Thursday, February 20, 2014

Analysis of 1921

Assignment for each night of Sula:
Write a 250+ word analysis of quotes or ideas in 1921.  Make sure to be specific (talk about particular quotes or incidents) but also explain the larger meaning of what you analyze (what does that show about a central conflict in the text, or a pattern, or a character's hidden motivation, or an essential question).   For all 10 homework points, you need a level of insightful and complex analysis comparable to one body paragraph of a final essay.

12 comments:

  1. Sula Log II: 1920
    In the third chapter of Sula, the reader begins to see Nel characterized by herself and her setting rather than the oppressive eye of her mother. In the chapter, Nel and Helene make the journey from Medallion to New Orleans to visit Helene’s grandmother on her deathbed. The two travel by train where they are subject to the overt racism of the conductor. When Nel sees her mother smile rather than fight back at her oppressor, Nel speculates that she will never be soft like her mother. Upon returning home Nel decides, “I'm me. I'm not their daughter. I'm not Nel. I'm me. Me.” Each time she said the word me there was a gathering of fear in her like power, like joy, like fear… For days afterward she imagined other trips she would take, alone though, to faraway places” (28). In this excerpt, Nel begins to find herself through seeing a little bit more of the world. The neat and orderly home she has lived in for the first ten years of her life is left behind when she travels to Louisiana and finds a new side of her mother, and a new part of her life. Upon returning she becomes content with the fact that she is herself, and she has power over herself. Before this part of the novel, the reader only sees her mother’s perspective of her lazy, incompetent, ugly child, but in this chapter, Nel begins to change, and break free from her mother’s grip.

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  2. A human need is prevalent in the ‘1921’ chapter of Sula. While describing Tar Baby, Morrison writes, “He simply wanted a place to die privately but not quite alone..The people either accepted his own evaluation of his life, or were indifferent to it. There was, however, a measure of contempt in their indifference, for they had little patience with people who took themselves that seriously”(Morrison 40). Even though Tar Baby was basically killing himself by being an alcoholic and he was nearing the end of his life, he wanted to be surrounded by people. It didn’t matter who was surrounding him in his last days since he was living in a house with a collection of borders, he just needed not to be alone. Even though he surrounded people, they didn’t truly care about him. They accepted his way of life but with indifference. The only emotion they had towards Tar Baby was disdain and irritation with him, because Tar Baby was too serious with his intent on dying and they had no time for that. People looked down on Tar Baby because he was serious about taking his life in his own hands; even if it meant killing himself.. Humans need to have connections with other people, even if they’re not real. They need to feel less alone in this world even if the connections they do have are negative.

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  3. What I’ve noticed so far about the three chapters are how there is a green object being described. In 1919, Shadrack is learning how to adapt to his new life and learning how to cope with the trauma he faced in World War II. Morrison writes, “He could not bear to see his hands grow again and he was frightened of the voice in the apple-green suit.”(Morrison pg. 9) Then in 1920, Helene has to travel back to Medallion to visit her dying grandmother, where she has to face the old feelings and fears. Morrison writes, “Helene looked out of the window halfway expecting to see a comfort station in the distance; instead she say gray-green trees leaning over tangled grass.” (Morrison pg.23) Lastly in chapter 1921, after Eva is left by her husband BoyBoy, she had to learn to be independent, so she could support her children. Morrison writes, “Eva looked out of the screen door and saw a woman in a pea-green dress leaning on the smallest pear tree.” (Morrison pg. 35) These characters have something in common, which is learning how to have new life. The color green represents the new life they must learn how to make and be able to be successful to themselves. However, even though, Shadrack’s nurse’s ‘apple-green suit’ and the woman’s ‘pea-green dress’ are more vibrant colors than the ‘gray-green tree’ that Helene passes by, the shades of green still represents the vitality of their new life. Morrison used gray-green to show the combination between Helene’s new life (green) and her past being revisited (gray). Morrison choose to use simple green objects in the first beginning chapters to show how the supporting characters had to make a new life, from either leaving Medallion or entering the town.

