Individuals are often living a routine-based life, living their lives day to day without showing their true color because society represses individuality. In Sula, by Toni Morrison, Nel is also repressed as an individual and is never allowed to show to the Bottom community who she really is. She became an individual only when she was with Sula, her best friend. Through events such as facing bullies, the need for individuality, and the sex scandals, Sula is viewed as a negative force in the community, but she becomes a positive force in Nel’s life by helping her realize who she is and what she can become.
Sula became a positive force in Nel’s life at a very young age. When they both were twelve years old, Nel was bullied by three Irish boys on her way home from school and since then, had started taking a longer path to go home. Sula, unable to see her scared friend not stand up to the bullies, decided to take the situation upon her. One day, Sula suggested going home from the shortest route and they were once again confronted by the bullies. When the boys started harassing them, Sula pulled out a knife and slate and cut off the end of her own finger. She said, “If I can do that to myself, what you suppose I’ll do to you?” (55). Sula took it upon herself to help her friend Nel through the crisis she was facing. This made Sula a positive force not only because she gained courage to do what was right and helped her friend, she also gave Nel the courage to stand up for herself. Although self-harm is portrayed negatively, Sula displayed it in a positive way.
When Sula realized her need for individuality and freedom, she tried to bring Nel to realize the same thing: life is not about doing what society expects you to do; it’s about doing what you want to do. When she came back after ten years, she fought with Eva about her individuality. Sula said, “I don’t want to make nobody else. I want to make myself… Whatever’s burning in me is mine…” (92-93). From this statement, Sula makes it known that she is in fact her own individual, her own person. Nel realizes that after Sula’s return, every aspect of life is more valuable and enjoyable. She even states that Sula “never competed; she simply helped others define themselves” (95). From this statement, Nel regards Sula as a positive force in her life. Nel realized who she was and what she was to become with the help of her friend. Without her, Nel never would have found her true identity.
Sex scandals are viewed negatively by the entire Bottom community, including Nel. Throughout the book, Sula is seen as a radical individual and this is evident when she sleeps with Nel’s husband, Jude. Although Nel realizes the deep bond she shares with Sula, she cannot bring herself to forgive the woman who slept with her husband. Nel sees that Sula only lives for herself, while Nel lives for her husband and children. She eventually broke away from Sula, saying that “greater than her friendship was this new feeling of being needed by someone who saw her singly” (84). Sula, hurt by this statement and trying one last time to rekindle individuality within Nel, had sex with Jude. Although Nel realized this many years after Sula had died, Sula was a positive force in her life when she slept with Jude because it opened her eyes to the fact that it was Nel that distanced herself from her friend. Even though what Sula did caused her much pain, it gave Nel the time to realize what was most important in her life.
How people see others is only a matter of their perspective. The residents of the Bottom saw Sula as a negative force in their lives because of the way she acted, such as committing adultery. But one person saw her as a positive force, her best friend Nel. In the end, even after she had lost her best friend, Sula continued to make a positive impact in Nel’s life.
Morrison, Toni. Sula. New York: Plume, 1996. Print.
“Although it was she alone who saw this magic, she did not wonder at it. She knew it was all due to Sula’s return to the Bottom. It was like getting the use of an eye back, having a cataract removed. Her old friend had come home. Sula. Who made her laugh, who made her see old things with new eyes, in whose presence she felt clever, gentle a little raunchy. Sula, whose past she had lived through and with whom the present was a constant sharing of perceptions.” (Sula, 95)