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Past BOTM discussions > Sula by Toni Morrison

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message 1: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 4254 comments Mod
Place holder, does anyone want to moderate? Sula, published in 1974, was in the first edition of the book.


message 2: by Kristel (last edited Sep 01, 2018 03:22AM) (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 4254 comments Mod
A question to get us started; 1. Toni Morrison is probably the greatest living American writer. She's won the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in literature. The language of her novels is lush, poetic, and rich in symbol and thought-provoking strangeness. Based on your reading of the first few chapters, can you tell why she is such a widely admired author? If so, what do you think some of those reasons might be? I"What is it about this text that makes it worthy of our attention so many years after it was written?"


message 3: by Dree (new)

Dree | 243 comments I am planning to read this since I have it. I probably won’t get to it til the latter half of the month due to library books I must finish!


message 4: by Diane (new)

Diane Zwang | 1313 comments Mod
Like Dree I am going to read this at the latter half of the month. I have two other books I want to finish first. I loved The Bluest Eye so I am sure I will love the language of this one too.


message 5: by Gail (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1534 comments I am on the about the 5th chapter and from the first paragraphs I was caught. Morrison’s writing is quick, detailed, rich and musical but with a crispness to it that gives you deep insights into her characters in few strokes. This story about black women surviving in a small town in Ohio encompasses whole worlds and I want to drink it all in.


message 6: by Kristel (last edited Sep 04, 2018 06:39PM) (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 4254 comments Mod
Here's the rest of the questions which I may take from more than one source. http://www.k-state.edu/english/eisele... and http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guid.... I love Morrison's writing. I am looking forward to discussing this book with you.

1. The epigram "Nobody knew my rose of the world but me....I had too much glory. They don't want glory like that in nobody's heart." --The Rose Tattoo. How does this set the stage for the novel? Who is the author of the Rose Tattoo? Do the two writers have anything in common?

2. Morrison's novel is set in small town Ohio. What is the town like? How was the neighborhood established? How does Morrison describe it? Where did it get its name? How is nearby Medallion different? In what ways is the Bottom a character or force in the novel? On the first page, the narrator tells us that the Bottom is gone. How does knowing that the Bottom exists no more affect your reading of the novel?

3. Readers often love, hate, or love-and-hate this book. Some examples of the scenes in Part One that tend to inspire strong reactions are:
--Eva's lost leg (pages 29-31 ff.)
--Plum's death (45-48)
--Nel and Sula playing with sticks (58-9)
--Nel and Sula playing with Chicken Little (60-61)
--Eva's response to Hannah's question about love (67)
--Hannah and the yard fire (75-78)
Why would these scenes inspire such a strong response? Think about each one of these scenes. What is disturbing or provocative about it? What does it make you think about? What is its relationship to the novel's important themes, plots, and characters? What is your own response to or your own ideas about each of these scenes?

4. a)This question is especially for those of you who are familiar with Christianity and/or the Bible. Track down the biblical origin of as many of the names as you can. Some will be obvious, others less obvious. Which names seem appropriate to their biblical origin? Which names don't seem to fit? If any biblical name doesn't seem appropriate, why do you think Morrison uses it in Sula. Have you been able to spot any other Christian or biblical symbolism? If so, what are some examples?

b) Sula seems to be a novel that's filled with symbolic references: place names, character names, repeated images (mirrors, skin color, fire, water, wind, birds, etc.). Did you spot any of these. Think about the meanings of this symbol in relationship to the novel's plot, characters, and themes. Can you think of other symbols that are important to the story?

5. a)Sula is a book about family relationships. Think about the relationships between Nel, her mother Helene, and her grandmother Rochelle, and her great-grandmother Cecile. Are they a close-knit like the March family?

b) and relationships between girls from different families and communities. So what draws them together? What are the biggest challenges to their friendship? What keeps them friends? Sula and Nel become friends and later seem to be each other's alter egos. How does Nel's decision to marry inform Sula's life? How does Sula's leaving influence Nel?

c) Sula is also a novel about men and boys. How does World War I affect male characters such as Plum or Shadrack? Eva seems to have a certain power over men. What does this tell us about the men in the book? What are similarities that connect the men in the book? What are the most important differences (besides age) between the men and the boys in the book? In what ways does age not make much of separating difference between the men and the boys in this book? Who are your favorite men in the book? Who confuses you most?

d) the book takes place over 45 years, how do relationships change.

6. Morrison's Sula treats themes such as racial prejudice; grief, pain, and suffering; good and evil. Examine these three themes in Sula.
--How does the novel represent racism? How does racism affect the characters?
--Where does grief appear in the novel? What causes the grief? How does each character deal with it? What are the interesting differences between how each deals with her or his grief?
--Is this book about evil? Is Sula herself evil? Does Sula's evil change the town? If so, in what ways? What does the novel, in your opinion, have to say about evil? What does the novel say about or do with Christian imagery and theology?

7. Sula contains some adult language and mature themes (racism, sexuality, and more). If you were a high school teacher or the parent of a high-schooler, would you consider Sula appropriate reading for high school students?

