The Deconstruction of Toni Morrison's Sula

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

Deconstruction is expertly integrated into a myriad of elements and interactions in Sula. Morrison defies preconceived expectations of literary appropriateness to create the radical landscape in which Sula struts. One sees examples of deconstruction in the simplest of phrases, such as the description of the “beautiful boys in 1921! Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old. Jesus, they were fine” (163). This is a trifling example of deconstruction, yet I reference it to display how plentiful they are and how crucial. Instead of the familiar Nabokov-ian description of a girl’s appearance, Morrison reverses the male gaze and examines the boy’s physiques. Following a deconstructionist lens endows the novel with a purpose. The book analyses the conventional practices of life as revelations, and dilutes the preconceived earth-shattering events such as death, to mere frivolities. Every chapter is imbued with the rejection of normality, appearing in descriptions of regular practices as bizarre. This can be seen in Sulas’ bitter surprise at Nels’s anger regarding Jude, when she demands “what do you mean take him away? I didn’t kill him, I just fucked him” (145). Even if Sula was involved in the act that destroyed their marriage, Nel misses her so, her grief is manifested into the gray ball. The novel is written using a deconstructed approach to the nomic qualities of life, and since Sula defies every one of these qualities, her’s is the name on the cover. She is the embodiment of deconstruction and bizarre reversal as she is the antithetical representation of acceptable, obedient, and groomed black women.

She forces to the surface a critique of selfless slavery to the domestic sphere, an insipid habitat painted tolerable by tradition. With every example of deconstruction, Morrison successfully creates a world in which women are aware of and flex their power, in which death is stripped of its all-importance, and in which evil keeps people together not love. Sula could not have been written with any other applied lens. It would have been a mildly important historical fiction of black life following WWI. The book’s power comes from its repudiation of wonted life, from its exploration of why emotions and behaviors aren’t definite, from its description of a girl watching her mother burn. Without the suddenly shocking language and the hair-raising descriptions of habitual life which accompany the applied deconstructionist theory, the book would lack a necessary quality. It forces one to reconsider one’s fortified suppositions and illusions about the larger world we inhabit. From Sula’s relationship to sex, one can question the way the act is treated and discussed, as one has been taught that it is penetration, not envelopment. From the convoluted mother-daughter interactions, one can contemplate the idea of unconditional love, and whether adoration can be harmful. When I first devoured Sula, my notions about sexual interactions were greatly altered and the novel emboldened me to reconsider its stereotypes, as I am sure it has with other readers. Therefore, the application of deconstructionist theory is valuable and enhances the already imperative perspectives present in the tenacious world of Sula.

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