Toni Morrison’s Sula revolves around the relationship of her two main characters, Sula and Nel. The childhood friends grow apart with age. Although it is indicated that their friendship is the most important relationship they participate in, they eventually betray each other and lead dishonest lives. Throughout the novel, we see their constantly deteriorating relationship as a result of absence of a family life. Sula is a novel about the influence family may have on the make up of someone’s personality. In particular, the novel examines the effect parents can have on their children and the conscious effort the main characters make to be unlike their mothers.
Nel’s maternal grandmother was a prostitute in New Orleans and so her daughter
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This occurrence on the train establishes a sense of place for Morrison’s readers. We see Helene in a new light. She is respected and loved in her town, but to those who do not know her, she is simply a black middle class woman—one of a demographic that in 1920 (and to this day) receives the least respect. After Morrison provides a full understanding of Helene, we meet the woman who has inadvertently shaped her life and clearly, Nel’s mother wants nothing more than to return to the Bottom.
Helene plays a minor role in the novel as a whole (she quickly disappears after the beginning). In understanding her character, though, a more complete understanding of Nel can be accomplished. Just like her mother, Nel wishes to be nothing like her mother. Many times during her childhood, we see her attempts to differentiate herself from her mother. Perhaps it is a simple case of the grass is always greener, but Nel’s perception of Sula’s home is indicative of her attempts to become different. Nel loves the unkempt nature of the house. She loves the noise and the people and even the lack of attention that Eva gives to Sula. Although she will grow to live a life that is full of order, as a child, she looks for opportunities to remove herself from that world. Sula is a