Toni Morrisons Sula

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Sula Essay

In this essay, please examine and analyse the mother-daughter/ mother-son relationships.

What are the key elements in these relationships?

In Toni Morrison’s Sula, the maternal detachment is brought about by and embodied through the mother-daughter relationship. Sula, while describing maternal detachment through a conflict in the relationship between mother and daughter, is interested in the connection of the daughter with a traditional theme, which, in Sula, is the legend of wholehearted, unquestioning maternal love, and how this leads to the detachment of the daughter from her maternal family. For Sula, detachment arises not from being disconnected from the maternal family or being deprived of its traditions, wisdoms, and experiences. instead, for Sula, connection with traditional ideals of maternal love pushes her to turn down the maternal family, specifically the ideals of antique belongings.

Marie Nigro’s In Search of Self: Frustration and Denial in Toni Morrison’s Sula talks about the conflict created by the psychological and emotional detachment between mothers and daughters of African American descent. Nigro explains that detachment arises when daughters believe that their mothers are unable to endow them with love and sympathy because of economic aspects associated with gender, class, and racial prejudice. Such real hindrances to manifestations of love compel daughters to disobey or go against mothers who believe their efforts are adequate or compatible to affection. Phillip Novak, in his article Circles and Circles of Sorrow: In the Wake of Morrison’s Sula, argues that when such sympathy or love is deprived of, daughters are unable to express sympathy or love to their own daughters. Conflicts burst forth when mothers aspire for the individuality and self-reliance of their daughters but expect recognition of or gratitude for their sacrifices.

The influence of the mothers on the life and identity formation of their daughters is one of the leading subjects of Sula. Morrison portrays the impact of class by examining the relationship between mother and daughter belonging to the lower class—the Peaces—and those belonging to the middle class—the Wrights. The relationships between mother and daughter in both families struggle with the difficulties that class and race create. Eva Peace was not able to give the maternal affection that Hannah wants. Due to the impact of class and race, Eva was unable to totally concentrate on her maternal responsibilities, which adversely affected the personal growth and identity formation of Hannah. Consequently, Hannah failed to provide motherly love to her own daughter, perpetuating the vicious cycle in Sula.

Likewise, the circumstances of the Wrights are a depiction of the impact of class and race on the relationship between mother and daughter. Helene, just like Eva, was unable to genuinely relate to her daughter because of her efforts to actualize her personal moral ideals. As a result, she expected Nel to be just like her, persistently making an effort to change her. Because of this Nel was unable to fulfill her mother’s expectations of her and was deficient of well-rounded love, affection, and recognition. In spite of her goal not to be like her mother, Nel in the end sees herself just like her mother. For instance, Nel was disappointed by her mother’s attitude in the train: It was on that train, shuffling toward Cincinnati, that she resolved to be on guard—always. She wanted to make certain that no man ever looked at her that way. That no midnight eyes or marbled flesh would ever accost her and turn her into jelly (p. 23).