault. Sh, sh. Come on, let’s go, Sula. Come on, now.‖ (p. 62-63)
Their friendship became very strong to the extent of concealing the accidental
death of Chicken Little when Sula had swung the poor boy unto the river.
The wedding offered a special attraction, for the bridegroom was a
handsome, well-liked man—the tenor of Mount Zion’s Men’s Quartet, who
had been enviable reputation among the girls and a comfortable one among
men. His name was Jude Greene, and with the pick of some eight or ten girls
who came regularly to services to hear him sing, he had chosen Nel Wright.
So it was rage, rage and a determination to take on a man’s role
anyhow that made him press Nel to settle down. (p.80)
Nel broke her promise to define of her own distinctiveness by choosing to marry
young just as what her mother did. That marriage was supposedly a happy one; but, it
was just an alternative for Jude to do what he really wants: to get a man's job. Nel
accomplished Helene's expectations by getting married rather than doing her original
plan to live a brilliant and happy life on her own stipulations.
Accompanied by a plague of robins, Sula came back to Medallion.
The little yam-breasted shuddering birds were everywhere, exciting very
small children away from their usual welcome into a vicious stoning. (p.89)
Sula stepped out of Cincinnati Flyer into the robin shit and began the
long climb up into the Bottom. She was dressed in a manner that was as
close to a movie star anyone would see. A black crepe dress splashed with
pink and yellow zinnias, foxtails, a black felt hat with the veil of net lowered
over one eye. In her right hand was a black purse with a bead clasp and in
her heft a red leather travelling case, so small, so charming—no one had
seen anything like it ever before, including the mayor’s wife and the music
teacher, both of whom had been to Rome. (p. 90)
Sula left the Bottom after Nel‘s marriage and returned in 10 years time. Sula's
arrival to the town is accompanied by a "plague of robins." Her stylish, expensive
clothing surprised her old neighbors. This plague of robins became a premonition that
the people of the town would soon blame Sula for all the unrelated turmoil that occurto
them. When she visited Eva, theirmeeting quickly fired up, as Eva deprecated her for
―I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.‖
―Selfish. Ain’t no woman got no business floatin’ around without no man.‖ (p.
It is contrasting though, that Eva criticized Sula for not following the social
conventions when in fact, and she doesn‘t also do that. Enraged by Eva's judge
mentality, Sula orders her to shut up. She said that Eva's decision to cut off her own leg
in order to gain money for her family does not give her the right to control other people's
lives. In response, Eva insinuates that Sula was a bad daughter; Sula accuses her of
―Don’t talk to me about burning. You watched you own mamma. You crazy
roach! You the one should have been burnt!‖ (p. 93)
Eva reminded Sula that she watched Hannah burn to death. Sula threatened to
kill Eva in the same way Eva killed Plum. Frightened, Eva kept her door locked at night.
Not long afterward, Sula became Eva's guardian and commits her to a nursing home,
breaking the convention that children were supposed to take care of their aged
…when I opened the door they didn’t even looked for a minute and I
thought the reason they are not looking up is because they are not doing
that. So it’s alright. I am just standing there and seeing it, but they are not
really doing it. But when they did look up. (p. 105)
Sula who totally ignored again the social rules governing marriage nearly
destroys Nel, her only best friend, when she had an affair with Jude. As a consequence
of this affair, Jude abandons his family for good. The townspeople added this to their
evidence that Sula is truly evil.
Hunched down in the small bright room, Nel waited. Waited for the
oldest cry.A scream not for the others, not in sympathy for a burnet child, or
a dead father, but a deeply personal cry for one’s own pain. A loud strident:
―Why me?‖ (p.108)
Nel's devastation is somewhat due to her weak self. Nel cannot even cry after
her marriage ended. She couldn‘t accept the fact that after doing everything that social
convention demanded, she was still abandoned by her husband.
Although Sula had become selfish on that particular event, it isn‘t right for the
community to identify Sula as the only blame for Nel‘s failed marriage. Nevertheless,
Jude was also involved in the issue—not just Sula and come to think of it, Sula didn‘t
directed Jude to leave Nel for her—it was his very own choice. Because Sula remained
in the Bottom, the community finds it much easier to focus their resentment on her.
It was the men who gave her the final label, who finger printed her all
the time. They were the ones who said she was guilty of the unforgivable
thing – the thing for which there was no understanding, no excuse, and not
compassion. 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. (p. 112)
There was nothing lower she could do nothing filthier. They insisted that all
unions between white men and black women would be rape; for black
women to be willing was literally unthinkable. (p. 113)
Though norms develop in small, close-knit groups, they often spread well beyond
the narrow boundaries of the original group. The challenge thus becomes one of
explaining the dynamics of the propagation of norms from small groups to populations.
(Skyrms 1996, 2004; Alexander 2007; Gintis 2000).
Eva, Sula‘s grandmother was the first to account the bad happenings in her life to
Sula when she accused her of just watching Hannah burn. As the community's hatred
toward Sula grows, they impose meaning on random occurrences such as falling down
from the stairs of a child and dying of a neighbour due to choking after seeing her. They
need to do so in order to set their definition of her as an evil person, just as what Eva
did. Sula disregards their hatred and continues living as she pleases. Their horror at
Sula's affairs with white men reflects the extent to which racial separation defines the
Their conviction of Sula’s evil changed them in accountable yet
mysterious ways. Once the source of their personal misfortune was
identified, they had leave to protect and love one another. They began to
cherish their husbands and wives, protect their children, repair their homes
and in general band together against the devil in their midst. (p. 117-118)
Paradoxically, the community‘s lives became better since they started labelling
Sula as evil. Her presence drovethem to live harmoniously with one another. Her return
to the Bottom is actually a blessing in disguise.
