The Effects of Love and Death
In Sula, love and death are the major themes resonating throughout. The novel follows the lives of two characters, Sula and Neil by focusing on their encounters through childhood to maturity to death. In different instances they have been forced to get closer to each other to understand how they are important as a society considering they are radicalized victims. This reduces the fangs of death and pain associated with it after losing loved ones in different ways. Deaths in society as the novel depicts follow two major events including fire and water. However, there are biases on how Sula and Neil understand love compared to the contemporary society where death reflects hatred with one’s enemy being likely to kill those, who threaten them. With this focus, one can visualize that some of the issues witnessed in life may not always be as negative as people would ordinarily think and judge. An example of this is depicted in how Eva treats his son, where she perceives killing him as the only way to save him from drug addiction. In fact, the novel presents a society where women remain the leading perpetrators of catastrophic events and killing their loved ones and the outcomes leading to either satisfaction, for those intending to kill and guilt for those unwilling to kill, but it remains their fault on how the victims die. Morrison shows how a mother’s love affects a child’s life. The relationship between a mother and her child affects their identity development when they are young. The relationship between Hannah and Eva later in the story affects how Hannah raises her own child. Morrison shows us how death can affect people lives. Even after death, Sula will continue to play a part in everyone’s lives. The effects of death were used to further the plot and create conflict. It was also used to shine light on historical issues of racism and war.
Therefore, the story starts with Chicken Little’s death. The whole town came together for his funeral. Everyone there expressed their love for him. Though Chicken Little’s death was an accident it was still tragic for various reasons why being that he was so young it was unexpected. He met two girls Nel and Sula. Unfortunately, playing with the two girls is what led to his death. While Sula was playfully swinging him around, Chicken Little accidentally slips from her grip and falls into the river and drowns. Both girls left without getting help which made them feel guilty. Therefore, this shows that even if you’re just playing around Death can come at any minute and in any way. Soon after, his corpse was found three days later. His body was barely unidentifiable because it was not handled properly after his passing. The White men who found him were obviously racist not only did they neglect to use the proper traditional care. They stated, “He was just a nigger boy” (Lewis, 150). Why in their minds was a good enough reason to mishandle Chicken Little body? Chicken Little was treated horribly because he was not White.
Then, guilt can be depicted in the novel where Sula and Neil attended Chicken Little’s funeral. The illustration of this was their inability to face each other and avoided eye contact. Remorse and guilt was further evident in Sula based on how she cried. In such a situation, one could think the remorse was as a result of love for the deceased but it was just the internal regret. The aspect of coming together as a society could be depicted on how the pastor called people during the burial. A sense of unity was essential to overcome most of the challenges the society experienced.
Additionally, this brings us to Plum’s death. When he returned from the war, he is traumatized from his experience. One night, Eva enters his bedroom to hold him one last time in her arms. His mother Eva decides it’s best to release her son from his addiction by killing him. “Eva stepped back from the bed and let the crutches 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” (Lewis, 132). It is unbelievable a mother would kill her own child, but it is even more scary to know that in fact, it can happen, and that you never know when and what will cause it. Plum experienced a slow death by his own mothers.
For Eva, her actions were nothing more but motherly love. This was hard for her other children to comprehend, especially Hannah. They had been separated for a very long time. This led to Eva and Hannah having difficulty bonding emotionally. Then Hannah finally asks her mother why she killed Plum, and when Eva finally answers, it is: “like two people were talking at the same time, saying the same thing, one a fraction of a second behind the other” (Nissen, & Morrison, 265). Eva explained everything in full detail and her reasons behind her action. Afterwards Hannah didn’t know what to say.
Given what has been said the narrative reveals Eva’s double identity, and it indicates: “the self-division that by necessity characterizes and distinguishes maternal discourse”. Eva said she could not bear to see her son suffer anymore. Plum was obviously deteriorating. All because of the drugs. Eva said, “I done everything I could to make him go on to live and be a man, but he couldn’t.” As a Mother Eva felt a lot of pressure on her and instead of asking for help, she resorted to extreme measures (Lewis, 94). Eva also stated that she wanted Plum to die like a man not all scrunched up inside my womb, but like a man.