8. Have you read other books by Ms Morrison. Which one is your favorite. This one was removed from the list after the first edition, do you think that was a good decision?


message 7: by Gail (last edited Sep 09, 2018 01:28PM) (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1534 comments Spoilers Galore - do not read if you have not read the book yet!
1) The Rose Tattoo is a play by Tennessee Williams and is largely about withdrawal from the world. (It is also a rock band from Australia). I really do not know enough about Tennessee Williams to know how the 2 authors would compare but I suspect that there is a way in which they both write about smaller passionate domestic dramas that somehow encompass the whole world.

2) I think it is important for the evolution of the story that the reader know that the Bottom is gone before we learn much else about the town. From the first we understand that we are reading about the past and a rather nostalgic past in which the events in a small town captured what was happening across the rest of southern Ohio during the post war years. The part of the town of Medallion known as the Bottom was too hilly to be valuable land at the time the town was settled so it was given over to the lowest economic rung, the African American community. The community was suspicious of outsiders and yet tolerant of their own in that it became a safe harbor for the rejected, the damaged and the misfits of the area.

3) Morrison has a tendency in all her books to have events, actions or situations that appear extreme in that they would not normally happen to a large segment of the population. In this book there are quite a few of these kind of events and it has caused some readers to think the book is too forced. The loss of a leg to be able to take care of a family, the giving up on a son because the mother realized she could not care for him like the child he was once again becoming, the fact that the two main characters cause the death of a child....However, I found that they worked in the context of the story for me....this was a extreme time in an extreme edge of the world in its own way and I did not think that any of the actions were out of character for either the people in the book or the character of the town itself. I do have to say that in some ways the least extreme of these situations: Hannah voicing her feelings about her daughter was the most upsetting because it was something that any mother/daughter pairing could experience. Plum's death was the second most upsetting. Plum's mother loved him but she could no longer care for him and she felt she had already lost him BUT would a mother really do that?

4) There is a great deal of flower symbolism from the rose tattoo (passion) to the smell of gardenias. They tend to stand in for passion, sexual intoxication and point out to the reader the fleeting nature of beauty. Also the birds tend to congregate at the end and become an evil plague that represents Sula's evil to the town. There are multiple incidents of purifying flames which seems biblical.

5) Nel and Sula compliment each other in that they are both outsiders in their own way from the regular crowd. Nel is raised by a controlling and tight laced woman who does not share her love easily. Sula is raised in chaos and disorder by a women who also does not appreciate her. They see in each other what they lack from their families - acceptance and love for who they really are.
Although Chicken Little was a boy, most of the males in the book are grown ups of a sort. However, they are not always allowed to be "men" either because they are damaged by the war, damaged by drugs, damaged by racist economic politics (they can not be hired to do construction work that would have granted them good wages). Nel's husband is the most confusing. He seems to be a good man who cares about his family and his town but he becomes intoxicated by Sula who does not care for him, who only uses him. I wanted him to come around and get back with Nel but he did not. Instead he traveled north to get factory work. In a way, Morrison dismisses him from the book once he is "damaged" by Sula.

6) It was racist times reflected in this book where African Americans had to live in segregated communities even in the so called north, where they were not considered for the best jobs and the jobs they were considered for were demeaning. Grief is interlaced throughout the book as a human condition rather than as a singular event. There are events that cause further grief but there are also times in which no one has time or energy to think about or spend time doing active grieving. Even at the end when Sula could be grieving a life lost she does not bother....rather she takes on the "evil" as perceived by the town folk and takes it with her. (How is that for Biblical).

7) I really do not know what high school students read now. I can imagine that reading this book with some best friends would be very wonderful.

8) Yes, I do not think this was my favorite. Many reviewers see this book as strangely too small, i.e. not really tackling some of the larger issues it brings up. I did not feel that, but I really love Beloved, and also although I think Jazz is flawed I really heard the music all the way through.


message 8: by Chinook (new)

Chinook | 282 comments This was a five star read for me. My review: Many reviewers talk about the relationship between Nell and Sula - and certainly it’s the core of the story, but what I really loved about this was that it’s a portrait of a community, specific in time and location and race. I listened to the author read the audiobook and it was really restful - both her style of narration and the prose.


message 9: by Chinook (new)

Chinook | 282 comments 1. The epigram "Nobody knew my rose of the world but me....I had too much glory. They don't want glory like that in nobody's heart." --The Rose Tattoo. How does this set the stage for the novel? Who is the author of the Rose Tattoo? Do the two writers have anything in common?

Interesting- I’d never heard of this play/film and I know almost nothing about Tennessee Williams. But the plot involves adultery, which is an interesting connection.

2. Morrison's novel is set in small town Ohio. What is the town like? How was the neighborhood established? How does Morrison describe it? Where did it get its name? How is nearby Medallion different? In what ways is the Bottom a character or force in the novel? On the first page, the narrator tells us that the Bottom is gone. How does knowing that the Bottom exists no more affect your reading of the novel?

Bottom struck me as really rural and Medallion more of an actual town. To be honest, I didn’t really recall that she mentioned that the Bottkm didn’t exist at the beginning. It felt sort of inevitable, though, thinking of the urbanization at the time.

3. Readers often love, hate, or love-and-hate this book. Some examples of the scenes in Part One that tend to inspire strong reactions are:
--Eva's lost leg (pages 29-31 ff.)
--Plum's death (45-48)
--Nel and Sula playing with sticks (58-9)
--Nel and Sula playing with Chicken Little (60-61)
--Eva's response to Hannah's question about love (67)
--Hannah and the yard fire (75-78)
Why would these scenes inspire such a strong response? Think about each one of these scenes. What is disturbing or provocative about it? What does it make you think about? What is its relationship to the novel's important themes, plots, and characters? What is your own response to or your own ideas about each of these scenes?

