Perception Through Symbolism In ‘Sula’ by Toni Morrison

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In literature, symbols are used to represent or give meaning to a particular action or subject. Authors present symbols throughout their novel to conceal its true meaning, which allows the reader to interpret through literal translation. In ‘Sula’ by Toni Morrison, Sula carries a symbol (a birthmark) that is interpreted in three different ways throughout the novel that aide in her character development. The birthmark on her face is described as a rose, snake, and tadpole, representing three different symbols within the story creating a theme of perception that holds great weight within the plot of the novel.

Sula was a woman whose character was defined through the symbols she embodied. The birthmark on her face is described by many as a rose. The perception of a rose helps create the beauty aspect of her character. “The birth markover her eye was getting darker and looked more and more like a stem and rose' (Morrison, 74). Sula was now representing what a woman can actually be despite the role that was already created in that era. Sula was now showing the community how a woman can have independence and freedom during that time regardless of it being two aspects that were only seen in men.

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Sula’s character develops rather quickly throughout the novel, as a chain of events accompanies her return to the bottom. The members of the community now perceive her character as evil, giving her birthmark a new symbol, the snake. She is criticized for not being married, which de womanizes her in the eyes of Eva. An argument presents with the subject of death leading to the event of Sula putting Eva in a nursing home. This action was perceived as evil and sneaky in the community. Sula makes an attempt to keep her character being perceived as a Rose by drawing her relationship with Nela close through a lie about Eva. Nela later realizes that Sula’s character is composed of many lies when she finds out Sula slept with Jude. This event ties Sula’s character as evil and confirms her deceptive personality. The theme of perception continues to be amplified through the events of Sula.

Sula’s character creates a theme of perception throughout the novel based off events that occur. The third symbol that can be linked to this theme is the tadpole that is reflected on her birthmark. A tadpole is a symbol that is perceived as transformative, full of youth, and very self-reliant. Who Sula becomes and how the community saw her were because of her young transformative traits, despite the symbolism of a rose and snake. From the beginning to her downfall, Sula carried herself in the direction she believed was right despite how others saw her. “She was near thirty, and unlike them, had lost no teeth, suffered no bruises, developed no ring of fat at the waist of the pocket at the back of her neck” (Morrison 115). Mentally Sula was stronger than any other woman and allowed herself to develop based off her own will, rather than following the script that every other woman had done, get married and have children.

Symbolism continues to be a major factor in great pieces of literature. It allows the author to create conceal meanings throughout a novel of a specific subject for the reader to develop through his/her own literal translation. In ‘Sula’ by Toni Morrison, Sula is a character that carries three symbols and uses it to develop a global theme of perception within the novel. The birthmark hold three embedded symbols, the rose, snake, and tadpole, that mold Sula’s true woman character in the novel.

Works Cited

  1. Bloom, Harold, editor. Sula - Toni Morrison. Chelsea House, 1999, Infobase eBooks,, Accessed 9 Feb. 2020.
  2. Fleming, Grace. 'Symbols and Motifs in Literature.' ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2020, Coconi, Angeliki. 'What Is the Purpose of Symbols in Literature?' , Accessed 09 February 2020.
  3. Sy, Kadidia, 'Women's Relationships: Female Friendship in Toni Morrison's Sula and Love, Mariama Ba's So Long a Letter and Sefi Atta's Everything Good Will Come.' Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2008.
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