Toni Morrison

June 14, 2006


Nobel Prize winner
Played an important role in bringing African American literature into the mainstream
Concentrates on themes of feminism and racism in America

Sula (1973)

Two friends, Nel and Sula, whose relationship examines the confusing mysteries of human emotions
Addresses ideas of good and evil and how the two resemble one another


“In 1969, in Queens, snatching liberty seemed compelling.  Some of us thrived; some of us died.  All of us had a taste.”

“Which accounted for the fact that white people lived on the rich valley floor in that little river town in Ohio, and the blacks populated the hills above it, taking small consolation in the fact that every day they could literally look down on the white folks.”

“Shadrack stared at the soft colors that filled these triangles: the lumpy whiteness of rice, the quivering blood tomatoes, the grayish-brown meat.  All their repugnance was contained in the neat balance of the triangles- a balance that soothed him, transferred some of its equilibrium to him.  Thus reassured that the white, the red and the brown would stay where they were- would not explode or burst forth from their restricted zones…”

“When they bound Shadrack into a straitjacket, he was both relieved and grateful, for his hands were at last hidden and confined to whatever size they had attained.”

“Suddenly without raising his eyelids, he began to cry.  Twenty-two years old, weak, hot, frightened, not daring to acknowledge the fact that he didn’t even know who or what he was…”

“There in the toilet water he saw a grave black face.  A black so definite, so unequivocal, it astonished him.  He had been harboring a skittish apprehension that he was not real- that he didn’t exist at all.  But when the blackness greeted him with its indisputable presence, he wanted nothing more.”

“It was not death or dying that frightened him, but the unexpectedness of both.  In sorting it all out, he hit on the notion that if one day a year were devoted to it, everybody could get it out of the way and the rest of the year would be safe and free.  In this manner he instituted National Suicide Day.”

“An eagerness to please and an apology for living met in her voice…Then, for no earthly reason, at least no reason that anybody could understand, certainly no reason that Nel understood then or later, she smiled.  Like a street pup that wags its tail at the very doorjab of the butcher shop he has been kicked away from only moments before, Helene smiled.”

“‘I’m me,’ she whispered.  ‘Me.’
Nel didn’t know quite what she meant, but on the other hand she knew exactly what she meant.
‘I’m me.  I’m not their daughter.  I’m not Nel.  I’m me.  Me.’
Each time she said the word me there was a gathering in her like power, like joy, like fear. Back in bed with her discovery, she stared out the window at the dark leaves of the horse chestnut.
‘Me,’ she murmured.  And then, sinking deeper into the quilts, ‘I want..I want to be…wonderful.  Oh, Jesus, make me wonderful.'”

“And it was natural that he, after all, because the first one to join Shadrack- Tar Baby and the deweys- on National Suicide Day.”

“The Peace women simply loved maleness, for its own sake.”

“They were solitary little girls whose loneliness was so profound it intoxicated them and sent them stumbling into Technicolored visions that always included a presence, a someone, who, quite like the dreamer, shared the delight of the dream.”

“Sula was a heavy brown with large quiet eyes, one of which featured a birthmark that spread from the middle of the lid toward the eyebrow, shaped something like a stemmed rose.  It gave her otherwise plain face a broken excitement and blue-blade threat like the keloid scar of the razored man who sometimes played checkers with her grandmother.  The birthmark was to grow darker as the years passed, but now it was the same shade as her gold-flecked eyes, which to the end, were as steady and clean as rain.”

“When, he wondered, will those people ever be anything but animals, fit for nothing but substitutes for mules, only mules didn’t kill each other the way niggers did.”

“‘You settin’ here with your healthy-ass self and ax me did I love you?  Them big old eyes in your head would a been two holes full of maggots if I hadn’t.'”

“I’d be laying here at night and he be downstairs in that room, but when I closed my eyes I’d see him… six feet tall smilin’ and crawlin’ up the stairs quietlike so I wouldn’t hear and opening the door soft so I wouldn’t hear and he’d be creepin’ to the bed trying to spread my legs trying to get back up in my womb.”

“Sula was probably struck dumb, as anybody would be who saw her own mamma 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.”

“‘Well, don’t let your mouth start nothing that your ass can’t stand.  When you gone to get married?  You need to have some babies.  It’ll settle you.’
‘I don’t want to make somebody else.  I want to make myself.'”

