Character Analysis Of Nel In Sula By Toni Morrison

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Character Analysis of Nel in Sula by Toni Morrison


Sula is a novel about the growth, development, and destruction of a person, a friendship, and a community (Bakerman, 541-563). At the beginning of the novel, the hill on which the black community of Medallion, Ohio, lived (called “the Bottom,” because the white farmer who gave it to a freed slave in return for services told him it was the bottom of heaven) has been deserted. The narrative as a whole sets out to tell why; along the way, one meets a striking variety of characters set against a harsh world. The basic purpose of this study is to analyze a character of Nel in this novel. (Stepto, 473-489)

Character Analysis of Nel Wright

As a child, Sula's closest friend is Nel Wright. In a scene that demonstrates the extent to which Sula has adapted to the violence of her surroundings, she slices off the tip of her own finger with a knife in front of some white boys who have been bothering Nel (Stepto, 473-489), as an unspoken threat of castration. At another time, when Sula and Nel are by the side of the river, they start teasing a young boy called Chicken Little. Sula swings Chicken around until he slips from her hands and sails, giggling, into the river—from which he never emerges. This incident forms a grim link between the two friends which separates them as much as it joins them. When the reader finds out that the sole witness to this event is Shadrack, a shell-shocked war veteran who (on the third day of every year) leads a National Suicide Day, a link seems to be made between Sula and Shadrack as outsiders.

The chaotic logic of calling a hill “the Bottom” dominates the novel. The random, violent deaths that appear throughout seem an extension of this logic, the point being that the initial act of greed and viciousness with which almost valueless land was given to a black man as valuable continues to shape and control the lives of the people who live there (Stepto, 473-489), preventing the establishment of any healthy social order. The result is that for Sula and Nel, the Bottom is less of a community than a furnace in which their souls are shaped.

The image of the Bottom as a furnace is supported not only by the fiery death of Plum but also by the similar death ...
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