There is a lot of loss and death in this book and I think it’s a desire not to read about tragedy on this level that people may hate. I also think that we very strongly romanticize motherhood and mother love these days, so it can be hard to see a different, less idealized mothering.

4. a)This question is especially for those of you who are familiar with Christianity and/or the Bible. Track down the biblical origin of as many of the names as you can. Some will be obvious, others less obvious. Which names seem appropriate to their biblical origin? Which names don't seem to fit? If any biblical name doesn't seem appropriate, why do you think Morrison uses it in Sula. Have you been able to spot any other Christian or biblical symbolism? If so, what are some examples?

Interesting. So, I know very little about Christianity and I didn’t see anything that stuck out to me.

b) Sula seems to be a novel that's filled with symbolic references: place names, character names, repeated images (mirrors, skin color, fire, water, wind, birds, etc.). Did you spot any of these. Think about the meanings of this symbol in relationship to the novel's plot, characters, and themes. Can you think of other symbols that are important to the story?

To be honest, I didn’t really take in much of the symbolism.

5. a)Sula is a book about family relationships. Think about the relationships between Nel, her mother Helene, and her grandmother Rochelle, and her great-grandmother Cecile. Are they a close-knit like the March family?

I thought it was really interesting to see the various reactions of daughters against the lifestyles of their mothers in Nel’s family. And I liked reading about alternate family structures as well.

b) and relationships between girls from different families and communities. So what draws them together? What are the biggest challenges to their friendship? What keeps them friends? Sula and Nel become friends and later seem to be each other's alter egos. How does Nel's decision to marry inform Sula's life? How does Sula's leaving influence Nel?

To a certain extent, I think perhaps it’s just that they are the same age and in a small community. They share so much history and then they share the secret of Chicken’s death, which perhaps really ties them tightly together. I think Nel’s marriage inspires Sula to leave - to get out of the way of this new bonding of Nel’s.


c) Sula is also a novel about men and boys. How does World War I affect male characters such as Plum or Shadrack? Eva seems to have a certain power over men. What does this tell us about the men in the book? What are similarities that connect the men in the book? What are the most important differences (besides age) between the men and the boys in the book? In what ways does age not make much of separating difference between the men and the boys in this book? Who are your favorite men in the book? Who confuses you most?

I think most of the men seem connected in particular in their lack of engaging work, of respect outside of their community and I think they share a common need to heal that wound and it seems to be commonly done by having affairs. Morrison shows the PTSD of having served in war very eloquently. It’s interesting too how she focuses a lot of her description on how beautiful the men are, but in describing the women focuses more on their physical imperfections or differences.

d) the book takes place over 45 years, how do relationships change.

I feel like for many of the characters, they change but I’m not sure that relationships change all that much. Even between Sula and Nel, it seems that their friendship has turned to resentment or hate but then after Sula’s death, Nel’s reaction suggests perhaps not as much as we’d been led to think.

6. Morrison's Sula treats themes such as racial prejudice; grief, pain, and suffering; good and evil. Examine these three themes in Sula.
--How does the novel represent racism? How does racism affect the characters?

The train trip down to New Orleans really drives home the racism, but otherwise more of the affect of racism on the men seems to be apparent to me. Talking about the ramifications of being denied jobs.

--Where does grief appear in the novel? What causes the grief? How does each character deal with it? What are the interesting differences between how each deals with her or his grief?

The PTSD of some characters, grieving what they saw (did?) during the war, the grief of not getting from a mother the kind of love they want, the grief of losing partners, by death or abandonment. The grief of having children that you struggle to provide for.

--Is this book about evil? Is Sula herself evil? Does Sula's evil change the town? If so, in what ways? What does the novel, in your opinion, have to say about evil? What does the novel say about or do with Christian imagery and theology?

I wouldn’t say she’s evil, I’d say she was damaged. She was very upset when Chicken died, while Nel was calm - and we learn later, fascinated. Then Sula responds to her mother’s death in a detached, fascinated way - but I think that the suppressed emotions of what happened to Chicken might be the cause of that. It’s hard to see how sleeping with her best friend’s husband could mark her as evil, considering how prevalent that behaviour seemed to be in the community. I do think that Sula being perceived as evil, as the town’s scapegoat, does change people’s behaviours.

7. Sula contains some adult language and mature themes (racism, sexuality, and more). If you were a high school teacher or the parent of a high-schooler, would you consider Sula appropriate reading for high school students?

Yes. I don’t think anything presented here is overly graphic and as such I’d have zero problem with my daughters reading this in high school. I myself read The Colour Purple at about 12-13, which was probably a bit soon but I think it did me no harm and a world of good to start seeing the difficult things that happen in the world through a relatively safe medium - since it doesn’t come with the imagery in TV and movies, I think reading allows younger readers to more easily gloss over the parts they aren’t ready to handle yet without having to completely bypass the content. As a former teacher, I think this kind of novel taught well is exactly the kind of thing that should be taught because the difficult content can be prepared for in advance, discussed, given context. But I think in many respects todsy’s society as a whole and parenting as a culture isn’t mature enough to handle that in many cases.

