Books are Back: Toni Morrison’s Sula

I know it’s not nonfiction, but it’s a great book. Last night, I led a discussion of Toni Morrison’s Sula (Wikipedia) at our local library (local news story). I love doing these things because the people who show up have always read the book and are eager to understand it more deeply. As long as I walk in with a list of the major characters, events, and symbols on the inside cover, I don’t have to do much of anything, yet I end up leaving having learned a few things myself. I hadn’t read the book since I last taught it in 1995, and I first read it in 1988, the summer before I started college. I loved being reminded what a great book this is.

We covered the standard topics: what love means, what family means, what good and evil mean, what it means to be a parent, what it means to be a child, what it means to be happy. We covered the major symbols of fire (which kills women) and water (which kills men) and Morrison’s ubiquitous biblical allusions. I’m told to shoot for an hour even though it’s scheduled for ninety minutes; it was after an hour when I first looked at the clock to see what time it was.

While re-reading, I found some great quotations.

“Daughters of distant mothers and incomprehensible fathers (Sula’s because he was dead; Nel’s because he wasn’t), they found in each other’s eyes the intimacy they were looking for” (52)

“In a way, her strangeness, her naiveté, her craving for the other half of her equation was the consequence of an idle imagination. Had she paints, or clay, or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings; had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. And like any artist with no art form, she became dangerous” (121)

“And there was utmost irony and outrage in lying under someone, in a position of surrender, feeling her  own abiding strength and limitless power” (123).

“Shadrack and Nel moved in opposite directions, each thinking separate thoughts about the past. The distance between them increased as they both remembered gone things” (174).

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