Analytical Essay on Sula by Toni Morrison: The Neglect of Trauma and Mental Health on Minority Groups
Upon reading Sula, by author Toni Morrison, readers are able to watch the discrimination that forms in the town known as The Bottom; however, as the story continues, readers must focus on how this discrimination perpetuates as they watch how the protagonists of the story, Sula and Nel, must learn to adapt to a society where the neglagance of mental health is never ending. Through an analysis of Trace, Trauma, and Home by Evelyn Jaffe Schrieber and Cherall Wall and Circling Meaning and Trauma by Claude Pruitt, readers can interpret the importance of the trauma associated with the marginalization of the black community in Toni Morrison’s Sula. Sula emphasizes the importance of removing the stigma around mental health and instead focusing on fostering a positive support system for those struggling with mental health. Ultimately, Morrison uses Sula to highlight the importance of seeking help from others in order to reduce the mental health concerns in minority communities.
In the novel, Sula, author Toni Morrison utilizes the symbol of the grey ball to show the trauma that follows Sula around in order to shed light on the idea that Sula’s trauma plays a bigger role in her life than anticipated; ultimately Morrison uses this idea to highlight the effects of the ignorance towards trauma and how it eventually leads to greater pain. This is seen in the novel after Sula sleeps with Jude, her best friend’s husband, and describes, “A gray ball hovering just there. Just there. To the right. Quiet, gray, dirty. A ball of muddy strings, but without weight, fluffy but terrible in its malevolence. She knew she could not look, she closed her eyes and crept past it out the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. Sweating with fear…” (Morrison 174). In this quote, readers are able to see that Sula is afraid of the gray ball. Instead of simply picking it up and tossing it away, she “covers her eyes and crept past it” showing how much it has traumatized and affect her. By “creeping past it” she continues to be afraid and hides from it, rather than overcoming it. In addition to Sula’s desire to run away from the ball, she describes it with the color “gray,” symbolizing times of sadness and depression. Morrison also describes the ball as “fluffy” making it seem as though, externally, it is a force that Sula should not be afraid of, however she further describes it by using the word “malevolence”, ultimately showing that the ball represents a strength that is more dangerous than Sula thinks. Morrison uses this parallel to suggest that often times those facing depression or trauma, do not seek help, rather they close their eyes and rush past it, without time to conquer the fear making the experience more burdensome than it should be. Overall, Morrison uses the gray ball to show the effects that trauma has on one’s life as they often times tend to run away from their trauma and feared moments, rather than being educated on ways to solve the issue. Similarly to how Morrison suggests that a person typically runs away from their trauma instead of facing it head on, the analysis of Trace, Trauma, and Home by Evelyn Jaffe Schrieber and Cherall Wall allows readers to see how this fear is exhibited through the marginalization of the black community.
Together with the novel, Schrieber and Wall use their journal Trace, Trauma, and Home in parallel with Morrison’s essay Home to call to attention the effects of trauma in minority communities. Ultimately, it is argued that Morrison’s novel, Sula, works to highlight the importance of trauma, and the role that society places on those suffering through mental health. In the Chapter “Trauma, Memory, and Subjectivity,” Evelyn Jaffe Schrieber and Cherall Wall discuss Morrison’s essay, Home, saying:
One of Toni Morrison’s greatest achievements is her ability to depict what it means to be black in American society. In a culture where whiteness is the norm, black identity is marginalized, and the nuances of the marginalization suggest a range of trauma associated with black experience. Black in America are continually defined as “other” by mainstream culture; consequently, access to a positive individual subjectivity unrelated to race is problematic. (Schreiber and Wall 1)
Through this quote, it can be seen that the authors believe that the “otherization” of African American communities creates traumatic problems. Ultimately, the others argue that many African American citizens tend to hide their problems in order to fit in and conform to society. This creates a negative influence for minority groups, due to the “mainstream culture.” By using the term “whiteness” the authors believe that African Americans have lost a sense of identity since they are working to conform to the “normal” culture of society. When African Americans are defined as “others” their identity continues to be stripped, ultimately making them feel the need to hide their past and traumatic events in order to fit in. The authors imply that Morrison’s work is used to highlight the consequences of trauma on African Americans who must live in a predominantly white society and endure the constant neglect of those around them. This is important because as seen in the novel, PTSD and trauma are just pushed under the rug and not faced head on, ultimately leaving a traumatic imprint on those in the novel. This can be seen through Sula, who feels trapped by the gray ball that follows her. She feels the need to run, and live with her trauma rather than seeking help, ultimately showing the traumatic impression that it left on her. Together, Morrison, Schrieber, and Wall work to reveal the importance that society places on of the trauma associated with the marginalization of the black community.