8. Have you read other books by Ms Morrison. Which one is your favorite. This one was removed from the list after the first edition, do you think that was a good decision?

I read Beloved in my teens and I didn’t like it. I suspect I should reread it, now that I know more about the history and racism involved. Then I read A Mercy within the last ten years and really loved her writing. Jazz was okay, but this has been my favourite so far.


message 10: by Book (new)

Book Wormy | 2078 comments Mod
1. The epigram "Nobody knew my rose of the world but me....I had too much glory. They don't want glory like that in nobody's heart." --The Rose Tattoo. How does this set the stage for the novel? Who is the author of the Rose Tattoo? Do the two writers have anything in common?

The others have covered the origin of the Rose Tattoo what interested me was the fact that Sula has a birth mark over one eye which is described as a rose so another example of a rose tattoo.

2. Morrison's novel is set in small town Ohio. What is the town like? How was the neighborhood established? How does Morrison describe it? Where did it get its name? How is nearby Medallion different? In what ways is the Bottom a character or force in the novel? On the first page, the narrator tells us that the Bottom is gone. How does knowing that the Bottom exists no more affect your reading of the novel?

The "black" neighbourhood was created as the "white's" didn't want to give away good land instead they gave away the worst land around where making a living is near impossible and weather conditions much harsher than the sheltered white community.

Bottom disappearing is inevitable either the weather will destroy the town or white expansion will make that land more desirable for something.


3. Readers often love, hate, or love-and-hate this book. Some examples of the scenes in Part One that tend to inspire strong reactions are:
--Eva's lost leg (pages 29-31 ff.)
--Plum's death (45-48)
--Nel and Sula playing with sticks (58-9)
--Nel and Sula playing with Chicken Little (60-61)
--Eva's response to Hannah's question about love (67)
--Hannah and the yard fire (75-78)
Why would these scenes inspire such a strong response? Think about each one of these scenes. What is disturbing or provocative about it? What does it make you think about? What is its relationship to the novel's important themes, plots, and characters? What is your own response to or your own ideas about each of these scenes?

The only one that really resonated with me was Chicken Little personally I think everything that happens later on in the story with Sula's return can be traced back to that incident.


b) Sula seems to be a novel that's filled with symbolic references: place names, character names, repeated images (mirrors, skin color, fire, water, wind, birds, etc.). Did you spot any of these. Think about the meanings of this symbol in relationship to the novel's plot, characters, and themes. Can you think of other symbols that are important to the story?

I found it interesting that people are given nicknames according to the things they do worst in their lives and how those names reflect how they behave.

5. a)Sula is a book about family relationships. Think about the relationships between Nel, her mother Helene, and her grandmother Rochelle, and her great-grandmother Cecile. Are they a close-knit like the March family?

I didn't get the impression that they were particularly close.

b) and relationships between girls from different families and communities. So what draws them together? What are the biggest challenges to their friendship? What keeps them friends? Sula and Nel become friends and later seem to be each other's alter egos. How does Nel's decision to marry inform Sula's life? How does Sula's leaving influence Nel?

I am guessing that they are friends because in a small community they are the same age and actually have no one else to relate to. Nel chose a man over Sula which means the community views her as more successful so Sula leaves to prove she can survive. Sula's leaving allows Nel to be her own person and to fit into a role Sula would scorn.


c) Sula is also a novel about men and boys. How does World War I affect male characters such as Plum or Shadrack? Eva seems to have a certain power over men. What does this tell us about the men in the book? What are similarities that connect the men in the book? What are the most important differences (besides age) between the men and the boys in the book? In what ways does age not make much of separating difference between the men and the boys in this book? Who are your favorite men in the book? Who confuses you most?

Males can be manipulated using sex or female wiles for want of a better expression they are all vulnerable to women in the novel. The Deweys are probably my favourite males as they seem to be outside of events almost otherworldly.

d) the book takes place over 45 years, how do relationships change.

People change and grow apart, children argue with parents and leave home, the children become adults have their own families basically life goes on just as it always has.

6. Morrison's Sula treats themes such as racial prejudice; grief, pain, and suffering; good and evil. Examine these three themes in Sula.
--How does the novel represent racism? How does racism affect the characters?
--Where does grief appear in the novel? What causes the grief? How does each character deal with it? What are the interesting differences between how each deals with her or his grief?
--Is this book about evil? Is Sula herself evil? Does Sula's evil change the town? If so, in what ways? What does the novel, in your opinion, have to say about evil? What does the novel say about or do with Christian imagery and theology?

Racism is dealt with by how Sula is treated on the train, by how the young fit black men can't get manual work with proper pay, how the blacks are condemned to live in Bottom where life is hard, how the black nursing home is inferior to the white one.

Death is the biggest cause of grief various characters die and reactions to their deaths vary.

Sula is not evil all humans are evil, It is even said that having Sula back gives the town a common enemy they bond together and care for each other while she is alive but once she is dead relationships fall apart.

Sula also makes Nel question which of them was evil was it her or was it Nel.



7. Sula contains some adult language and mature themes (racism, sexuality, and more). If you were a high school teacher or the parent of a high-schooler, would you consider Sula appropriate reading for high school students?

Assuming high schoolers are the same age as our secondary schoolers 11-16 I would have no problem with this being taught, I think this age group can read more "inappropriate" literature that is aimed specifically at them.

