Toni Morrison's novel "Sula". Identity and Subalternity

Sula as a Subaltern Other

Essay, 2011

10 Pages



This paper approaches anexploration of two major themes in Sula: social identity and gender subalternity. I would begin with a general presentation of the major points that mark this Oscar-winning novel, and then shift to violently serious disagreements that bear reference to the submissive, subaltern position that Sula, on behalf of every woman of color, has to embrace. As the novel, as well as a bundle of essays and articles explain, the protagonist is weary of all that binds her to submission, and hasthusdecided to follow her own way of life. The analysis is held from a Postmodern perspective. I would therefore attempt to build a bridge between the discourse of Morrison, who is addressing her message in the name of Sula, and that of postmodernism, which is a deviation from representation and a turn towards self-reflexiveness. I am eventually describingthe societal tension between Sula and her fellow denizens, who are caught up in an arena of contestthe ground of which is experience and circumstances.


Subaltern; submission; experience; Sula; Toni Morrison; Postmodern; representation; social identity; gender; Feminism; equality

Toni Morrison portrays her female protagonist, Sula, as an autonomous figure, possessing a mysterious power that skins her from the depths of gender subalternity. We cannot fail to observe her individual preservation within a broken society, whose ground rule hinges on presentiments and credulity. “The meaning of the birthmark on her eye; that was not a stemmed rose, or a snake, it was Hannah’s ashes marking her from the very beginning.” (Morrison, Sula)

The author emphasizes the psychological state of Sula, which displays a substantial presence of emotional as well as bodily aspects, disclosing Morrison’s philosophical vintage point. She is not captivated by rational, objective reasoning; quite the contrary, she foregroundspostmodern aspects pertaining to culture, gender, body and emotion through her novel. Therefore, unlike the conceptual spaces of the traditional philosophies (some of which are reason, truth, certainty, essence and objectivity), Sula, the novel, is a literary work presented from a Postmodern stance.

“Postmodernists reject the search for underlying truth, certainty, and essences. They do not believe it possible to find universal principles that explain the natural and the social world; they reject standard notions of rationality and objectivity and the idea of a stable, knowing self… Postmodern discourses create the kinds of conceptual spaces that many feminists find appropriate for their intellectual work.” (Garry and Pearsal)

Many movements, Feminism to be included, have aspired to Postmodernism, asit helps, on the one hand,in the castrating of the representational process, social marginalization, racial discrimination and cultural alienation. On the other hand, it substantially stresses freedom and self-reflexiveness.Subaltern mobs have been witness to a long history of representation since the Ancient Greeks, to the Dark Ages, the Enlightenment, the Modern Age, among other historical junctures. The elite, in an otherwise epitomized stratum, has incessantly been the ruling power, the writer of history, and the legitimizer of the “appropriate” morality. Jean François Lyotard, in his book, “La Condition Postmoderne”, elucidates the concept of power legitimation from a language standpoint. As he exemplifies,

“Considering such a declaration as “"Give money to the university"; these are prescriptions. They can be modulated as orders, commands, instructions, recommendations, requests, prayers, pleas, etc. Here, the sender is clearly placed in a position of authority, using the term broadly (including the authority of a sinner over a god who claims to be merciful): that is, he expects the addressee to perform the action referred to. The pragmatics of prescription entail concomitant changes in the posts of addressee and referent.”(Lyotard 9-10)


Excerpt out of 10 pages


Toni Morrison's novel "Sula". Identity and Subalternity
Sula as a Subaltern Other
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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sula’s, identity, subalternity, sula, subaltern, other
Quote paper
Imad Guemmah (Author), 2011, Toni Morrison's novel "Sula". Identity and Subalternity, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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