Sula Study Guide

Published in 1973, Sula is Toni Morrison’s second novel. Like her first novel, The Bluest Eye, this one also deals with the life experiences of two black girls. Yet it does not merely address the childhood experiences but follows the girls as they grow into adulthood. Sula was created out of Morrison’s desire to “writ[e] a second novel…about people in a black community not just foregrounded but totally dominant.”

Sula is set in the postbellum American South during a time when racial segregation continued to divide white and black populations. Even veterans of World War I like Shadrack and Plum are treated differently because of their skin color. Neither receives benefits after returning from war but are, rather, left to wallow and remember their trauma. Shadrack is even expelled prematurely from a veteran’s hospital to make room for other patients.

Morrison expressed concern when writing the book, which focused mainly on a black community for a largely white readership. To address this she created the Preface, which buffered the reader’s introduction to Shadrack’s internal crisis and shifted focus away from the pains inflicted on blacks by the war and discriminatory structural institutions.

Though sales were not high, Sula was well received by literary critics. It was nominated in 1975 for a National Book Award, and it won the Ohioana Book Award. A feature for the novel also appeared in the women’s magazine Redbook.