Toni Morrison

I’ve refused to read Morrison for a while now.  I’m not sure if it’s the lion mane of gray dreads that are wrapped into a low bun in every author photo she’s ever taken, or if it’s all of the fears I have of reading rapes in fiction, but I have avoided her at every turn.  She isn’t “lucky enough” to be included in the old, cumber bun, white man’s canon so in college and high school, I wasn’t expected to scan the pages for figurative language, or themes.  Let’s not forgot that Oprah made Morrison her book club choice several times and for that honor exactly, I will refuse to read a book.  I think Oprah picks the strangest, saddest books to sing a tune of loneliness to the housewives of America.  (I’m sorry if you watch Oprah, or you’re a housewife, I quite like Oprah, her book club though….sucks).

Sula by Toni Morrison

This year, my American Lit professor got me though.  She assigned Sula as our novel for the semester.  I had already skipped through the spears, daddy issues, fences, and daisies, of Plath, Frost, Chopin, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Hughes, Roth, O’Conner, Cheever, Steinbeck, Twain, which I can say with compassion that I enjoyed all of the above, but then we had to read Sula in a week and I left it sitting just out enough from under my bed that I could still see the corner pocket of the front cover.  My cats, of course, refused to hit it into under the bed abyss, because anything that I wish they’d do, they never actually do, like lay in the degree of my armpit, but alas, I had to read this book.

I drudged a little.

I read the first thirty and then answered the minimum in the discussion post. And then I passed page forty and lost my golden mind.  I was completely wrapped in this book.  Why they refuse to put this in the literature canon, I have no idea.    Harold Bloom claims that ethnic writers like Morrison are not included in the canon as much because they only write about ethnic scenarios and nothing else.  I want Bloom to ask himself when was the last time that Dickens wrote about an ethnic scenario, oh right, that’s because he only wrote about the class system of white people, or how about Fitzgerald, was there ever a black person added into Gatsby’s infamous parties? Right. RIGHT. It’s the most ridiculous bullshit I’ve ever heard that ethnic writers are not included in the canon (as much) because they only write about ethnic scenarios.  I feel the same way about DC building an African American History Museum when we’re supposed to be getting closer to equality.  Why then, do we not just have a huge museum of American FREAKING History.  These are questions we need to ask ourselves in order to progress.

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Sula and Nel by Experimentum Periculosum

I adored Sula for its lack of educational push.  I didn’t feel the whole time that she was trying to influence my idea of the African American perspective from an academic standpoint, or from a standpoint of “look how oppressed African American people are.”  She didn’t push any of these themes in this novel.  Yes, there is evidence that African American’s were oppressed, solely based on setting a reader could say this, but it wasn’t something that caved in the reader.  Instead, Morrison just wrote a good story, a good little snapshot of a small town of people who were all lost and looking for some light.  Most only find darkness in the ringing bells, but it’s a beautiful darkness.

Beginning of Sula

There were moments in this novel when I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  I was asking myself to pause and then read again because I was shocked at some of the scenes.  I think the thing that I liked most about this novel had nothing to do with ethnicity, but everything to do with connecting.  I was completely involved with Sula, Nel and Shadrack.  Although Shadrack’s background was given in such a fleeting way, I still felt deep empathy for him based on four pages of description.  Throughout the whole story, I kept wanting to hear more from him, step back onto his porch and see his moon smile.  Nel had me at “She had been frightened of the soldiers’ eyes on the train, the black wreath on the door, the custard pudding she believed liked under her mother’s heavy dress, the feel of unknown streets and unknown people.  But she had gone on a real trip, and now she was different.  ‘I’m me. I’m not their daughter. I’m not Nel. I’m me, I’m me” (18).

Sula Alternate Cover

Sula just disturbed me in multiple ways.  At first I was on her team, until I heard what happened to her mother and then her grandmother.  There was a lake in her from the beginning, or an ocean, something salty, and it was never going to evaporate and always going to flood.  I loathed her character by the end and felt nothing for her when she needed it most.  I guess I’m a bit of a grudge-holding reader.   I was at first obsessed with her relationship with Nel.  I thought they were “the best of friends that ever could be.”  At one point they become blood sisters, like teenagers girls used to do in the bathtub when I was in high school.  You cut your hand a little bit and so does the “sister” and you slide your hands together, making you blood.  I’m not sure why people ever did that, it’s more symbolism and stupidity than anything.  That’s the sort of friends I thought Nel and Sula were.  I was so disappointed in Sula’s actions towards Nel.  I understand her point, and her motives, and her strength in what she thinks womanhood should be, but even she unfolds from a man.  Who can we trust when we turn on each other, women?

Toni Morrison Image on Etsy by Ryan Sheffield

The subtleties in this book are also spot on.  The fact that the town was named “Bottom” brings up so many images for me.  It could be “bottom” like the food chain, or “bottom” like ass which is something stereotypically associated with black women.  The name Shadrack, I learned, is very important in The Bible, and Sula and Nel sound so similar, but the reader immediately knows that Sula is in power.

All of this concludes in my final thought:  TEAM MORRISON For The CANON.  I will be creating badges and t-shirts to support my campaign.

18 thoughts on “TEAM MORRISON For The Canon.

  1. Bea says:

    I do look forward to seeing the movie, The Book Thief, but enough about that. I loved this review! You made me want to read this book. I am ready to buy one of your t-shirts, TEAM MORRISON for THE CANON!. The line you wrote, “There was a lake in her from the beginning, or an ocean, something salty, and it was never going to evaporate and always going to flood”, was amazing. It brought me into her character, and I haven’t read the book yet.
    I have always enjoyed the Oprah show, but have heard negative things about her book choices. It seems that Oprah has come through again, and so has your Professor, who assigned the book. Now, if I know you, you will have to choose another of Morrison’s books, just to see if she can make you love reading yet again.
    Congrats to you on a well written review, and to Morrison for stirring your soul.

  2. Let's CUT the Crap! says:

    I like your reviews because you are honest about your feelings and that is as it should be. Reading is subjective anyway. I agree about your take on Oprah’s Book Club too, but some of them I have enjoyed. I haven’t read Sula but it has been in my bookcase for a month or so.


  3. exlibrisheather says:

    Great post! I just read Beloved and it was one of the saddest but most beautiful things I’ve read all year. Like you, I had kind of avoided Morrison for some of the same reasons you described but I was blown away. I haven’t read Sula but it sounds great too.


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