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  4. In chapter 1921 of Sula, readers are introduced to Hannah. Hannah immediately stands out as a confident, independent woman who could care less about the gossip surrounding herself from other townswomen. However, a particular line within Morrison’s dialogue, ““…but sleeping with someone implied for her a measure of trust and a definite commitment” leads me to believe that underneath Hannah’s poised façade, lies a women who is deeply scared of being left alone by her lover. By choosing to sleep around with men instead of engaging in long-term relationships, she avoids the damage that may come with mutual love. Moreover, Hannah feels the need to maintain power within her relationships through being a “Daytime lover,” meaning she never falls asleep with a man. Morrison writes about how Hannah carries out her “daytime” loving so as to avoid waking up to a man- however, I believe by stating this, Morrison is also revealing how Hannah is in fact, scared of waking up alone, so she therefore limits her feelings of neglect by remaining the dominant partner in the relationship by being the one who chooses when to “leave.”
    While Hannah’s nature of sleeping around with various men is something society views as unacceptable, and other women “who resented Hannah’s generosity” ruthlessly criticize her for her actions, she still gets what she wants in the end: “What she wanted, after Rekus died, and what she succeeded in having more often than not, was some touching every day.” I suppose the lesson to take away from this is, do what you please if it makes you happy, or at least, keeps you from being unhappy.

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  5. Morrison employs the character Eva Peace in her novel Sula to reveal how a deep fear of situational nadir can lead to a second record low, this time of insanity. Towards the beginning of the novel, Morrison writes how Eva’s husband abandons her, and she alone must care for her three kids. Without money or time to work, Eva must live off donations from her neighbors. Soon, her youngest son Plumb grows constipated to a worrying degree and Eva must take desperate action, physically removing the hardened stool from her son. Morrison narrates what follows, “Eva squatted there wondering why she had come all this way out there to free his stools, and what she was doing down on her haunches with her beloved baby boy warmed by her body in the almost total darkness, her shins and teeth freezing, her nostrils assailed. She shook her head as though to juggle her brains around, then said aloud, ‘Uh uh. Nooo’” (Morrison 34). Here, despite the quick panic of earlier Eva remains crouching, simply “wondering” about what has just occurred. This change in pace indicates that Eva contemplates deeply, unsure of her actions. She wonders “why she had come all this way out to free his stools” as if this solution - to save her child’s life - wasn’t necessary - as if his illness signified nothing. These distant and emotionless thoughts, along with her slowed pace, insinuate that Eva suddenly feels a disconnection between herself and her situation, and with this separation she is able to step back and truly see how she lives, realizing its flaws, her “freezing and assailing” environment. As Eva responds to her new perspective with a deadening, “Uh uh. Noo,” it is clear that, disturbed and startled, she abhors this dark low with a cavernous fear. Only an emotion that shatters one’s internal state of being can break the powerful mother-child bond, and Eva now finds this deep phobia more compelling than her love for her own son. As a result, Eva must escape her suffocating fear and leaves children with a woman named Mrs. Suggs two days later. Morrison narrates, “Eighteen months later she swept down from a wagon with two crutches, a black pocketbook, and one leg. First she reclaimed her children next she gave the surprised Mrs. Suggs a ten-dollar bill, later she started building a house on Carpenter’s Road, sixty feet from BoyBoy’s one-room cabin, which she rented out” (Morrison 34-35). Again, Eva’s fear of nadir is so powerful and formidable that she leaves her children, but for 1.5 years. This indicates that Eva found her situation with her children and fragile state of mind to be such a low point, and thus she would only return once she had gains some height. The diction “first she reclaimed,” “next,” and “later she started building” carries a powerful and authoritative tone, revealing how Eva has accumulated power and control in her life. Instead of limping back to her children defeated and depressed, Eva “swept” confidently off her wagon, equipped with “a black pocketbook, and one leg.” The black pocketbook alludes to a leather or shiny wallet, the formality and durability of both symbolically referencing Eva’s newfound jurisdiction over herself and impenetrable shield of affect. Her lack of a “leg” references not just physical struggle and pain but triumph over such struggles, further adding strength to her newfound personality. She even builds her own house “sixty feet” from the creation of BoyBoy, the man who led her to her previous downfall, which symbolizes her rejection of her previous fall. Therefore, Eva’s phobia of her nadir was so powerful that it caused her to pause her entire life until she gained the emotional strength to take charge and direct herself away from any more potential low-points - she dedicates her life to this avoidance of nadirs. However, when her son Plum returns from World War I with a clear problem, Eva finds her life’s work threatened, and her subsequent action inadvertently brings her to a new fall of insanity.