Similar to using the symbol of the gray ball that follows Sula, Morrsion utilizes the symbol of Nel, curling up in a ball after finding Sula and her husband together, in order to showcase the effects of the traumatic experience in her life; ultimately Morrison uses this to suggest how often times, those facing trauma tend to hide from their problems, sweeping it under a mat, instead of seeking help. This is seen when Nel escapes the traumatic experience of finding her husband and best friend in bed together as she describes, “She looked around for a place to be. A small place. The closet? No. Too dark. The bathroom. It was both small and bright, and she wanted to be in a very small, very bright place. Small enough to contain her grief. Bright enough to throw into relief the dark things that cluttered her…” (Morrison 174). This quote shows readers that Nel chose a path of light rather than darkness. The closet was too dark for her, suggesting that she was willing to face her problems just enough, rather than throwing her problems into the dark and burying it in the back of the closet. However, by wanting a “small enough space to contain her grief” it is suggested that Nel is trying to simply escape her problems, leaving them in her mind, rather than seeking help. By wanting to be in a small, yet bright place, Nel is unsure of what to do with the traumatic experience that she just faced. She makes the attempt to get help, but instead is too afraid to rely on others, since she was already betrayed by both her husband and her best friend. Although she chooses the path of light over darkness, Nel ultimately allows her trauma to consume her rather than overcoming it. Overall, Morrison uses this symbol, of Nel, to show how often times those facing traumatic experiences tend to take a step towards getting help, but ultimately do not have the support system necessary for seeking help, and instead end up shriveling down and hiding from their problems. Through the novel, Morrison suggests how society plays a role in not helping those who are facing traumatic experiences, allowing them to simply curl up and drown in their misery.
Similarly to how Morrison suggests that mental health is looked down upon for those living in minority communities, Circling Meaning and Trauma by Claude Pruitt discusses how healing from trauma is only effective when the experience is reflected upon and talked about; ultimately he argues that one tends to turn to alternative distractions in order to cope with their trauma, rather than seeking help. This is seen when Pruitt writes:
Healing can occur when trauma is spoken about, even indirectly: trauma is made more clearly “symbol” and less “real” as its symptoms are explored in language. The boundaries, in other words, blur and collapse… For these two, the memory of Chicken Little disappearing into the river is literally unspeakable; they cannot talk about it. Since it cannot be spoken, it appears as symptoms: for Sula as promiscuity, for Nel as first subservient wifehood. (Pruitt 120)
Pruitt uses his journal to argue that trauma is made “more clearly” when talked about, showing how if Nel or Sula opened up about their traumatic experience with Chicken Little’s death, they would have been more willing to talk about the distressed moments that they face. However, he highlights that because they were unable to speak about the trauma that has consumed their past, they ultimately struggle to move past it, and look to alternative, unhealthy ways to suppress their emotions. In Sula, Nel continuously hides her emotions through her role as a wife, suggesting that used her position in order to distract herself from facing the traumatic experiences. Similarly, Pruitt highlights how Sula hides behind a mask and commits promiscuous acts in order to remove the attention from the trauma she has faced. Ultimately, Pruitt and Morrison work to shed light on the idea that trauma must be acknowledged and talked about in order to move past it. Together, Morrison and Claude Pruitt work together to reveal how negative mental health only perpetuates when minorities choose to distract themselves or sweep the trauma they face under a rug rather than openly talking about it.
Ultimately, through Schrieber, Wall, Pruitt, and Morrison readers are able to use the novel Sula to interpret the importance of opening up about trauma rather than hiding it. They work together to acknowledge the significance of finding a better system for helping those in minority communities where trauma is often overlooked or neglected. This neglect of trauma is continuously seen and has become more prevalent amongst teenagers and minorities who strive to fit into society. Since trauma and mental health is often seen as making someone weak, many choose to suppress their emotions and continue to move about life without fully healing from the traumatic experiences that left a lasting impact on them. Ultimately, without working to end the negative stigma around mental health, more minority groups and teenagers will continue to spiral downward, into a larger impact in the end, as they often feel the need to fit in and “normal” instead of asking for help. Overall, Morrison allows readers to understand the significance of trauma and the need to ask for help in order to overcome it.
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