Destructive Heterosexuality in Sula

In Sula, Toni Morrison chronicles the lives of two African-American women whose close friendship is torn apart by infidelity. In the novel, Morrison paints the relationship between the character’s leading women, Sula and Nel, as one of fulfillment, encouragement, and support. Patriarchal heterosexual relationships, by contrast, are painted as unsuccessful or damaging by restricting free will, leaving women to raise families alone, and creating competition and causing division within female friendships. According to Adrianne Rich, author of “Compulsory Sexuality and Lesbian Existence,” patriarchal heterosexual relationships should be examined as an institution much as the economic system of capitalism or the caste system of racism. Rich believes requisite patriarchal heterosexuality has been established as a means of restraining women’s unique identities and perpetuating male dominance, with the result that it “keeps numberless women psychologically trapped, trying to fit mind, spirit, and sexuality into a prescribed script because they cannot look beyond the parameters of the acceptable. It pulls on the energy of such women” (657). Morrison mirrors Rich’s beliefs in Sula when she fabricates the male presence as a negative force...

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