“‘Any more fires in this house, I’m lighting them!’
‘Hellfire don’t need lighting and it’s already burning in you…’
‘Whatever’s burning in me is mine!'”

“‘The real hell of Hell is that it is forever.’ Sula said that.  She said doing anything forever and ever was hell…’Sula was wrong.  Hell ain’t things lasting forever.  Hell is change.'”

“Sula was distinctly different.  Eva’s arrogance and Hannah’s self-indulgence merged in her and, with a twist that was all her own imagination, she lived out her days exploring her own thoughts and emotions, giving them full reign, feeling no obligation to please anybody unless their pleasure pleased her.  As willing to feel pain as to give pain, to feel pleasure as to give pleasure, hers was an experimental life…She was completely free of ambition, with no affection for money, property or things, no greed, no desire to command attention or compliments- no ego.  For that reason she felt no compulsion to verify herself- be consistent with herself.”

“Now Nel was one of them.  One of the spiders whose only thought was the next rung of the web, who dangled in dark dry places suspended by their own spittle, more terrified of the free fall than the snake’s breath below… If they were touched by the snake’s breath, however fatal, they were merely victims and knew how to behave in that role (just as Nel knew how to behave as the wronged wife).  But the free fall, oh no, that required- demanded- invention: a thing to do with the wings, a way of holding the legs and most of all a full surrender to the downward flight if they wished to taste their tongues or stay alive.  But alive was what they, and now Nel, did not want to be.  Too dangerous.”

“All those cities held the same people, working the same mouths, sweating the same sweat.”

“If I take a chamois and rub real hard on the bone, right on the ledge of your cheek bone, some of the black will disappear.  It will flake away into the chamois and underneath there will be gold leaf.  I can see it shining through the black.  I know it is there…”

“‘After all the old women have lain with the teen-agers; when all the young girls have slept with their old drunken uncles; after all the black men fuck all the white ones; when all the white women kiss all the black ones; when the guards have raped all the jailbirds and after all the whores make love to their grannies; after all the faggots get their mothers’ trim; when Lindbergh sleeps with Bessie Smith and Norma Shearer makes it with Stepin Fetchit; after all the dogs have fucked all the cats and every weathervane on every barn flies off the roof to mount the hogs… then there’ll be a little love left over for me.  And I know just what it will feel like.'”

“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.
Sula felt her face smiling.  ‘Well, I’ll be damned,’ she thought, ‘it didn’t even hurt.  Wait’ll I tell Nel.'”

“They hugged trees simply to hold for a moment all that life and largeness stilled in glass, and gazed at the sun pressed against the gray sky like a worn doubloon, wondering all the while if the world were coming to an end.”

“So he had said ‘always,’ so she would not have to be afraid of the change- the falling away of skin, the drip and slide of blood, and the exposure of bone underneath.  He had said ‘always’ to convince her, assure her, of permanency.”

“Still, when the day broke in an incredible splash of sun, he gathered his things.  In the early part of the afternoon, drenched in sunlight and certain that this would be the last time he would invite them to end their lives neatly and sweetly, he walked over the rickety bridge and on into the Bottom.  But it was not heartfelt this time, not loving this time, for he no longer cared whether he helped them or not.  His rope was improperly tied; his bell had a tinny unimpassioned sound.  His visitor was dead and would come no more.”

“Maybe the sun; maybe the clots of green showing in the hills promising so much; maybe the contrast between Shadrack’s doomy, gloomy bell glinting in all that sweet sunshine.  Maybe just a brief moment , for once, of not feeling fear, of looking at death in the sunshine and being unafraid.  She laughed.”

“Called to them to come out and play in the sunshine- as though the sunshine would last, as though there really was hope.””A lot of them died there.  The earth, now warm, shifted; the first forepole slipped; loose rock fell from the face of the tunnel and caused a shield to give way.  They found themselves in a chamber of water, deprived of the sun that had brought them there”

“‘Sula?’ she whispered, gazing at the tops of trees.  ‘Sula?’
Leaves stirred; mud shifted; there was the smell of overripe green things.  A soft ball of fur broke and scattered like dandelion spores in the breeze.
‘All that time, all that time, I thought I was missing Jude.’  And the loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. ‘We was girls together,’ she said as though explaining something. ‘O Lord, Sula,’ she cried, ‘girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.’
It was a fine cry- loud and long- but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.”


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