8. Have you read other books by Ms Morrison. Which one is your favorite. This one was removed from the list after the first edition, do you think that was a good decision?

I think The Bluest Eye is my favourite so far but I do have lots more that I haven't read so I am looking forward to those.


message 11: by Kristel (last edited Sep 17, 2018 06:44PM) (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 4254 comments Mod
Discussions
1. The epigram "Nobody knew my rose of the world but me....I had too much glory. They don't want glory like that in nobody's heart." --The Rose Tattoo. How does this set the stage for the novel? Who is the author of the Rose Tattoo? Do the two writers have anything in common? The birthmark on Sula's eyelid appeared like a rose. And I think it speaks to what Sula possessed that made her separate from her own community.The play by Tennessee Williams is about the relationship between a mother and daughter.

2. Morrison's novel is set in small town Ohio. What is the town like? How was the neighborhood established? How does Morrison describe it? Where did it get its name? How is nearby Medallion different? In what ways is the Bottom a character or force in the novel? On the first page, the narrator tells us that the Bottom is gone. How does knowing that the Bottom exists no more affect your reading of the novel? The people of the Bottom were tricked. They were told they could have bottom land but were given hilly land but at the end, the rich want the hills and take away the home of these people, displacing them for a golf course and so they can have homes that look over the valley.

3. 3. Readers often love, hate, or love-and-hate this book. Some examples of the scenes in Part One that tend to inspire strong reactions are:
--Eva's lost leg (pages 29-31 ff.)
--Plum's death (45-48)
--Nel and Sula playing with sticks (58-9)
--Nel and Sula playing with Chicken Little (60-61)
--Eva's response to Hannah's question about love (67)
--Hannah and the yard fire (75-78)
Why would these scenes inspire such a strong response? Think about each one of these scenes. What is disturbing or provocative about it? What does it make you think about? What is its relationship to the novel's important themes, plots, and characters? What is your own response to or your own ideas about each of these scenes?

Eva's strength to put her leg on a rail to have it cut off so she can provide for her family is extraordinary strength. She also has strength to take her own son out of this world when he is lost to drugs. I don't believe she did not love him. It was harder for me to accept the incident with Chicken Little. That was pretty horrible. I got the feeling that life was tenuous in the Bottom and people excepted that children and people die. Eva's response to Hannah's question I completely understood. I did not have a hard time with this and her mother's willingness to throw herself out of a window in attempt to save her daughter. These are life and death situations. Also the role of mother for these women with several children, no money or means to care for these children and having to serve both roles of mother and father puts more stress on these women. Themes of good and evil; the incident of Chicken Little; Sula (wild) is bad because it was she who was swinging Chicken Little. Nel (proper) was good because it wasn't at her hands. The character who "changes in this book is Nel. Nel grows into an independent woman and when she is confronted by Eva and visits the cemetery, she realizes that what she has been grieving was her friend Sula and not her husband. Sula tells Nel not to be so sure of her goodness.

4. a)This question is especially for those of you who are familiar with Christianity and/or the Bible. Track down the biblical origin of as many of the names as you can. Some will be obvious, others less obvious. Which names seem appropriate to their biblical origin? Which names don't seem to fit? If any biblical name doesn't seem appropriate, why do you think Morrison uses it in Sula. Have you been able to spot any other Christian or biblical symbolism? If so, what are some examples?

b) Sula seems to be a novel that's filled with symbolic references: place names, character names, repeated images (mirrors, skin color, fire, water, wind, birds, etc.). Did you spot any of these. Think about the meanings of this symbol in relationship to the novel's plot, characters, and themes. Can you think of other symbols that are important to the story?

a. Shadrach (Shadrach was one of three Hebrew men thrown into a fiery furnace by the King of Babylon. Shadrach has PTSD from WWI.
Eva would be a form of Eve and she is the mother of Hannah and grandmother of Sula. She is the matriarch. (Hannah, another Hebrew woman who was the mother of Samuel). Hannah's name doesn't fit as she sleeps around but then she is willing to sacrifice her child which is what Hannah did with Samuel.
Jude is a biblical name
The last name Peace. (this is not a family of Peace).
b. Birds often portend evil or bad and when Sula returns there is a plague of Robins. Robins are also a symbol of spring, rebirth. Things change in the Bottom. Shadrach is better. Nel has a self awakening. Fire is certainly a symbol that causes havoc in family relations.


5. 5. a)Sula is a book about family relationships. Think about the relationships between Nel, her mother Helene, and her grandmother Rochelle, and her great-grandmother Cecile. Are they a close-knit like the March family? Rochelle is a Creole prostitute. Cecile is a religious lady. Helene is raised to not be like her mother. She leaves to become a different person. They are not close knit.

b) and relationships between girls from different families and communities. So what draws them together? What are the biggest challenges to their friendship? What keeps them friends? Sula and Nel become friends and later seem to be each other's alter egos. How does Nel's decision to marry inform Sula's life? How does Sula's leaving influence Nel?Sula and Nel are both basically ignored by their mother's and have no real friends. There loneliness and neglect by mother gives them something in common. Nel marries which leaves Sula free to leave the Bottom. She gets a college education and travels.

c) Sula is also a novel about men and boys. How does World War I affect male characters such as Plum or Shadrack? Eva seems to have a certain power over men. What does this tell us about the men in the book? What are similarities that connect the men in the book? What are the most important differences (besides age) between the men and the boys in the book? In what ways does age not make much of separating difference between the men and the boys in this book? Who are your favorite men in the book? Who confuses you most? The men are damaged by war. Eva is strong woman and will sacrifice her own leg for her family. Most of the men are basically boys. In the end, I think I liked Shadrach the best.

d) the book takes place over 45 years, how do relationships change. Eva remains the strong one, she outlives all her family. Nel does the most growth as a character. Shadrach gets better with time. The people end up being displaced but also get more opportunities for work.

