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The Function and Significance of Good vs.

Evil in Toni Morrison s Sula In Toni Morrison s novel Sula, the conflict of good verses evil is embodied into the story in various forms to question what defines right and wrong. Good verses evil is presented in forms that are interpreted on the surface and beneath the surface which give it multiple meanings. The relationship between Sula and Nel is the main manifestation of this theme, however, there are also many other contributors such as color schemes, gender and race differences, and life and death. This theme sheds light on the significance and interpretation of issues of everyday reality which includes controversies related to identity struggles, super natural forces, the impact and relevance of upbringing on development, family structure, and racism. Morrison demonstrates the importance of good verses evil with her writing in the way that she overlaps them and interprets them as products of one another. The friendship of Sula and Nel creates a presence of good and evil within their relationship to each other and their community. In their youth, Morrison gives Sula and Nel a single identity. That is, she gives the idea that both girls share an intimate bond that goes beyond a normal friendship. The girls are able to share dreams. Morrison writes, they had already made each other s acquaintance in the delirium of their noon dreams. They were solitary little girls whose loneliness was so profound it intoxicated them and sent them into Technicolored visions that always included a presence of someone who shared the delight of the dream (Morrison 51). Their bond represents a binary concept that connects them as a single unit but separates them into two distinct ideas of good and evil. To add to this effect, Morrison uses color schemes to emphasize their identities. As they gaze at their environment, Morrison notes, there was nothing on their minds but the grey sky

(Morrison 54). Black and white represents two opposite concepts, but grey represents a combination of the two. This is done in order to blur the lines of good and evil in the way that Sula and Nel embody them. Both girls represent this idea but in different demeanors. It is understood that Sula s carefree, unkempt personality makes her the manifestation of what is assumed to be evil. When Sula and Nel witness the accidental death of Chicken Little, their approaches to life become apparent. Sula believes herself to be evil because of her actions and goes about life refusing to follow the rules. Because of her headstrong attitude, the Bottom community shuns her behavior and attempts to act intuitively to protect themselves. In a way, Sula s manifestation as evil acts as a super natural force in the way that it changes the mood of an entire community (Page 32). They perceive it as the purpose of evil was to survive it and they determined to survive floods, white people, tuberculosis, famine, and ignorance. They knew anger well but not despair, and they didn t stone sinners for the same reason they didn t commit suicide, it was beneath them (Morrison 90). Sula refuses the role of wife and mother unlike the other women in the story. She refuses to marry, has promiscuous sex, and lacks maternal instincts. Because this approach is so unheard of in the Bottom, the community considers it evil and battles it as a whole. On the surface, Sula s actions can be considered a manifestation of evil because they represent everything that the Bottom community aggressively strives to avoid. To contrast that of Sula, Nel s persona along with the general woman lifestyle of the Bottom embodies what is perceived to be the concept of good. According to critic Missy Kubitschek, motherhood defines what the Bottom considers to be good. Eva Peace sacrifices her leg so that she can afford to take care of her children. She also takes in the

Deweys and treats them as if they were her own. When Nel witnesses the death of Chicken Little, she refuses to address it and continues with her life as a woman from the Bottom would. Morrison emphasizes the role of motherhood with self-sacrifice, in turn, making the Bottom community follow this way of life almost religiously. Eva nearly dies attempting to rescue Hannah, showing her maternal instincts and giving the community the belief that she is indeed good (Kupitschek 60). In order to embody what is good, Nel follows the same pattern of life by marrying Jude. Morrison writes, he needed some of his appetites filled, but mostly he wanted someone to care about his hurt, to care very deeply (Morrison 82). Nel fills his desires by becoming his wife, nurturing his empty void with a caregiver s touch. This contrasts that of Sula who does not play the role of mother or wife at point in the novel. The concept of evil is shunned in the community; therefore, the role of the typical woman takes the manifestation of what is considered good. Although good and evil are presented with Sula and Nel, Morrison questions this attitude by concealing further interpretation beneath the surface level of the story. In simple form, Sula represents evil because of her rebellion against motherhood. However, Morrison reverses the roles and gives her good qualities. Kupitschek says women use motherhood as an excuse for not facing their own feelings, not determining their own actions, (Kupitschek 61). That is, motherhood strips the Bottom women of their individual desires and identities. Sula is the only character that does not fall victim to this entrapment. By living carefree, Sula escapes the mental prison that the Bottom shares by refusing to allow it into her methodology. Morrison writes, 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, hers was an

experimental life ever since her mother's remarks sent her flying up those stairs the first experience taught her there was no other that you could count on; the second that there was no self to count on either (Morrison 118). In this instance, Morrison questions good with the ability to choose. With Sula, good takes on a form of power in the sense that Sula allows herself to feel and experience life in the way that will please her, making her selfauthoritative. She does not seek moral gratification or avoid evil, unlike the other characters in the story. Because of her self-removal from the larger context, Sula embodies good in the manner that she shuns the surface depiction of both evil and good in the Bottom. Morrison uses Sula to question the ideals of right and wrong with her bravery and inability to subject to the shared ideals. Sula s resistance to the Bottom lifestyle shows her commitment to her gender and her race and questions the good that is motherhood in the story. In most instances, motherhood strips the children of their individual identities in order to avoid the notions of evil. Eva Peace sacrifices her leg so that she can support her family, but fails to nurture them properly. She takes in the Deweys but treats them as a unit causing them to develop poorly. Similarly, Helene is permanently distanced from Nel and focuses on reshaping her nose, thus stripping her of her uniqueness (Page 67). Nel s maternal instincts flaw her own approach to life because her care for her children is existent yet lacking, while at the same time, robs her of her ability to experience any true emotion (Kupitschek 62). The idea of good motivates the women in this story to follow a certain way of life but this way of life encompasses neglect, uniformity, and even murder. Nel and Eva justify their actions as motherly constitution. Eva justifies killing her own son by saying I had to keep him out so I just thought of a way he could die like a man not all scrunched up in my womb (Morrison

