Analysis of Sugar
The traumas of early childhood linger with us well into adulthood, whether we know it or not. Edgar Allan Poe, for example, had to sit and watch his mother cough herself to death from consumption, as a toddler, while she was in her dressing room; his father was nowhere to be found. The effects of this emotional damage did bring us the amazing literature that poured from his pen, but it also brought him an extremely unstable life, including relationships that ranged from the inappropriate to the bizarre. In the story of Sugar, things are no different. Her mother had left her at a brothel – which is where Sugar ended up spending her childhood. The pain and confusion that resulted from this abandonment inform the decisions that Sugar makes for much of the rest of her life.
It would be unfair, though, to say that Sugar has no ambition. Rather than leave her feeling paralyzed, her abandonment leaves her resolved to make a great life for herself. As a child, she wants to be a singer; however, the reception that she gets from those around her indicates that singing is not where her talents lie. Even if she had had what it took to become a great singer, she faced a legacy of racism that kept so many promising people of color from reaching their potential during that point in time. And so Sugar goes into the same line of work as those women who raised her: she becomes a prostitute.
It is Sugar’s decision to let herself be vulnerable once again that is the turning point of the novel. As an emotionally closed person, Sugar would never be able to change. Once she decides to open herself up, though, she can learn more about herself. The cruelty with which so many people in the story treat Sugar does not have to last forever; instead, she can open herself with courage, treating those around her with love – and expect that others will respect and love her for the individual she is – praising her strengths instead of focusing on her weaknesses.
Sugar is a strong story about the power of love and forgiveness to help people overcome the loss and tragedy they have experienced in life. The friendship that forms between Sugar and Pearl ends up changing both of their lives; the childhood tragedies that had shaped Sugar’s life, leaving her an angry husk instead of a whole person, start to recede in the presence of her new friend. What makes this story even more powerful is how true Sugar’s emotional walls and Pearl’s perseverance are rendered. This is a friendship that lingers with the reader long after the story ends.
McFadden, B. (2001). Sugar. New York: Plume.