6. Morrison's Sula treats themes such as racial prejudice; grief, pain, and suffering; good and evil. Examine these three themes in Sula.
--How does the novel represent racism? How does racism affect the characters? there is the racism of not being able to get a decent job, not being able to even have a bathroom to urinate in, there is the racism of blacks against blacks that are too white
--Where does grief appear in the novel? What causes the grief? How does each character deal with it? What are the interesting differences between how each deals with her or his grief? the biggest example of grief is Nel and the gray ball which she comes to realize is really her loss of her friendship and not her husband.
--Is this book about evil? Is Sula herself evil? Does Sula's evil change the town? If so, in what ways? What does the novel, in your opinion, have to say about evil? What does the novel say about or do with Christian imagery and theology? it is about good and evil. See above response

7. Sula contains some adult language and mature themes (racism, sexuality, and more). If you were a high school teacher or the parent of a high-schooler, would you consider Sula appropriate reading for high school students? I think it was okay, it was well done and appropriate to time, place and coming of age.

8. Have you read other books by Ms Morrison. Which one is your favorite. This one was removed from the list after the first edition, do you think that was a good decision? My favorite is probably The Bluest Eye but I also really liked Beloved. Supposedly, Sula is considered to be her best work even though the others have won more recognition. I am okay with this one being removed. And I forgot, but I really loved Song of Solomon


message 12: by Amie (new)

Amie (amie-b) | 80 comments I really enjoyed everybody's answers, and I agree with a lot of what was said.

Here's my review:
Ms. Morrison is a good storyteller. I enjoyed this book. The story wasn't always chronological, but it flowed and made sense. I look forward to reading more of her books.


message 13: by Leni (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 481 comments I read the first third or so of this last night and only put it down because I really needed to go to sleep. I've reached 1922. Will hopefully read the rest this evening. I love it.

I wasn't terribly keen on the prologue, and I've learnt that Morrison had intended to start the book with "Except for World War II, nothing ever interfered with the celebration of National Suicide Day." But she decided to add the prologue in order to "cater to the white gaze" and ease the reader into the story by providing context. I also read that this is the only one of her books where she has done that. I guess in 1970 it was a smart, maybe even necessary, move. But I think her original idea the more powerful one. Plunge my white gaze into the the deep end any day. I love flailing for footing with a book. Fully submerged from the start.

I read Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier immediately before starting Sula. (Also an excellent book.) That book also starts with a shell shocked soldier returning from WW I. But it's a wealthy, white British soldier and of course he is brought home by family, not just tossed out on the street. To go from landed gentry to the residents of Bottom has definitely been a transition!

I don't know if this will strike the rest of you as an odd comparison, but so far Sula reminds me of Cannery Row. Only it has more rage. They both have these marginalised and highly memorable characters that the author treats with a lot of compassion.


message 14: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 4254 comments Mod
Leni wrote: "I read the first third or so of this last night and only put it down because I really needed to go to sleep. I've reached 1922. Will hopefully read the rest this evening. I love it.

I wasn't terr..."

I hadn't thought of Cannery Row when reading this but it did feel like it reminded me of other books. I am hoping to read Winesburg, Ohio by Anderson yet this month and to compare that Ohio book with Sula.


message 15: by Pip (last edited Sep 20, 2018 08:58PM) (new)

Pip | 1477 comments I cannot believe it! I somehow deleted my very involved post before posting it. I have spent an hour and a half on it and I cannot seem to retrieve it anywhere. So my frustrated and terse response to the questions! I shall post it in stages.
1. The Rose Tattoo was a play by Tennesse Williams, which had a theme of the power of small town gossip and a character who loved her husband who left cf Nel.
2. The neighbourhood of Bottom was the segregated community for blacks in a town called Meridian (a compass point?). It was high on a hill because white people wanted the fertile valley. The first chapter points to the passing of time and the whites wanting the views from the hill and a golf course so the community was destroyed. So the theme of change is established early.
3. The incidents listed are all shocking for their violence and unexpectedness. That people talked about what happened but did not follow up emphasised the lack of care for black lives. There was ambiguity about motives and what actually happened. For example Morrison gives people's views about how eva lost her leg but no definitive version.
4.Shadrach (Shadrack) was disobedient to a false idol (Nebuchadnessar) and was punished by being thrown into a fire from which he escaped unscathed because God had rescued him for his faithfulness. The Shadrack in the story was faithful to his country but in contrast his experences in the war destroyed him. Jude was either the brother of Jesus who wrote about the coming destruction for those who do evil, or, perhaps, Judas, the arch betrayer.
Other characters were given nicknames such as Chicken Little and Tar Baby, which I presume was because they had characteristics of those in the stories. Was Ajax a reference to the Greek hero?


