Sunday, February 16, 2014

Due 2.20: Sula Opening and 1919

Identify a few significant choices that Morrison made in Sula's opening chapter and 1919.  You could focus on setting, characters, conflict, or language.  What does she want to draw your attention to?  What conflicts, issues or themes do you think will be important in this novel?  200+ words, conversation style post.

7 comments:

  1. In chapter 1919 of “Sula,” the character Shadrack serves to demonstrate man's need for order. “1919” begins post WWI, where Shadrack is suffering from severe posttraumatic stress disorder on account of his loss of a close comrade- and the horrendous violence and terror he experienced during the war. During Shadrack’s stay in the hospital, his discomfort is alleviated primarily by maintaining order. When Shadrack wakes up one morning in the hospital, he feels uneasy about the tray of food he is given because the “lumpy whiteness of rice, the quivering blood of tomatoes, the grayish-brown meat” evoke memories of “blood” and “flesh” from his days at war. However, he is able to calm his memories because “their repugnance was contained in the neat balance of triangles” on his tray. Within this, Morrison displays Shadrack’s need for order within chaos. The tight confinement of his food demonstrated order to which he felt comforted. Additionally, Shadrack is alarmed one morning when he wakes up to find that his fingers are beginning to grow in “higgledy-piggledy fashion like Jack’s beanstalk.” The human body commonly acts a reassuring check-point of self identification, in which case, Shadrack cannot find any comfort of self assessment because unlike what one would expect from his/her hands, his are wiggling around unexpectedly. Shadrack’s need for order within a world (which in his position) seems so un-orderly- is seen through his desire to confine himself to a straight jacket. He needs the order and predictability of confinement instead of the chaos and volatility of life and war.
    In light of his own fears, it makes sense as to why Shadrack sets aside a day for suicide. Death is unpredictable, frightening and unbearable to him, and his national suicide day gives people the opportunity to be organized and prepared for death. Shadrack encourages participation in his national holiday because it conquers the abruptness of death. For Shadrack, taming death by restricting it to one day- is as reassuring as a straight jacket or evenly divided food; it is the order and certainty within life that allows him to remain stable after a period of heavy chaos and brutal unpredictability.

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  2. In Toni’s novel “Sula”, is taken place in Ohio after World War II. Morrison added the opening after writing the novel to give the general sense of what the town looked like before. I think that this gave the effect of what once was image and then reading about how the setting got to the point of destruction. She writes, “There will be nothing left of the Bottom (the footbridge that crossed the river is already gone), but perhaps it is just as well, since it wasn’t a town anyway” (Morrison pg.4) She goes on to describe all the things that the town had like, businesses and ‘cake walks’ which are common to have in a town and community. The decision to why Morrison decided not to call the Bottom, a town, was to show that it wasn’t supposed to be a happy place, or a place where you shouldn’t settle. As I was reading the end of the opening, I was getting a better sense of why it was called the Bottom. It was a piece a land, along with the slave’s freedom, a white owner gave after the slave did all these difficult tasks. The owner said that, ““High up from us,” said the master, “but when God looks down, it’s the bottom. That’s why we call it so. It’s the bottom of heaven-best land there is.”” (Morrison pg.5) This didn’t make total sense to me right away since during the time landowners where trying to grow and sell their crops, so why wouldn’t the slave’s master want the fertile land rather than the land he has now. The Bottom represents the area that can grow, but won’t be seen by others, and will die out shortly.

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  3. Sula, 1919 Analysis
    The lack of obvious change in Shadrack’s life haunts him as he finds an ajar to freedom in Toni Morrison’s Sula. In war, Shadrack finds himself in a bed, a plate of food presented in front of him, “In one triangle was rice, in another meat, and in the third, stewed tomatoes...All the repugnance was contained in the neat balance of the triangles- a balance that soothed him” (8). The meal plate that is served to Shadrack has no visual beauty, “lumpy whiteness… quivering blood...grayish brown” (8). Nothing about this food that is supposed to nourish the body is described as appealing. Conformity of the food screams through the placement of the three elements in different triangles. Everything is separated, not allowing each particular food to be called a meal. Although this plate is visually boring and of no special sort, it sooths Shadrack. The irony in Shadrack’s life is that he enjoys order, things that are constant while most people enjoy life to be shaken up. His large hands that reach to partake in his meal turn out not to be the exact size of what the norm is, causing change and to him ending up in a hospital. When being freed, his anxiety with change hits him again, “the grounds overwhelmed him: the cropped shrubbery, the edged lawns...looked at the cement stretches: each one leading clearheadedly to some presumably desirable destination” (10). The unevenness of the shrubs and the lawns seem to stir up trouble within Shadrack. While cement- cold, hard, flat- give him a more peaceful visualization of the road ahead. He uses the word “presumably” proposing that he is not sure exactly if the road ahead is “desirable,” showing uncertainty with himself. He thinks that where these cement roads will lead into something great but it most likely will not be.
    Shadrack connects himself to a child through his shoelaces. He grows frustrated, “fumbled with the laces...nurse had tied them into double knots, the way one does for children...he fought a rising hysteria” (12). Shadrack is twenty two, yet reflects the behavior of a child. He continues to show his love for familiarity, conformity even. When things change or are unlike what he is used to, his frustration easily seems out of him. Not allowing himself to grow up, to experience new struggles that will help him to move on, to do something that scares him.

