The only path that a man can really change is the path that comes from his own soul. In Toni Morrison novel diverse themes have been captured to reflect the ironies of life which are in one way been sustained by symbolism of life to produce seamless situational metaphors in more intricate imagery. The ironies of life can be seen where the author illustrates Bottom as gift from a Master to his slave, though it was a trick despite convincing the unknowing slave that the land was close to the heaven for it was hilly. In essence, this demonstrates the symbolism of religion, this is due to the fact that Heaven is typically allied to better and superior things to all those who are good.
At the beginning of the novel ”Morrison” portrays Sula and Nel as complete opposites. Our first view of Nel is that she is a shy and obedient little girl with no resemblance of her mother, Helene. “Morrison” Connotates, “ She rose grandly to the occasion of motherhood- grateful, deep down in her heart, that the child had not inherited the great beauty that was hers:”(18). Beauty in Helenes eyes was a curse because her mother used her beauty to entice men, and bring them home, because her mother was a whore.
”Helene was born behind those shutters, daughter of a Creole whore that worked there(17). Helene was not proud of her past and didn’t want her daughter to think that beauty was a way for her to get the things she wanted in life. Helene wanted Nel to settle down, maybe have kids, be a role model in her community. Under Helene’s upbringing Nel was not allowed to be free, her mother molded her to be an extension of herself, and raised Nel to be a traditional woman of the “Bottom” and demonstrates how the author has formed the association of the characters with the natural flow of the theme within the story plot line:
“Under Helene’s hand the little girl became obedient and polite. Any enthusiasms that little Nel showed were calmed by the mother until she drove her daughters imagination under ground” (p.18).
Morrison makes it clear that Nel “became obedient and polite”, Nel was not allowed to blossom into the woman that she wanted to be, she was monitored. “Under her mother’s hand” Helene ruled Nel with an iron fist; she was to be a conventional woman. “she drove her daughters imagination underground”, Helene pushed Nel away from creativity, or imagination because she felt there was no need for it, imagination could influence Nel to go against the grain of the “Bottom”. Helene “drove” her daughters imagination, “drove” Helene removed her from her way of thinking, and buried it; in hopes of Nel turning into the woman she wanted her to be.
Sula, comes from a different background, where conforming, is not a necessity. Sula is her own person, and not so much like her mother, Morrison writes,”Her daughters friend seemed to have none of her mothers slackness”(29). Helene wanted Nel to have friends that modeled the same behaviors that were taught at home, how relieved she was that Sula seemed to be nothing like her mother.
Sula didn’t have many restraints from her mother “Morrison” writes, : “As for Nel, who preferred Sulas wolly house, where a pot of something was always cooking on the stove; where the mother, Hannah, never scolded or gave directions; where all sorts of people dropped in; where newspapers were stacked in the hallway, and dirty dishes left for hours at a time in the sink, and where a one legged grandmother named Eva handed you goobers from deep inside her pockets or read you a dream”. (29) Nel was mesmerized with Sulas life. Nel thought Sula’s life was adventurous, extraordinary and unbalanced. Nel’s life was sheltered and carefully construed by her mother, who wouldn’t allow her to speak her mind, Sula was permitted access as a child to be a free thinker, Hannah nor did her grandmother Eva ever scold her for her imperfections. Sula was a dreamer, and although her home life wasn’t perfect she was allowed to be herself. At Sulas house it was dirty and unorganized, which Nel loved because her mother was keen on cleanliness. Sulas uncleanliness gave Nel balance because her life was so carefully constructed. Nel is confined, and Sula is free. Where Nel has been raised to be an extension of her mother, Sula has very few ties to hers and was allowed to just “be”.
Nel's imagination has been so restricted that the messiness of Sula's house along with the many visitors must seem like world for Nel. “Nel preferred Sulas home where you didn’t know if someone was coming over, where you didn’t know what could happen Similarly, the tidiness of Nel's house compared with the disorderliness of her own allowed Sula to "sit still as dawn.". Nel needed that imbalance from Sula, and Sula needed the balance that resided in Nel. “Morrison “writes, “Nel, who regarded the oppressive neatness of her home with dread, felt comfortable in it with Sula, who loved it and would sit on the re-velvet sofa for ten to twenty minutes at a time—still as dawn (29)". Nel exuded in Sulas life, Sula loved the orderliness of Nel’s home. The comfort each felt in each other's home created a balance for Sula and Nel. Sula is free and independent, and Nel is conventional and organized, both found relief in each others personalities.
Sula finds courage in Nel as they face the neighborhood bullies. Sula decides to take the short route home from school, instead of avoiding the four white teenage boys. Sula slices off the top of her own top finger to show the boys that she is not afraid. ”Sula squatted down in the dirt road and put everything down on the ground: her lunch pail, her reader, her mittens, her slate. Holding the knife in her right hand, she pulled the slate toward her and pressed her left forefinger down hard on its edge. Her aim was determined but inaccurate”(54). Sula was ready for war with the teenage boys; she found her power and refused to be harassed, this was a defining moment for Sula because at that moment she knew that she was in control of her life.
After strength has been found and Sula gains confidence that she is able to stand on her own. Sula and Nel are closer, establishing an unbreakable bond of sisterhood. Sula's accidental murder of Chicken Little brings the girls closer. Although Nel felt that she had a small part to play in the death of Chicken Little they both took responsibility for the accident “ And they saw the Lamb’s eye and truly innocent victim: themselves” (65). Sula immediately felt bad about the death of Chicken Little whereas Nel felt that because she only watched she was not jointly responsible, however Eva points out that because she watched she was just as guilty as Sula. “Tell me how you killed that little boy. What? What little boy? The one you threw in the water. I got oranges. How did you get him to go in the water? I didn’t throw no little boy in the river. That was Sula. You. Sula. Whats the difference? You was there. You watched didn’t you(168)?
For years Nel never looked at it as a joint crime as if Sula had more responsibility in the matter she dosent even acknowledge that she knows what little boy Eva is referencing. It was all Sulas fault because Nel was the good child who could do no wrong yet Sula was the evil source who Nel was able to place the blame on due to all of her wrong doings. “ All these years she had been secretly proudof her calm, controlled behavior when Sula was uncontrollable, her compassion for Sula's frightened and shamed eyes”. “Now it seemed that what she had thought was maturity, serenity and compassion was only the tranquility that follows a joyful stimulation”. Just as the water closed peacefully over the turbulence of Chicken Little's body, so had contentment washed over her enjoyment” (170). Nel and Sula were one and the same these opposite characters are no longer very different. During this incident Nel, the former calm and orderly girl, has very little control over her emotions as Sula did.
After Nel married Jude, Sula felt a degree of separation which caused her to sleep with Nels husband. Nel and Sula gain a bond which no married couple can ever achieve in this novel .
One that “Morrison” allow the two girls to create. One girl is produced out of two individuals. The loss of this bond leaves each woman completely disjointed and leads to Sula’s death. Nel’s recognizes at the end of the novel that "All the time, all the time, I thought I was missing Jude." And the loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. "We was girls together," she said as though explaining something. "O Lord, Sula,"she cried, "girl, girl, girl, girl, girl." (p.174) Nel and Sula were one. The quality of the plot line can be testified by the flow and the association of the subjects. Through symbolism, their life were exposed, through suspense, they depicts the nature of the community, hence through ironies, the expose their weakness which mocks the conventional life.
Morrison, Toni. Sula. Penguin: New York, 1973