Author: Toni Morrison
Narrator: Toni Morrison
Publication Info: Books on Tape, 2002 (originally published in 1973)
Other Books Read by the Same Author:
Morrison’s second novel is another one that I read on my own outside of college classes, and the one I remember the least. The novel is set in the fictional town of Medallion, Ohio in the Black neighborhood jokingly known as The Bottom despite being on the hilltops adjacent to the white part of town in the valley.
The main plot of the novel focuses on the friendship of two girls, Nel and Sula, growing up in the 1920s. Nel is from a stable family with rigid rules while Sula’s mother and grandmother are considered unconventional and loose. Their close friendship turns on the accidental death of a child they were playing with, something they chose to keep secret.
As they grow up, they go in different directions with Nel settling into a conventional marriage while Sula goes away to college and is rumored to have many sexual affairs. When Sula returns after a ten year absence, she is decried as the personification of evil, and unites against her, especially when Sula sleeps with Nel’s husband. Nel and Sula do reconcile by the end of the novel. A framing device set in the present day notes that The Bottom has ceased to exist and the hills have been gentrified for white peoples’ home.
In Sula, Morrison tells a story of a friendship between two Black women, something unusual in fiction up to that point. She creates two fully-developed, nuanced characters in Nel and Sula. One chooses a conventional life and the other follows her own initiative but neither is judged as being the “good” or “bad” one, at least by the author. The novel also shows the deleterious effects on a community living in segregation, and the internecine squabbles among Black people between “respectability” and embracing one’s own identity