Separating evil from good is something easier said than done. It is easy for us to make moral judgment on what others have done because we tend to see things from our perspective. Yet, Toni Morrison’s Sula makes it difficult for us to pass moral judgments on the characters. Just as The Bluest Eye confuses and even persuades us to sympathize with Cholly by suggesting that he rapes his daughter Pecola out of love, so Sula reminds us not to make easy judgments.
The novel provides several examples of individual decision that bring about damages to others. Eva’s and Sula’s moral characters remain complex issues. For example, Eva’s reaction on
“Is? My baby? Burning?” (48) suggests that she does it on purpose. Yet, she is
also depicted as a self-sacrificing mother. She lets a passing train amputate
her leg so as to get insurance money, although she denies it (93). Meanwhile,
Sula sleeps with Nel’s husband, Jude not to betray her friendship with Nel, but
only to experience pleasure. “…she was sitting on the bed not even bothering to
put on her clothes…” (106). This is a troubling scene because it is just too
difficult not to condemn Sula, but at least Toni Morrison makes it clear that
moral judgment depends on one’s own perspective. Eva has her own motivation to
burn Plum and Sula is comfortable being a
pariah. If we cannot accept their “evil” action, we can at least try to see
things from their points of view.
A quick reading of Sula seems to give us an idea that Toni Morrison condemns the institution of marriage. But as we do a more detailed observation of the character development, especially Sula and Nel, we can see that Morrison criticizes the motivation women have to get married.
Nel’s marriage, for instance, is depicted not as the sign of her maturity, but rather as a sign of her immature willingness to submerge herself in another person’s identity. Jude intends to get married for the sake of emotional security. Married, he would become the “head of a household pinned to an unsatisfactory job out of necessity. The two of them together would make one Jude” (83).
The loss of self as a result of marriage is seen as Jude leaves Nel, following the sexual incident between him and Sula. Jude’s departure leaves Nel with “thighs (that) were really empty” (110). Later, she admits to Sula that he needs Jude just to fill up some space (144), but blames Sula for not leaving him alone to love her (145).
The difference between Sula and Nel in terms of dependence on a man’s figure shows that they do not share the same notion about sex and relationship. While Nel sees the sexual incident as a betrayal to both her friendship with Sula and the marriage, Sula is unable to identify the evil action she committed. “What do you mean take him away? I didn’t kill him, I just fucked him. If we were such good friends, how come you couldn’t get over it” (145).