Sula, too, was curious. She knew nothing about him except the word
he had called out her years ago and the feeling he had excited in her then.
She had grown quite accustomed to the clichés of other people’s lives as
well as her own increasing dissatisfaction with Medallion. If she could have
thought a place to go, she probably would have left, but that was before
Ajax looked at her through the blue glass and held the milk aloft like a
trophy. (p. 127)
Sula had a relationship with Ajax which opened her to new feelings; she
discovered the possessive nature of love. Subverting her nature of disobedience to the
social expectations, she, herself was tempted to the security that her love with Ajax
seemed to offer. When Ajax left her, it was verified that she will never have the close
relationship with a man that she had in her friendship with Nel; that there is a big
difference between the love of a women with each other and love of man to a women.
As soon as the door was shut, Sula breathed through her mouth.
While Nel was in the room the pain had increased. Now that this new pain
killer, the one that she had been holding in reserve, was on the way her
misery was manageable. She let a piece of her mind lay on Nel. It was
funny, sending Nel off to that drugstore right away like that, after she had
not seen her to speak to for years. (p.140)
Nel visited Sula after three years after finding out that she is sick. Nel found the
right time to talk things over with Sula. She thinks of herself as a "good woman," since
she already follows the conventionality of the Bottom. She confronts Sula for taking
Jude away from her, just like the community. She was convinced that Sula is such a
traitor for a friend.
―But what about me? Didn’t I count? I never hurt you what did you
take him for if you didn’t love him and why didn’t you think about me?‖ And
then, ―I was good to you,Sula, why don’t that matter? Sula turned her
head away from the boarded window. Her voice was quiet and the
stemmed rose over her eyes was very dark. ―It matters, Nel, but only to
you. Not to anybody else. Being good to somebody is just like being mean
to somebody. Risky. You don’t get nothing for it.‖ (p.144-145)
The conversation of Nel with Sula raises the vagueness of terms like "good" and
"evil." Sula has always remained true to her personal desires rather than those of
society. Sula lived her life without regret and does not deny her actions, but she denied
that she was the one who broke their friendship. Sula said that she slept with Jude, but
it was Jude choice to desert his marriage. In contrast to Nel, who relies on a sense of
herself as being "good" to conformto the society, Sula can acknowledge the negative
consequences of her decisions.
While in this state of weary anticipation, she noticed that she was not
breathing. A crease of fear touched her breast, for any second there was
sure to be a violent explosion in her brain, a gasping for breath. Then she
realized, or rather, she sensed that there was not going to be any pain. She
was not breathing because she didn’t have to. Her body did not need
oxygen. She was dead. (p. 149)
The dying Sula thought of sharing Nel, the one person besides Ajax who aroused
her curiosity, her discovery that death doest really hurt at all. This subverts the notion
that death is fearful but with Sula, it is not. She was not frightened of dying because she
feels that she has made the most of life.
Without her mockery, affection for others sank into flaccid disrepair.
Daughters who had complained bitterly about the responsibility of taking
care of their aged mothers-in-law had altered when Sula locked Eva away,
and they began cleaning those old women’s spittoons without a murmur.
Now that Sula was dead and done with, they returned to a steeping
resentment of theburdens of old people. (p.153-154)
Later after Sula‘s death, the community returned to their original ways.The
community sees Sula's death as a blessing for they thought that the one whom they
consider the blame for the bad happenings in their lives, who broke the social
conventions that motivated them to do well, is now gone. However, events are again not
what they at first seem. The women no longer take care of their husbands, the mothers
beat their children the daughters does not take care of their aged relatives.
―Tell me how you killed the little boy.‖ ―What? What little boy?‖ ―The one you
threw into the water. I got oranges. How did you get him to go into the water?‖
― I didn’t throw no boy in the river. That was Sula.‖ ―You.Sula. What’s the
difference? You was there. You watched, didn’t you? Me, I never would’ve
watched.‖ (p. 168)
Nel visited Eva in the home for the aged. That‘s when she accused Nel of
Chicken Little‘s death. Nel, however, denies it and told Eva that it was Sula who did it.
Eva insisted that there is no difference between Sula and Nel since they were both
there during the accident. On her way to Sula's grave, Nelmourned to Sula, who from
the very start, had loved her for who she was. This made Nel realized that she is not
―good‖ after all the social conventions she had followed. She lamented that she didn‘t
have a wonderful life like what Sula had because of Sula‘s refusal to abide by the
Norms play a crucial role in individual choice since—by shaping individual needs
and preferences—they serve as criteria for selecting among alternatives. Such criteria
are shared by a given community, and represent a common value system. (Bicchieri,
2006) People may choose what they prefer, but what they prefer in turn conforms to
social expectations. Eva, Hannah and Sula chose what they preferred.However, some
of their preferences do not fulfil the society‘s expectations.
In the society where we live, traditions and norms are chains and cages that
hinder us from getting the freedom we yearn for. For Helene and Nel, who always follow
the conventions, they couldn‘t express much of themselves, although they subvert this
Eva, Hannah, Helene, Nel and Sula have obliviously defied the social
conventions of the racially uniform and socially static community black people in the
Bottom- where personal points of view of what is friendship between women when
provoked by men, what choices are available to black women outside their own
society‘s approval, and where religion, race and femininity matters.
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Bicchieri, C. and A. Chavez (2010). ―Behaving as Expected: Public Information
and Fairness Norms,‖ Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 23(2): 161–178.
Bicchieri, C. and E. Xiao (2009). ―Do the right thing: but only if others do so,‖
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 22: 191–208.
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