message 16: by Pip (new)

Pip | 1477 comments 5. No. Helene tries to bring Nel up as far away from her own mother, a prostitute as she can. Her husband dies, rather than abandoning the family like all the other fathers in the story. The relationship between Sula and Nel is so close they don't need words, but Nel's marriage and Sula's departure are not explicitly explained in terms of the other's reactions.
Jude confused me the most. He went from being a loving husband to an adulterer without apparent remorse.
6. The characters are aware of their "race" every day by their separation from whites and by their inability to get jobs commensurate with their ability. It appears to be a duality. There are no white characters in the novel, but there are no Hispanics, Native Americans, or Asians either.
Grief is internalised, apart from the women wailing at Chicken Little's funeral. The women are stoical and resourceful. Ava is more of an agent than her daughter.
One of the fascinating thing about the ideas of good and evil is that the characters in this book are so nuanced. No one is wholly good or bad, they are just complicated people doing the best they can with what they have.


message 17: by Pip (last edited Sep 20, 2018 08:56PM) (new)

Pip | 1477 comments 7. I would think that Sula would be an excellent High School text, especially the audio version read by the author.
8. I remember being very impressed by Jazz which was the first Morrison I read. A friend in my book group explained how the writing mimicked the playing of jazz - very clever. But that was some years ago and I really loved Sula. It is a five star read for me.


message 18: by Leni (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 481 comments 1. I had never heard of The Rose Tattoo, but I wonder if it isn't included in order to show that Sula (with the rose birth mark) was some one the world wasn't ready for.

3. The most shocking event for me was what happened with Chicken Little. That they did nothing to rescue him. Although I released after a moment that, being girls, they had likely never been allowed to learn how to swim. But for them to not say anything. For three days! While the boy's mother must have been frantic and everybody were searching. That didn't sit well with me, even if I can understand why they would pretend not to know.

It was the chicken little incident that drove home to me that this is a book where disaster can and will strike without warning. One moment it's all fun and games, the next calamity. It made me nervous for the whole rest of the book. And clearly with good cause!

I also found the train journey really upsetting to read. The train journey and the fact that the men of Bottom never were hired for the road and tunnel jobs really drove home the racism.

4. I noticed the Biblical names, but didn't really think of them as significant. Biblical names aren't uncommon.


message 19: by Leni (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 481 comments 5c
I think I liked Shadrach the best. Of all the male characters he seem the most developed one. A character in his own right, not just as relating to the female characters. Jude puzzled me. Before the wedding we find out what he is thinking and his motivations for betting married. We also get a glimpse of his inner life when he comes home in a mood. But then he goes from thinking of Sula as a woman who stirs the mind and not the body to having sex with her, and then he just up and leaves? What happened there? It's like he's just a plot device and not an actual character.

7. My daughter just started high school and she is a very mature 11 with a reading age much higher than her actual age. I wouldn't give her this book yet. But I think it would be excellent for slightly older high school kids.

8. This was my first Toni Morrison, but I have The Bluest Eye on the bookshelf and I'm looking forward to reading it.


message 20: by Diane (last edited Sep 28, 2018 09:44PM) (new)

Diane  | 2051 comments These questions are longer than the book ;)

1. The epigram "Nobody knew my rose of the world but me....I had too much glory. They don't want glory like that in nobody's heart." --The Rose Tattoo. How does this set the stage for the novel? Who is the author of the Rose Tattoo? Do the two writers have anything in common?
The Rose Tattoo was written by Tennessee Williams. I think the statement shows her independent nature. The character in Williams' book is a woman from a small town who the neighbors dislike due to her independence as well as her devotion to her deceased husband. Instead of having an actual rose tattoo, Sula has a birthmark that resembles a rose. Aside from both being successful writers, I am not sure what Morrison and Williams have in common.

2. Morrison's novel is set in small town Ohio. What is the town like? How was the neighborhood established? How does Morrison describe it? Where did it get its name? How is nearby Medallion different? In what ways is the Bottom a character or force in the novel? On the first page, the narrator tells us that the Bottom is gone. How does knowing that the Bottom exists no more affect your reading of the novel?
The people that live in the neighborhood of Bottom are mostly poor African-Americans . It was established through a deal between a slave and a farmer. It got its name from a miscommunication between the slave and the farmer about valley land vs. hills. Medallion is a small close-knit community that is predominantly white. Bottom changed over the years as its original residents moved closer to the valley and the whites moved into the hills to build larger homes.
6. Morrison's Sula treats themes such as racial prejudice; grief, pain, and s
3. Readers often love, hate, or love-and-hate this book. Some examples of the scenes in Part One that tend to inspire strong reactions are:
--Eva's lost leg (pages 29-31 ff.)
--Plum's death (45-48)
--Nel and Sula playing with sticks (58-9)
--Nel and Sula playing with Chicken Little (60-61)
--Eva's response to Hannah's question about love (67)
--Hannah and the yard fire (75-78)
Why would these scenes inspire such a strong response? Think about each one of these scenes. What is disturbing or provocative about it? What does it make you think about? What is its relationship to the novel's important themes, plots, and characters? What is your own response to or your own ideas about each of these scenes?
Pip answered this perfectly. Had these events happened in the white community the reaction of the community would be different.