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  4. In the first chapter of Toni Morrison’s Sula, 1919, I found that the character, Shadrack, was written in an extremely articulate and descriptive manner. Morrison’s description of Shadrack’s actions and manner seemed to resonate with me… and I felt as if I was examining and learning, not only about Shadrack himself, but humans as well.
    I greatly agree with Jessica’s line of reasoning… Shadrack truly does seem to “demonstrate man's need for order”. I believe, however, that Shadrack also demonstrates the human tendency to want comfort and understanding to new, unusual or unpredictable things. (I would like to add, however, that finding comfort and understanding, at least in Shadrack’s case, goes hand in hand with the idea of order). Morrison writes of Shadrack’s state of mind, “… he didn’t even know who or what he was… no past, no language, no tribe no source… nothing nothing nothing to do” (Morrison 12). Morrison’s description of Shadrack’s mental state serves to expose Shadrack at his most vulnerable and confused state. Yet, it is only after he is able to fulfill “his earlier desire to see his own face” (Morrison 13), does Shadrack seem to find comfort in the idea that he is real and far from being nothing. In addition, his fears of his shaking and growing hands ceases when he is able to “… glanc(ed) at his hands” and see “They were still” (Morrison 13). I think his creation of National Suicide Day relates to the desire for comfort in unpredictable events… Morrison writes, “It was not death or dying that frightened him, but the unexpectedness of both” (Morrison 14). Shadrack, in creating one day where everyone could potentially commit suicide, allows himself to find comfort in an occurrence that is unpredictable.

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  5. In 1919 of Sula, Shadrack represents the realities of war and controlling PTSD. Shadrack is transported from one entirely different environment to another. In France the environment was described as “dirty, gray explosions surrounding him” Shadrack sees all these grotesque things that changed him. When he awoke in his hospital bed he was like his old life was completely erased. As if he were a baby. Everything around him became an anomaly, physically the explosions wrecked his body, and he was looked upon as a crazy drunk. But the reality is, is that he is just cautious. Shadrack tried to make sense or control his feeling by creating National Suicide day. Where he has a way to express all the things that happened in WW1 in one day. I feel like National Suicide day is a way for Shadrack to remember is old pre WW1 life as if he died back in France. Shadrack also feels like other people in the town can benefit as well. In life people change a lot. The same person at the age of twenty may not be the same person 10 years down the road. These people can reflect on who they became, and if they’re satisfied by the changes they made

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  6. The first sentence of a book is often the most important. Normally, it is the defining point as to whether or not the reader would like to continue on with a book or to place it back on the shelf. The first sentence is made to hook the reader and entice them to continue on. That being said, I found the first sentence of this book to very interesting. Toni Morrison writes, “In that place, where they tore the nightshade an blackberry patches from their roots to make room for the Medallion City Golf Course, there was once a neighborhood.” (Morrison, 3) The structure of this sentence is like one of a storybook. Using this type of structure, the author creates a sense of nostalgia. However, despite the happy feeling of the sentence, it is the word choice that quickly draws the reader in and catches the attention. The plants nightshade and blackberries are very similar in color. Although they are not similar in shape and size, it would be easy to mix them up. Both of these plants have a very deep purple that almost appears black. However, one is extremely poisonous and hazardous in health while the other is completely ordinary. Having both bushes so close in proximity gives a sense of for shadowing that danger lurks in the seeming safe and ordinary neighborhood.

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  7. In the novel “Sula”, Toni Morrison begins the story with the description of Shadrack, “a young man of hardly twenty, his head full of nothing” who went off to fight in the first World War. Through Shadrack’s perspective, we as the reader can see the fear and pain he experiences, and the PTSD that follows. Morrison gives a perfect description of Shadrack’s stress disorder, beginning with his hallucination of his hand to him attempting to walk about outside. She also captures the pain and fear Shadrack feels: “He knew the smell of death and was terrified of it, for he could not anticipate it. It was not death of dying that frightened him, but the unexpectedness of both” (Morrison 14). This shows that fighting in the war has done some severe damage towards Shadrack. This gives the reader the idea that after watching so many people die unexpectedly from getting shot or blown up by a bomb, he now fear dying in such a manner. Yet this also encompasses what many people fear, and I think that fear is misunderstood. One of the things people fear the most is death, but, as Morrison helps us understand, it is not death we should fear, but how it will happen. That’s what I think people are afraid of and something that Morrison wanted our attention to be drawn to.

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