Ideology pp 115-129 | Cite as

Toni Morrison’s Sula and Subjective Ideology

  • James M. Decker
Part of the Transitions book series (TRANSs)


Critical interpretations of the title character of Toni Morrison’s 1973 volume, Sula, vary sharply in their assessment of her subjectivity. Staunchly ‘individual,’ Sula subverts the communal ideology of the ‘Bottom’ — Medallion, Ohio’s African-American quarter — repeatedly. Through such acts as watching her mother, Hannah, burn to death, accidentally (?) hurling Chicken Little to a watery grave, fornicating with Nel’s husband (among many others), and assigning her grandmother to a nursing home, Sula distances herself from the sensus communis of her birthplace. Although few commentators will unequivocally endorse Sula’s behavior, many laud her disregard of ‘normative’ social standards as an emblem of a subversive feminist consciousness. Jill Matus, for instance, regards Sula as ‘a woman … intent on opening all parts of herself rather than folding them away’ (Matus 1998, 60) while Wilfred D. Samuels and Clenora Hudson-Weems posit that the character seeks an ‘authentic existence’ (Samuels and Hudson-Weems 1990, 32). For such critics, Sula offers a critique of the stultifying ideology of the Bottom, which, despite its ostensible reliance on African-American tradition, shadows the ‘dominant’ ideological paradigm of Medallion and its attendant race-, class-, and gender-based hierarchies.


Ideological Center Attendant Race Ideological Framework Autonomous Subject Subjective Ideology 
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© James M. Decker 2004

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  • James M. Decker

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