72). Sula never attempts to justify her supposed evil actions. The idea of maternal instinct is considerably flawed in the Bottom, questioning whether the women are indeed avoiding evil or perhaps creating it. The quintessence of good and evil take form in Sula and Nel s binary friendship but also is relevant in the struggles between whites and blacks in Morrison s novel. In the context of good verses evil, race becomes an apparatus for discovering the true source of evil. That is, the idea of race causes the Bottom inhabitants to hate evil, but they fail to attack the source. Morrison makes it apparent that the African American Bottom community suffers from the oppression of whites, distinctly crystalizing the separation between the races. The slave masters gave the hilly unfertile land to their slaves, thus creating the realm of the Bottom community. The Deweys demonstrate more racism through the manner in which they all look alike, stereotyping African American development as akin. Sula s refusal to wear underwear to community gatherings gives the impression that she sleeps with white men, which causes shared feelings of disgust throughout the community (Mbalia 45). Morrison aggressively, though subtle in her tactic, defines the concept of white as evil and black as morally just through the eyes of her characters. Morrison even uses color schemes to emphasize this struggle. She writes, Shadrack stared at the soft colors that filled these triangles: the heavy lumpy whiteness of rice, the quivering blood tomatoes, the grayish brown meat, (Morrison 8). The colors are used together to emphasize the depth of the existent oppression. Critic Doreatha Mbalia argues, rather than focusing its attention on the pervasive evils of racism and poverty that continually threaten it, the community expends its energy on outlasting the evil Sula (Mbalia 46). In this case, society is the source of evil, but Sula s individuality misguidedly

draws the community s attention to her, ultimately allowing racism to isolate them from any form of freedom. The struggles of good and evil take form in the identity of life and death. In the novel, the Bottom inhabitants have distinct ideas of what is considered evil such as being promiscuous and failing to raise children. However, it is understood that evil represents all conceptions that are unknown to the Bottom. That is, they fear aspects of life that they do not understand, making them truly unforgiving and unable to empathize. Shadrack s postwar trauma reveals that death represents the unknown and change. Morrison writes, 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 (Morrison 14). Shadrack creates National Suicide Day to contest the indefinite feature of death, the only character other than Sula to combat the presumed existence of Bottom life. In the community, life is an assumed pattern that all are expected to follow, embodying good. Death represents fear of change and the unfamiliar, which is considered evil (Galehouse). Eva does not understand Plum s desire for her nurturing, causing her to kill him. Hannah and Chicken Little s death grabs Sula s attention, for it is something that she extends no control over (Kubitschek 56). Sula watched Hannah burn not because she was paralyzed, but because she was interested (Morrison 78). Morrison questions the definition of good and evil by playing with the trials and tributes of living and dying. Good and evil are embedded deep within Sula and are a direct cause for the ongoing search for identity of self and community. As stated earlier, Nel and Sula characterize a binary relationship in the sense that they complete one another. This sheds significance on

the struggles of good verses evil but also shows that their identities are incomplete when they are apart. According to critic Doreatha Mbalia, Sula, the mind; Nel, the body. Nel s mind dies when Sula leaves Medallion, but her body continues to perform the routine, necessary chores traditionally associated with women. In contrast, Sula s mind continues to function after her body ceases to do so, (Mbalia 44). Moreover, Jude considers Sula as a funny woman, not that bad looking but he could see why she wasn t married; she stirred a man s mind maybe, but not his body (Morrison 104). This lack of identity causes both girls to seek out their other half. Sula does not understand the relationship the Bottom has to acting good and self-righteousness, so she lives out her life alone and unable to truly empathize with the oppression that the Bottom inhabitants feel. Nel similarly is unable to understand Sula s struggle for total human independence, distancing her from her other half. Without a complete identity, both girls are doomed to struggle for accepting of good and evil throughout the novel (Galehouse). Toni Morrison s perception of good and evil is clearly a broad definition in the sense that she does not create a single depiction of either. Instead, Morrison uses her novel to question the constitution of right and wrong. With this notion, good and evil are not separate entities but more so, products of one another, especially in Sula. In religion, there are three faces of god, but behind the classic acceptance of good is the presence of a fourth face, evil. Without evil, good cannot exist and without good, evil cannot exist. Sula and Nel represent the paradox of this conflict in order to demonstrate that both concepts are not black and white in definition. Morrison shows that everyday matters such as child rearing, community life, and death all involve direct confrontation with the faces of god, having clear effects on the human condition. Sula is a powerful novel with an intended message in

regard to good and evil; it is not up to us to avoid or apprehend both concepts, but to understand that nothing contains a pure incarnation of either.

Works Cited

Galehouse, Maggie. ""New World Woman": Toni Morrison's Sula." Papers on Language & Literature (1999): 339. Print. Kubitschek, Missy Dehn. Toni Morrison: a Critical Companion. Westport: Greenwood, 1998. Print. Mbalia, Doreatha D. Toni Morrison's Developing Class Consciousness. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1991. Print. Morrison, Toni. Sula. Waterville: Thorndike, 2002. Print. Page, Philip. Dangerous Freedom: Fusion and Fragmentation in Toni Morrison's Novels. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 1995. Print.