4. a)This question is especially for those of you who are familiar with Christianity and/or the Bible. Track down the biblical origin of as many of the names as you can. Some will be obvious, others less obvious. Which names seem appropriate to their biblical origin? Which names don't seem to fit? If any biblical name doesn't seem appropriate, why do you think Morrison uses it in Sula. Have you been able to spot any other Christian or biblical symbolism? If so, what are some examples?
I do recognize a character names from the Bible. such as Shadrach, Jude, Hannah. I think Eva is derived from Eve, which is a Biblical name. I don't know if there was a Cecile in the Bible, but there was a Saint Cecile.

b) Sula seems to be a novel that's filled with symbolic references: place names, character names, repeated images (mirrors, skin color, fire, water, wind, birds, etc.). Did you spot any of these. Think about the meanings of this symbol in relationship to the novel's plot, characters, and themes. Can you think of other symbols that are important to the story?
Symbols
*The birthmark - it darkens as she grows older, much as her sadness increases as she grows older. It is both feminine and exotic since it resembles a rose, but a little masculine due to the stem, reflecting both her femininity and her independence. Different people perceive it to look like different things, which reveals more about them than it does her.
*Fire - represents severing of relationships, particularly in families. Sula and Hannah are separated by fire and Plum and Eva are separated by fire. Fire and flames can also be seen as being cleansing.
*Birds - harbingers that bad things are coming.
*Water represents death and destruction (drowning, slipping on ice, River Road)
Themes
*Racism - there is much inequality between the blacks and the whites. The people of Bottom are poor and oppressed by the people of Medallion. The white people seem to have community roles that further oppress the blacks. We see how racism limits opportunities.
*Relationships - friendship and relationships are central to the story.
*Family division - many relationships are torn apart in various ways throughout the book.
*Betrayal - There are numerous examples of betrayals in the book, both between individuals and in communities.
Place Names
*Bottom - symbolizes the resident's status in society and in the community.
*Medallion - something important and of of value. An award. The people of Medallion think they are better than those of Bottom. The white have been "awarded" privilege by virtue of their skin color.


5. a)Sula is a book about family relationships. Think about the relationships between Nel, her mother Helene, and her grandmother Rochelle, and her great-grandmother Cecile. Are they a close-knit like the March family?
No, they aren't close knit like the March family, mainly due to the circumstances in their lives.

b) and relationships between girls from different families and communities. So what draws them together? What are the biggest challenges to their friendship? What keeps them friends? Sula and Nel become friends and later seem to be each other's alter egos. How does Nel's decision to marry inform Sula's life? How does Sula's leaving influence Nel?
Nel and Sula need each other since they don't have a lot of positive role models in their lives. Nel's marriage increased Sula's independence, allowing her to leave and do something with her life.

7. Sula contains some adult language and mature themes (racism, sexuality, and more). If you were a high school teacher or the parent of a high-schooler, would you consider Sula appropriate reading for high school students?
I have seen far worse books assigned in terms of language and topics. Both of my kids are in high school (10th & 12th grade). I think they could both handle it.

8. Have you read other books by Ms Morrison. Which one is your favorite. This one was removed from the list after the first edition, do you think that was a good decision?
I have read Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Jazz, Paradise, and Song of Solomon. My favorite is The Bluest Eye. Paradise was the only one I didn't find all that great.


message 21: by Dree (new)

Dree | 243 comments So many questions! Which I am going to mostly ignore.

I managed to get this book read in the last 3 days, which I wasn't sure I could do. I tend to love or hate Morrison's books and I really struggled with Jazz earlier this year. Of her books on the 1001 list, The Bluest Eye is the only one I have not read. My favorites by her are Song of Solomon and A Mercy.

I agree with Chinook that this book is more a portrait of a community than anything else. The women's stories, Nel, Sula, Eva. Hannah, and more, are about women doing what they had to do to make do and get through life as best they could for their children and community. They counted on each other. There is also what I read as a lot of "witchcraft" type belief and action (I am completely blanking on the right word right now). Sula tried to break this mold, by leaving, by not marrying, by putting her mother in a home. But in the end, it did not work out well for her.

The men's lives were largely enclosed by greater society. They had to go to war and came back physically and mentally damaged (Shadrack, Plum). Others (such as Jude) could not effectively support their families because they would not be hired for government projects and by white establishments--and some just left. No one could not farm well because they had hill land. Other men simply avoided the whole thing altogether (the Deweys).

I found this to be a very interesting portrait of how one town managed to form community and work together. Not until the hill land became desirable to the rich whites down below were blacks able to move to the town proper, and then the community as it had been effectively ceased to exist.


message 22: by Leni (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 481 comments Dree wrote: "They counted on each other. There is also what I read as a lot of "witchcraft" type belief and action (I am completely blanking on the right word right now)."

Yeah, more like superstition and "magical thinking", attributing cause and effect where there is none.


message 23: by Diane (new)

Diane Zwang | 1313 comments Mod
The fact that so many questions can be asked of such a short book shows the brilliance of the writer. I have come to appreciate this book from all your wonderful answers. I wish I felt as passionate of this book as most of you did. I was not as connected to this book as I was to The Bluest Eye. I am not sure if it is the craziness of my work, my son's broken arm or I just didn't love the book, I am not sure. I still like Toni Morrison's writing and have more of her books to read. This was a 3.5 star read for me. I put my review in the review section.


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