Sexual Theme in Sula by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison doesn’t include a strong sexual theme in Sula just for shock value. Rather, the author uses sex to reveal clues towards the personalities of different characters, and how traits get passed down from one generation to the next. Some of the important clues provided in each characters personality traits come from differing sexual attitudes they hold. Disagreements between sexual appropriateness develop the relationship between Nel and Sula, as well as Sula’s broader relationship with the community of Medallion.The main source of conflict in Sula comes from the community’s strong sexual standards for men and women, which sets Sula apart from Nel, her family, and the community of Medallion. While women are expected to be subservient and devoted to their men, it is accepted in Sula for men to have affairs with other women and to leave their families behind for other pursuits. Both the Peace family and the Wright family are dominated by women, because of the lower standards for men to stay involved in their families lives. In the midst of an argument between Nel and Sula over her affair with Jude, Nel tells Sula to stop acting like a man.Sula responded by saying “Then I really would act like what you call a man. Every man I ever knew left his children” (143). This stereotype is true for many men. Even though Nel had a strong home life, her father was always away working and not very influential in her upbringing. Sula’s father Boyboy was even less involved in her life. Boyboy abandoned his wife and three children, forcing Sula to grow up in a home without a father. Many years later, when Sula sleeps with Nel’s husband Jude, Jude abandons the family leaving Nel with two young children.When Sula finally falls in love with Ajax, he leaves never to be heard again after Sula becomes too womanlike for him. Even for independent, strong women such as Hannah and Sula, they are expected to be subservient during sex. When Toni Morrison describes Hannah’s character, and her sexual openness, she also reveals an important sexual standard present. “While Eve tested and argued with her men. Leaving them feeling as though they had been in combat with a worthy, if amiable, foe, Hannah rubbed no edges, made no demands, made the man feel as though he were complete and wonderful just as he was – he didn’t need fixing – and so e relaxed and swooned in the Hannah-light that shone on him simply because he was” (43). Despite Sula’s untraditional sexual behaviors, during sex, she gave in to what was expected of women during intercourse. While the Peace family went against traditional sexual standards, Nel tended to be more traditional with it, especially with Jude. At Nel and Jude’s marriage ceremony, the couple anticipated having sex that night. “They began to dance, pressed in among the others, and each one turned his thoughts to the night that was coming fast” (85).This eagerness to have sex is more traditional, because we assume the eagerness comes from the fact that the two have never had sex. Society sets a standard that there should be no sex before marriage, sharply contrasting the role of sex in the Peace family. Sula’s sexual casualness conflicts with many marriages, and reveals the double standard for sex during marriage. When Sula sleeps with Nel’s husband she thinks little of it, but it has a profound impact on Sula’s live. Of course, it was hard for Sula to understand what was wrong with her affair “She had no thought at all of causing Nel pain when she bedded down with Jude” (119).Of course it leaves Nel feeling angry and depressed because of her husband and Sula’s affair. “For now her thighs were truly empty and dead too, and t was Sula who had taken the life from them and Jude who smashed her heart and the both of them who left her with no thighs and no heart just her brain raveling away” (111). Both Sula and Jude act as a man in the affair, since neither of them take blame or any responsibility. After the affair, it is a while before Nel even talks to Sula and the audience never hears from Jude again.When Sula, the independent and promiscuous protagonist falls in love for the first time with Ajax, she looses her “masculinity” by conforming to the sexual standard for women. After a positive sexual experience with Ajax, Sula began to act more traditionally to her gender, prompting Ajax to leave since he liked Sula because of her masculine attitude towards sex. “Every hackle on his body rose, and he knew that very soon she would, like all of her sisters before her, put to him the death-knell question “Where you been? ” His eyes dimmed with a mild and momentary regret” (133). When Ajax entions “all of her sisters”, we see that Sula is usually even more independent than her sexually independent family. Ajax is unsettled by Sula’s attempts to act more feminine, becoming uneasy looking at the gleaming kitchen, Sula’s green ribbon and the table for two. Ajax was just looking for sex, but the situation made him feel like he was being nested, taken in by Sula. Conforming to his own sexual standard, when too much was asked of him by Sula, he simply left without a word. Just as seen with Boyboy and Jude. Sula is simply a book about sex and its relationship with society.From it, we realize that little is expected from men in sex, and the women are much more responsible for their sexual behavior. It’s an unfair double standard, which rips characters apart. Nel and Sula, who go against the status quo to be independent of the sexual standards of society, both end up somewhat conforming to those standards. Sula’s sexual openness threatens the community of Medallion so much, that its citizens were happy when she died and stopped threatening their husbands. Though of course, if those wives would have been caught having an affair with different unmarried men, the story would have been much different.


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