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  6. continued:
    Morrison narrates, “It was Hannah who found the bent spoon black from steady cooking . . . Eva stepped back from the bed and let the crutches rest under her arms. She rolled a bit of newspaper . . . lit it and threw it onto the bed where the kerosene-soaked plum lay in snug delight” (Morrison 45,47). Once she finds out that Plum has a drug addiction, an issue which will continue to slowly consume him and drag him into his own dark depths, she must realize the emotional, structural, and financial pain this will cause her and her entire life’s work. Although she could reach out to Plum and help him regain himself, this would require her to sink into Plum’s nadir along with him - her ultimate fear. Again, she puts her desperate terror before the lives of her children, and panicked beyond rationality that she will have to experienced such a depression again, she douses Plum in “kerosene” and “lit” him on fire. Fire serves as a method of destruction which erases all hope of repair, for it changes chemical bonds and identity of materials and turns objects into an irreparable ash. However, in attempting to destroy the pull of a potential situational nadir, Eva actually murders her own son, demonstrating that years of gripping terror have transformed her into cold and disconnected person - insane enough to murder. Eva plummets into the depths of insanity. Therefore, Morrison employs her character Eva to demonstrate the dangers the fear of potential downfall holds, and ironically how this in itself brings sufferers to an even darker ‘rock- bottom.’

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  7. Toni Morrison illustrates the damaging affects war had on men during the 20s throughout the first four chapters of her novel, Sula. In chapter “1921”, Morrison uses Plum and to show how the men in the novel have become victims of war. In chapter “1919”, Morrison introduces the readers to Shadrack, whom introduces National Suicide Day out of his fear of sudden death. Shadrack is broken and traumatized by what he experienced during the war. The same can be said for Plum, who comes home from the war and soon falls into a heroin addiction. He begins to steal from his family and spends much of his time in his room, sleeping with his record player playing. One night Eva goes into Plum’s room. Morrison writes, “[Eva] sat down and gather Plum into her arms…Eva held him closer and began to rock. Back and forth she rocked him…listening to Plum’s occasional chuckles” (46). The image Morrison sets up is very peaceful. Mothers hold their children and rock them back in forth as a way to relax and soothe them and this is exactly what Eva is trying to do for Plum. This demonstrates Plum’s vulnerability. Like a child, Plum feels relaxed and safe as Eva cradles him in her arms. After holding him for sometime, Eva proceeds to light Plum on fire, thus killing him. “He opened his eyes and saw a wet lightness over him. Some kind of baptism, some kind of blessing, he thought. Everything is going to be all right, it said” (47). Eva does not want to see her son dying in a horrible way like Tar Baby – who died in a tunnel accident – and cannot bear to watch her son use drugs as a way to help him escape and slowly kill himself. This is way Eva lights him on fire. Plum does not recognize what is happening. “Everything is going to be all right.” This is a phrase mothers often say to their children when they are scared. Again, Plum feels relaxed at ease. Although he does not fully comprehend that he is about to die, he is able to fall asleep peacefully. The “wet lightness” also symbolizes what Plum is searching for. He is stuck in a very dark hole and this lightness offers him a sense of comfort.

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  8. Chapter 1921 of Sula by Toni Morrison the theme seems to be pain. When we meet Eva, she is in pain, along with her family. Her brother, Plum, is in literal pain. Eva “Eva squatted there wondering . . . what she was doing down on her haunches with her beloved baby boy warmed by her body in the almost total darkness, her shins and teeth freezing, her nostril assailed.” Eva is suffering for her son, because he is suffering too. Her love and devotion causes her to do everything possible to save him from feeling this pain. She does something pretty graphic (digging her hands into his anus per se) to rid him of this suffering, but it works. The word choice here is also interesting, darkness is usually associated with evil or bad, but so far in Sula darkness has meant comfort, and that seems to be the theme here too. In the day Plum is hurt and not cared for enough, but at night Eva keeps him warm, comforts him, and ultimately rids Plum of his pain. Words like “assailed” show how much she had to go through to comfort her son as well. As seems to be the case in sentences I analyze, there is a very aggressive word. An assailant is a definite attacker, but sometimes isn’t so clear as to who it is, a sort of assassin. However Eve is ready to deal with all this, she is ready to suffer as long as her son doesn’t have to suffer any longer (also present in the end of the chapter with the great way she treats him).

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  9. Chapter 1921 juxtaposes Eva, a character driven forward by hatred, with her daughter Hannah, who thrives as an outwardly positive yet detached woman who has hidden emptiness. Furthermore, Morrison shows how attitudes and life paths of children are greatly dictated by parental figures. Eva allows herself to be vulnerable to BoyBoy, and is hurt because of her kind intentions towards him even after he leaves her. From then on, she is weighed down by hatred for BoyBoy. Hannah sees her mother’s struggle and, as Jessica said, “she avoids the damage that may come with mutual love.” Hannah opts to pursue temporary happiness rather than the kind of depth that hurt her mother. While there’s indication that Hannah is aware of emptiness within her, at least her detached positivity keeps her sane. Sula sees her mother’s approach to life and love, and unlike with Nel in the previous chapter, she wants to emulate her mother. Morrison writes, “..taught Sula that sex was pleasant and frequent, but otherwise unremarkable” (Morrison 44). Sula sees Hannah’s outward positivity and success, and nonchalantly decides that this is the path for her. Hannah takes a path opposite Eva to avoid her mother’s struggles, and Sula aims to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

    Another angle to Hannah is her simplicity – she doesn’t seem to try hard yet she remains satisfied, often to the chagrin of the other people in Medallion. Her clothing is described as the “same old print wraparound” and her approach to men is characterized as “no passion attached to her relationships and being wholly incapable of jealousy.”

