Sula and Nel Friendship

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When it comes to Friendship, one might think of playing a game or two with someone you care about. However, in Toni Morrison’s novel, Sula, Friendship is not always so black and white. Sula’s and Nel’s relationship are the wildest roller coaster any amusement park could ever hope to have. Sula is a book that sometimes leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth when it comes to how friendship is treated. Sula and Nel’s friendship go through it all, especially when it comes betrayal and forgiveness when it comes to the death of Chicken Little, the affair of Jude and Sula, and ultimately, Sula’s inevitable death.

Firstly, The Death of Chicken Little. This occurrence put Sula’s and Nel’s friendship to the test. “The water darkened and closed quickly over the place where Chicken little sank.” (Morrison, pg. 61) The tragedy of this incident severely glued the two girls together, as they were forced to become adults at that moment. Chicken Little’s death would soon become a strong foundation (although a terrible one) When it comes to them trying to cover up what had happened, they confronted Shadrack, as he does lives by the river that chicken Little drowned in. It seemed that Shadrack did not know anything, however, he did reply to Sula saying, “always,” which was a foreshadowing for what would happen later in the book. Later, Nel and Sula were at the grave of Chicken Little, holding hands, knowing that this secret could not be let out between them. This left them with a deep bond that was unbreakable, or so we thought…

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Later, it is revealed that Nel is getting married to a man named Jude in 1927. The two girls were much older and mature, but obviously still best friends. Sula was present at Nel’s wedding, as she should, after that, it would be a long 10 years before the two young women would see each other again. However, their meeting would soon turn from sweet to sour. 10 years has passed since Sula has left the Bottom as she finally comes back on the day that robins swarm the place, which is symbolism for how just like the Plague of Robins, Sula was a plague for the town’s people. It was clear it was too long for the two girls to be apart, they hit it of just like they were young girls again. In the book, Toni writes that, Nel was laughing so hard that she had tears in her eyes and she almost peed herself. This proved that not even separation could keep the two ladies apart, nothing at all besides betrayal. As explained earlier, Sula had an affair with Nel’s husband, Jude. “But they had been down on all fours naked, not touching except their lips right down there on the floor where the tie is pointing to, on all fours like (uh huh, go on, say it) like dogs.” (105) This specific betrayal reminds me of one from a specific article by Rosie Millard. Millard says, “Just over ten years ago, it emerged that Harold Pinter and Joan Bakewell had had a seven-year affair that began in the 1960s, she while married to the TV producer Michael Bakewell, he while married to the actress Vivienne Merchant” (Millard) Because of this betrayal, it would be 3 years before the two would talk again, on Sula’s death bed.

After 3 years of not seeing each other, Nel decides to finally visit Sula after she falls helplessly ill. If I were Nel, I would have not forgiven Sula. It is not an easy thing to forgive the person who ruined your life. Nel does not forgive Sula, at least not in life. An article from Jonathon Aitken says, “FORGIVING ENEMIES IS ONE OF THE hardest commandments in Jesus's teachings. Most of us struggle with it personally at some period in our lives.” (Aitken) Their meeting started off easy but soon turned violent as Nel was angry and wanted an answer on why Sula did what she did, as she should. When Sula dies at first, Nel is not sure how she feels. Much later, Nel cries finally for the death of Sula, realizing that it was not the loss of her husband that made her feel that way, but the loss of her now late best friend.

Sula and Nel’s friendship have gone from togetherness to betrayal, and then forgiveness. In the end, Nel never hated Sula, and even shed tears for her as soon as she realized she did not. Toni Morrison’s book goes into a very fragmented version of friendship that no one wants to hope to have. Sula and Nel’s friendship are not like most, unlike normal friendship where friends would get into a normal fight, Sula’s and Nel’s reason for their separation was far more severe. Although Sula and Nel friendship did end on a bad note, they never stopped loving each other and ultimately never stopped caring for one another.


  1. Aitken, Jonathan. 'Acts of forgiveness.' The American Spectator, vol. 43, no. 1, Feb. 2010, p. 62+. Gale Literature Resource Center, 9. Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.
  2. Millard, Rosie. 'The end of the affair: thirty years on, Pinter's study of adultery remains as poignant as ever.' New Statesman, vol. 136, no. 4849, 18 June 2007, p. 50. Gale Literature Resource Center, 11. Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.
  3. Morrison, Toni. (1973) Sula. New York: Alfred A. Knopf
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Sula and Nel Friendship. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from
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