For many decades, and arguably many centuries, skin color has been a major determinant in a person’s quality of life. Whether it be in a positive or in a negative way, things such as where someone goes to school, how long they go to school, their average income, or the neighborhoods they live in, have all been strongly linked to the individual’s skin color. When analyzing the novel Sula, by Toni Morrison, you begin to realize that, although they live in close proximity, the blacks and whites in the novel barely interact with each other and live completely separate lives.
Lives that are not only separate, but also drastically different. There are very few clashes between the whites and blacks in the novel and both seem to keep to themselves. This surprised me as it was different from most of the AfricanAmerican themed books I have read.
Considering the time frame in which Sula took place, I expected it to be a civil rights and Jim
Crow law type of book, but Sula turned out to be an intriguing story about two young
AfricanAmerican girls and their relationships while growing up.
Even without many racial interactions in the novel, we do begin see the effects of racism on the community of those that live in the Bottom. The Bottom, as Morrison calls it, is home to the many AfricanAmerican citizens of the small Ohio town. The Bottom, so cleverly named by that author, actually sits above a valley occupied by middleclass whites, and is situated so that the
AfricanAmerican citizens can literally look down on the white citizens. Morrison deliberately gave this community this name to point out that although the AfricanAmericans where literally placed above the whites in elevation, they were still below them, and at the “bottom”, in almost every other aspect.
In the novel, the residents of the Bottom have to deal with constant discrimination and racism throughout the novel. It becomes clear that AfricanAmericans and whites are not only separated, but AfricanAmerican lives are considered inferior to those of whites. Toni Morrison does a phenomenal job at showcasing how racism and white privilege affected those living in the
Bottom, without making the whole story line revolve around it.
It isn’t long after starting Sula that you are faced with moral and racial dilemmas. Morrison’s first major event that really showcases the racial inequalities during that time was when Eva and her mother, Helene, had no choice but to publicly urinate and defecate on the sides of the train station after not being allowed to use the bathrooms .
“Helene and her daughter squatted there in the four o’clock Meridian sun. They did it again in
Ellisville, again in Hattiesburg, and by the time they reached Slidell, not too far from Lake
Pontchartrain, Helene could not only fold leaves as well as the fat woman, she never felt a stir as she passed the muddy eyes of the men who stood like wrecked Dorics under station roofs of towns” (Morrison, 24).
Although Morrison adds humor to the event, it still leaves the reader in awe at their way of life at the time, and illustrates just how much of a disadvantage the AfricanAmericans were at in comparison to the whites.
In the novel it is also clear that the AfricanAmericans are struggling financially.
With Eva becoming a single mom, it was even harder for her to support her family. Eva takes a drastic measure to save her family and leaves to forfeit her leg for insurance money. Morrison puts Eva’s arrival simply, “…she swept down from a wagon with two crutches, a new black pocketbook, and one leg” (Morrison, 34). Morrison continues to introduce substantial moments
like this with quick and blunt force throughout the novel, as if to almost always make you go back and do a double take because after not fully absorbing it on the first read. The racial financial prejudice is also apparent later in the book when Jude has a hard time getting