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  10. In the third chapter of Toni Morrison’s Sula, 1921, Morrison conveys the theme of love in a somewhat twisted manner. Through the actions of Eva and her relationship with her son, Plum, Morrison is able to express the human nature of extraordinary love… After Plum’s return from the war, he is unstable and ill, “… he began to steal from them… and sleep for days in his room with the record player going… got even thinner…” (Morrison 45). Though Eva’s great love for Plum is simply stated when Morrison writes, “… Plum, to whom she [Eva] hoped to bequeath everything, floated in a constant swaddle of love and affection…” (Morrison 45), it is her great love that leads her to murder her own son. Often in times of watching a loved one struggle, we as humans feel the need and responsibility to fix the other person for them. Eva chooses to do exactly this, she makes it her obligation to help Plum by killing him, soaking him with kerosene and lighting him on fire. Morrison writes, “… she shut the door and made her slow and painful journey back to the top of the house” (Morrison 48). Though Eva is evidently saddened by her actions, it is her seemingly calm behavior amidst everyone else’s discovery of Plum, that truly demonstrate her good intentions. To rid her son and herself of pain, Eva chooses to express her exceptional love for Plum through extremely dire actions. It is not unusual for humans to act in such a manner, we often like to act as saviors for our loved ones, especially parental units or guardians, we hide secrets and push away sadness and shield from pain…

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  11. Eva decides to take in three lost children into her home, and each of the children, no matter their age or race, she all names Dewey, and when Eva is asked why, she responds with, “What you need to tell them apart for? They’s all deweys.” (38) Eva hits upon something many people do not see. While everyone else is so intent on finding the differences that identify people to tell them apart, Eva works to make them find the similarities. The rest of the town focuses on their race, color of their eyes, and age to tell the three boys apart, but they are ultimately unsuccessful as the boys find out they are one being. They find their similarities as humans, as children and become “one voice, and thought with one mind” (39) they see their likenesses ingrained in them much as people see race ingrained, and because of the way they view themselves, they change the way people see them as well, and “become a trinity with a plural name"(38) Though Eva is responsible for the melding of the boys, it may seem as if she doesn’t follow this practice. She does not find the similarities between herself and others, but would much rather put emphasis on what makes her different, she prides herself in these differences. Her missing leg she refuses to hide away, not in a dainty slipper that can disappear out of sight, but her foot is encased in a boot to the ankle. She purposefully wears skirts to show off her missing leg, not covering it up under a blanket of a skirt. Yet she gives the Dewey’s a sense of empowerment in their similarities, and this is what makes them different from the rest of the world. The way they are able to hold themselves, just as the way Eva holds herself makes her different from her community. Eva’s belief individualism contradicts that of Helene’s and therefore changes the way the novel develops, giving both the distinctive and blending in ways in society.

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  12. In chapter 1921 we see a contrasting way in which both Helene and Eva run their households. Helene’s household is very strict, while Eva’s is a more liberal approach. Helene tried to create a high-class persona were etiquette and style is most important, while Eva did just the opposite. “ Whatever the fate of her lost leg, the remaining one was magnificent. It was stockinged and shod at all times and in all weather.” (Pg31) What Eva’s has that Helene does is character. Eva isn’t concerned about being perfect; her imperfections make her unique which therefore gives her more character. Eva’s unique physical appearance and the open display of said attributes coincide with the way she runs her family. “ Eva’s view, becoming in fact as well as in name a Dewey- joining with the other two to become a trinity with a plural name…inseparable, loving nothing and no one but themselves” This quotes shows Eva’s philosophy that one must love themselves and accept oneself for who they are in order to be happy. Eva’s had accepted her physical condition and has embraced it full heartily, and is passing on her teachings to the Dewey brothers. The fact that Eva just calls all the boys by one name emphasizes the lack of importance of a name. Back in the 1920’s people’s names and titles was apart of the social ladder. Without worrying about this the boys don’t feel tied down to their parents accomplishments, and our allowed to make their own name for themselves.

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