Postmodernism in Toni Morrison's Sula: Critical Analysis

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The purpose of post structuralism is to identify the disunity of the work. The binary oppositions show disunity of the novel in two ways, paradox and irony.

1) Paradox

The first paradox is the location of the Bottom and valley town of Medallion. The Bottom is located above the valley town of Medallion. The Bottom is the place where black people live. And the white people live in Medallion. This setting contains two values being argued. Morrison places black people in the up of the valley. It means that black people is above the white people. However, the name of the community is the Bottom. The name and the location create a strong opposition.

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However, if we take a closer look in the prologue, the nigger joke gives a further clue. The Bottom is a joke indeed. The white farmer does not want to give the slave any land to fulfill his promise. He fools the nigger so that the nigger will accept the Bottom. The farmer says that the Bottom is the best land.

“…He had hoped to give him a piece of the bottom. The slave blinked and said he thought valley land was bottom land. The master said, “Oh no! See those hills? That’s bottom land, rich and fertile.”” (Morrison p. 5)

As a matter of fact the Bottom is not fertile at all. It is even the worst land where planting is very difficult to be done.

“…The nigger got the hilly land where planting was back breaking where the soil slipped down and washed away the seeds and where the wind lingered all through the winter…” (Morrison p. 5)

Moreover living in the up of the valley gives the black people the best view to the white people who lives below them. The view of the white people reminds them how miserable their live is. Again in this part, Morrison gives another paradox. She uses the word “look down at the white people” instead of the word “admire”.

“Which accounted for the fact that white people live on the rich valley floor in that little river town in Ohio, and the blacks populated the hills above it, taking small consolation in the fact that everyday they could literally look down on the white folks.” (Morrison p. 5)

2) Irony

The white values represented in the character of Nel Wright, in the end of the story shows that she is not the best woman after all. Nevertheless, Sula Peace who is stereotyped as the pariah shows that she is better than Nel. Nel strengthens the white values in the community while Sula tries to oppose the white value by creating her own value.

“About who was good. How you know it was you?”

“What you mean?”

“I mean maybe it wasn’t you. Maybe it was me.” (Morrison p. 146)

The good personality that Nel brings up in the community blinds them of their own identity. While Sula’s bad personality opens the community’s eyes of their own identity although they choose to ignore it. Sula finally realizes Nel’s blindness of love and her concept of good and evil.

““…We was girls together,” she said as though explaining something. “O Lord Sula,” she cried, “girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.”

“It was a fine cry – loud and long – but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.” (Morrison p. 174)


Toni Morrison’s Sula, is considered to be postmodern novel based on the following characteristics.

• Postmodernism is reaction against modernism.

Whereas modernism prefers to bring up dominant values, postmodernism question the dominant values by opposing it against minority values. Sula is bringing up the voice of black minority values against the white majority values.

Modernism tends to break values to be positive and negative, while postmodernism deconstruct the binary opposition by questioning the validity of the values. White values are considered to be positive while black values are considered to be negative. In this novel, the positive and negative of the two values are argued.

• Postmodernism prefers to dwell on the exterior image and avoids drawing conclusion or suggesting underlying meanings associated with the interior of objects and events.

In Sula, Toni Morrison created very strong settings and characters to give clear picture of the issue and keep it open to any possible conclusions. The description of setting and characters suggests more profound meaning but does not lead to one particular meaning. For example the setting of the Bottom which is located on the hill while the white folks dwell the valley land. It is too simple to say that black people are supposed to be on top of white people. We need to consider other elements to state such argument.

In that place, where they tore the nightshade and black-berry patches from their roots to make room for the Medallion City Golf Course, there was once a neighborhood. It stood in the hills above the valley town of Medallion and spread all the way to the river. It is called the suburbs now, but when black people lived there it was called the Bottom. (Morrison, 3).

From the location of the Bottom, the people are to look down at white people who live on the valley. It might assume that black people are to follow the life of white people.

If we relate this to criticism, this novel is more likely to be deconstruction rather than structuralism. As we know that structuralism is modernism and deconstruction is postmodernism.

• Postmodernism sees human experience as unstable, internally contradictory, ambiguous, inconclusive, indeterminate, unfinished, fragmented, and discontinuous with no one specific reality possible. Therefore, it focuses on a vision of a contradictory, fragmented, ambiguous, indeterminate, unfinished world.

There are two values that being argued in the novel. White values and black values. The argument is given but it opens many other arguments that readers may give. The novel elaborates the positive and negative sides equally through the characters. Nel Wright is the character who holds white values and she survives in the society. However, she has to take the negative consequence of following the values. On the other hand, Sula Peace holds black values. She is considered to be bad woman in the society, but behind her choice, she can enjoy being herself without pretending to be someone else. The elaboration of the two values invites many criticisms on deciding which value is better than the other.

• The postmodern writer creates an open work in which the reader must supply his own connection, work out alternative meanings, and provide his own unguided interpretation.

There have been many works and criticisms on Sula with different issues and focuses. Although this novel simply tells about the life of two black women trying to survive in the society, it is merely an open work on race discrimination, feminism, culture, social and politics, psychology, etc. Morrison let the readers to interpret the novel in any possible ways. This is the freedom of the postmodern novels.

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Postmodernism in Toni Morrison’s Sula: Critical Analysis. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from
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