Zachary Welsh’s Thoughts on Toni Morrison’s Sula

I think Toni Morrison’s Sula is not only an engaging and thought-provoking novel that deals with disability and its ramifications, but I would also argue that it circles back to the fist week of our Disability and Literature course with the concepts and ideas that it presents within itself.

Something that I immediately noticed when reading Toni Morrison’s Sula, is that it builds off of the ideas from Jasbir Puar’s The Right To Maim in that race and ethnicity can be looked at as a disability to some extent. Specifically with this novel, we see multiple examples of disability represented through the main ensemble of African American characters. Not only do we have Eva, who is placed under such stressful life circumstances that she willingly lets her leg get run over by a train to receive insurance money, but we also see evidence of race-related disabilities when Jude Green attempts to apply for a better, more secure job and is immediately turned down due to the color of his skin. This topic is further explored with the character of Chicken Little when his drowned body is found and one of the first suggestions as to what to do with it is throw it back in the water.

Sula also harkens back to one of our first class readings in which we discussed how disabilities relate to “cure or kill” storylines in books and we see that come into play firsthand this time around. After he suffers traumatic experiences from WW1, the character of Plum is doused in kerosene and burned to death by his mother, Eva, who claims that he “became a child again” and that he “wanted to climb back in the womb.” This plot threat links directly to our beginning-of-the-year reading in which a disabled person is involved in a “cure or kill” storyline where one of the characters may feel that a problem will be solved by the disabled individual’s death. In this case for Eva, she not only rid herself of the responsibility of taking care of Plum, she, in her mind gives him what he wants instead of living a life of suffering.

Toni Morrison’s novel also forges a new path for us as a class in that it starts introducing more mental disabilities as well. As previously stated, not only does Plum develop an almost ptsd like mental disability from the war, but Sula arguably has a mental disability with her loneliness/sadness and her disconnect from society. We see this not only in the way that she just watches as her mother burns to death, but also by her frequent affairs and how she uses them to fill her sense of forlornest and detachment.

While we aren’t finished with the book yet, Toni Morrison’s Sula has been a surprising hit for me and I am really looking forward to getting to finish it and see what other interesting ideas and concepts it plays with.

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