Friday, July 24, 2009

A New World With the Same Old Problems

In Sula, mostly all of Toni Morrison’s characters are African-Americans that were brought to the United States through or because of colonization. Although the characters themselves may not have been directly oppressed, their ancestors were slaves. This is something a post-colonial critic would probably point out. The acquiring of the land in which the black people of Sula live is another important aspect. “A good white farmer promised freedom and a piece of bottom land to his slave if he would perform some very difficult chores” (Morrison 5) and this is how “The Bottom” was established. However, the master tricked the slave into thinking the land he would be receiving was fertile, rich, and good for farming. Instead, because the master did not want to sacrifice any land, he granted the slave “hilly land, where planting was backbreaking, where the soil slid down and washed away the seeds, and where the wind lingered through the winter” (Morrison 5). A post-colonial would notice this because due to oppression the slave was not able to cultivate his own land to sell, but had to settle for what was given to him. Those who colonized the land and enslaved the native people were established as superior and so could do what they pleased.

From his work Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said states, “in the late twentieth century the imperial cycle of the last century in some way replicates itself, although today they are really no big empty spaces, no expanding frontiers, no exciting no settlements to establish”. Edward Said might notice that although Sula does not contain a lot of information on settlement and how the inhabitants of the Bottom were culturally transformed due to outsiders, it is a text that has post-colonial issues. In addition these issues are replicated from what happened a long time ago in places like Africa. He goes on to say, “a new and in my opinion appalling tribalism is fracturing societies, separating peoples, promoting greed, bloody conflict, and uninteresting assertions of minor ethnic or group particularity.” Edward Said’s idea of a new sort of “tribalism” in society between people of the same kind is somewhat highlighted in Sula between lights and darker skinned blacks. For example, Nel is described as “the color of wet sandpaper-just dark enough the blows of the pitch-black truebloods….” (Morrison 52). Toni Morrison even says that if Nel were any lighter she would need her mother to escort her to school. Sula’s dark skin was deemed acceptable in the black community whereas Nel was more of an outsider. A post-colonial critic would explore and write about this theme.

Finally, a post-colonial critic would focus on how the Bottom is a somewhat shared community between the blacks and a few Irish residents. Although the Irish children harass the blacks to feel superior, Morrison shows that they are both pretty much on the same level. Most of the blacks may have had no choice but to live in the Bottom and the Irish “had come to this valley with their parents believing as they did that it was a promised land-green and shimmering with welcome” (Morrison 53). Morrison goes on to say, “what they found was a strange accent, a pervasive fear of their religion and firm resistance to their attempts to find work” (Morrison 53). The only place the Irish could find work was in the Bottom, but they had to taunt the blacks in order to have some security that they were superior. A post-colonial critic would highlight this relationship because both the Irish and Blacks were treated unfairly by a more “superior” power and had to struggle to survive.


  1. Very nice--I can see a strong essay in here. It does seem a bit thin, and I think that's largely because you're dealing with a whole novel in a very short space. As you progress on the final essay (provided you do continue with Sula), you might want to think about reducing yourself to a scene that best exemplifies what you're going to say. It might be difficult because you're working toward such disparate points, but it would certainly help your reader focus, and hopefully give you the chance to give more evidence for your claims (for example, more examples of the light/dark skinned tension would make that paragraph much much stronger).