Is “Sula” a tragic novel? I think it is. Because Sula grows up in an unusual family and many tragedies happen during her growth. Those kinds of tragedies we can even see it at the very beginning of the story. “Eva had married a man named BoyBoy and had three children: Hannah, the eldest, and Eva, whom she named after herself but called Pearl, and a son named Ralph whom she called Plum.” (32) After five years of their marriage, BoyBoy left Eva without leaving anything except $1.65, five eggs, three beets, and three children. “She was confused and desperately hungry.” (32) Sometimes, she will get help from her neighbors in the Medallion town. In one middle of December, Plum stopped having bowel movements. Eva tried her best to save his life. Two days later, she left all her children with her neighbor and left the town. Eighteen months later, Eva returned with one leg. “First she reclaimed her children, next she gave the surprised Mrs. Suggs a ten-dollar bill, later she started building a house on Carpenter’s Road, sixty feet from BoyBoy’s one-room cabin, which she rented out.” (35) From here, we can see that there is a tragedy after the leaving of BoyBoy, Eva has no choice and becomes desperate. She leaves the town and sells her leg to support the family. We also see that Eva loves Plum. Hannah is the mother of Sula. She married to a man called Rekus who died when Sula was about three years old. Sula was staying in the big old house with Eva until she left the town after her best friend, Nel’s marriage.
It is rather peculiar because in the big old house, there are different kinds of tenants and there are many male guests playing around in that house. There are Dewey boys and Tar baby. All of them are staying in the house because Eva takes them in. From that, Eva earns respect from the community because she benefits the homeless. It is also very strange that he Dewey boys originally are different young boys. But they always mix up themselves in front of people. Therefore, they always mess people up. There is a lot of male guests in the house because “‘With the exception of BoyBoy, those Peace women loved all men.’ ‘Hannah simply refused to live without the attentions of a man, and after Rekus’ death had a steady sequence of lovers, mostly the husbands of her friends and neighbors.’ ‘? Sula came home from school and found her mother in the bed, curled spoon in the arms of man’ ‘? taught Sula that sex was pleasant and frequent , …’” (41, 42, & 44). We can see that from here Sula is growing up in a disorder and chaos family. In 1920, another tragedy happened. Plum returned from the war and became drug addicted. At one night, Eva went to his room and burned him up. She burns him up because she has to kill him before the drug totally destroys her son. “She demonstrates a deep and abiding love for Plum that when she saturates him in kerosene and strikes a match, we accept her heinous crime as an act of desperation born out of love.” (Melby 76) From this point, we can also see that Eva is controlling everything on her own hand. As she feels that she has sacrificed herself to save the family. Her children have to do everything that she wants them to do.
Sula is growing up in this family with disorder and chaos. However, her best friend, Nel, is totally different from her. Nel’s mother, Helene Sabat is the daughter of Creole whore. In Helene’s early childhood, she stayed with her grandmother for sixteen years. Then, she married to Wiley Wright who was a seaman. He will only be at home three days out of every sixteen. Therefore, Nel stays with her mother most of the time. “‘Helen’s hand the girl became obedient and polite. Any enthusiasms that little Nel showed were calmed by the mother until she drove her daughter’s imagination underground.’ ‘Helene Wright was an impressive woman, at least in Medallion she was.’” (18) Although these two girls come from two different kinds of family, they are “solitary little girls whose loneliness was so profound ?” (51). They are also the only child in the family, and both of them are twelve years old. They feel very easy and comfort to get together. “Their friendship was as intense as it was sudden. They found relief in each other’s personality.” (53) However, as they grow up from different family, “‘Sula is the one who exceeds boundaries, creates excitement, tries to break free of encroachments of external cultural forces and challenges destiny.’ ‘? Sula tries to avoid uniformity by creating her own kind of life’” (Mickelson 315) We can see this from the incident that Sula cuts off the tip of her forefinger when she and Nel are caught by the four Irish white boys. And says, “If I can do that to myself, what you suppose I’ll do to you? (55). On the one hand, we can see from this incident that Sula also likes to take things into her own hands. On the other hand, “‘it also underlies Sula’s experimental life is rooted in her capacity to initiate violence, as is illustrated another two childhood scenes.’ ‘? As a twelve-year-old, Sula drowns Chicken Little when she swings the child around so vigorously that he slips from her hands and lands in the nearby river …’ ‘Sula ’s mother catches on fire while tending a fire in the yard, and Sula watches her mother’s burning not with horror, as would be expected , but with an “interested” expression’” (Mickelson 316). I also think that Sula watches her mother’s burning because she knows that her mother does not like her. “?You love her, like I love Sula. I just don’t like her. That’s the difference.” (57) Hannah dies on the way to the hospital .
In 1927, Nel married to Jude Greene. At first, Jude did not want to get marry because he did not love Nel so deeply. But he changed his mind when he did not get the job on building a new road. Nel accepted his proposal. Sula left the town immediately after the wedding party.
Ten years later, Sula comes back. She still stays with Eva’s hig old house. One day, they have a chat. Sula mentions that Eva burns up Plum. It alerts Eva that Sula is watching her mother’s burning. And Sula says, “‘?Any more fires in this house, I’m lighting them!’ ‘Hellfire don’t need lighting and it’s already burning in you?”Whatever’s burning in me is mine!’ ‘?You throwed yours away.”It’s mine to throw.’ ‘But not you. I ain’t never going to need you. And you know what? May be one night when you dozing in that wagon flicking flies and swallowing spit, maybe I’ll just tip on up here with some kerosene and – who knows – you may make kthe brightest flame of them all.’ ‘So Eva locked her door from then on.’” (93 & 94) From this part of conversation, we can understand that Eva and Sula are the same kind of people. They like to control everything in their own hands, especially Sula. It is because she is under the influence of Eva. They do not trust each other. Eva fears that Sula is going to burn her up. However, Sula fears that Eva is going to burn her up. That is also why Sula sends her to the nursing home. She needs to protect herself.
When Nel discovers that her husband sleeps with Sula, she understands that her marriage is destroyed by Jude. The friendship between Sula and her is also destroyed. She is unable to cry. “Hunched down in the small bright room Nel waited. Waited for the oldest cyr. A scream not for others, ? but a deeply personal cry for one’s own pain.” (108) At this point, I think Nel is going to be emotionally collapsed. At this moment, Nels thinks that she has nothing without Jude. Jude is the very important to her. However, she does not know Sula is more important to her than Jude until Sula dies.
When Sula returns after she leaves Bottom for ten years, people thinks that Sula is a evil. She brings the bad luck to the town. When she puts Eva into a nursing home, they say, “‘? Sula was a roach.’ ‘when they saw how she took Jude, ? said she was a bitch. Everybody remembered the plague of robins that announced her return, ?” (112) They also say that she sleeps with white men. And Teapot’s mother tries to accuse Sula that she pushes her son and makes him having a fracture. It seems that “Sula has no close relationship to the society. However, he community needs Sula. So that they could nurture a sense of their superiority, so the Blacks in Medallion, hating and fearing Sula, improve their behavior in an unconscious effort to prove their goodness in contrast to her wickedness.” (Davis, 226)
At the age of twenty-nine, Sula falls in love with Ajax.