I believed death in the story was used to motivate people in a way. Shadrak was afraid of the idea of death he decided to make one day dedicated to raising awareness about suicide. He was constantly thinking about death. Death’s defiantly impacts whatever the decisions we make which was proven in the whole novel. There was one character especially that proved this fact ‘Sula’. Her whole life was based of making reckless and risky decisions because knowing we only live once she wanted to do any and everything before passing away. As stated previously Shadrak was afraid of death, He knew the smell of death and was frightened. It was the unexpectedness of both death and dying he was really scared of. All of which made him want to make one day a year devoted to National Suicide Day.
Toni Morrison successfully managed to inflict fear of death. This exaggerates on the fact that death would sooner get to everyone despite the joy for life. Others make the most of this life and does not let anybody stop them from enjoying it. Sula understood this life is too short and chooses to do what makes her happy and not miserable. This sort of “You only live once” ideal, which Sula follows, is all based and inspired around death.
Hannah asks “Mamma, did you ever love us?” The beggary situation they lived in forced them to live uncomfortably. This threatened the survival of Eva and her children. That being the case Eva decided to disconnect herself emotionally from her children. On this subject Eva believed she gave up everything to ensure the safety of her little ones, she thought this was proof of her love. Regarding Hannah’s question, Eva says: “You setting’ here with your healthy self and ask me did I love you? The big old eyes in your head would a been two holes full of maggots if I hadn’t”. But despite that, to Hannah, providing for their needs does not correspond to her definition of a loving mother: “I didn’t mean that Mamma. I know you nurtured us and all. I was talking’ ‘bout something else (Nissen, 265-267). Like. Playing’ with us? Did you ever, you know, play with us?”
However, for Hannah being hands on and giving attention is what makes her feel loved and connected with her mother. She knows that everything she has done and sacrificed for her children was not in vain. In consideration of Hannah’s question for acknowledgment and love, Eva tried anything to secure their wellbeing. Both mothers had stories they wanted to tell, but never got the chance to. Eva and Hannah just wanted to be acknowledged. They failed communicate and understand each other which really got in the way. If they were able to communicate Hannah would have felt that motherly love. Because of her feelings towards her mother, it influenced how she treats her own child now that she is a mother. She didn’t experience that love and bond Thus, Hannah does not know how to mother her own child.
The last death was Sula Peace the main character. Sula’s death was very different from all the other characters. It impacted not only her family and friends, but the whole community. Sula’s death also affected Shadrack. She was the only person who would talk to him. So, it really hit hard for Shadrack. Because of this, he didn’t want to participate in National Suicide Day. He never missed a single day until now, and this was the first (Lewis, 95). He wanted to mourn his only friend. They both had something in common, no one in the town understanding them. Shadrack knew Sula was the only person who would ever understand him but now she is dead.
Sula’s death also impacted her best friend, Nel. Nel was very hesitant to visit Sula when she was sick. Before Sula passed, her and Nel argued about how they should have resolved their problems. Nel left Sula should have stayed away from her husband, but Sula response is what made Nel mad. Sula felt like it wasn’t a big deal. After their argument, Nel left, and Sula passed without feeling any pain at all. This shows that Nel missed her Sula, she just wanted things to go back to how things used to be.
In conclusion, death has impacted all the characters in many ways. Everyone responds differently. Depending on their bond with the person, For example, Sula and Nel were close so, the other’s mourned the loss and remembered all the great times they had together. But when the relationship was rocky like Sula and her mom Hannah, then death was with no emotions. Hannah death impacted only a few people. While Chicken Little and Sula death impacted an entire community. All of them were still important.
1) Toni Morrison Sula. “This is a Borzoi Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.” 174 pages
2) JOURNAL ARTICLE
Nissen, Axel, and Toni Morrison. “Form Matters: Toni Morrison’s” Sula” and the Ethics of Narrative.” Contemporary Literature 40.2 (1999): 263-285.
books, p. (2002, april 5). sula. Retrieved from goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11346.Sula
Lewis, Vashti Crutcher. “African Tradition in Toni Morrison’s Sula.” Phylon (1960-) 48.1 (1987): 91-97.
Staff, t. (2021, december 3). “TheBestNotes on Sula”. Retrieved from TheBestNotes.com: