SULA is one favorite book of mine. This is a novel written by an African American female novelist, Toni Morrison. The book I have was published in 1973 by Bantam Book.
The story is about friendship between two girls named Sula Peace and Nellie Wright. Some critics said that this novel is one example of the starting emergence of novels telling about lesbianism. However, referring to the time it was published (still the beginning of 1970s), of course, Toni Morrison was not really daring yet to tell the lesbian love between Sula and Nel openly.
The setting time started the beginning of 1920s and the setting place was in a place called Medallion. Little Sula and Nel went to the same elementary school. Sula that came from a family without men (no grandpa no father) was a tough girl so that she often had a role as a protector for Nel who happened to come from a “happy” family—complete with her father and mother. Sula lived with her grandma, Eva, her mom, Hannah. Eva’s husband left her and the children for another woman. Hannah’s husband died young. Both of these two women didn’t get married again. This is somewhat typical theme in African American stories. In one scene in the story, Sula said, “Men were created to leave women. No big deal with that. We women must be ready to live alone. Don’t ever depend our lives on men.”
After finishing their high school, Nel married a guy named Jude because “women must get married.” This is the “normal” way of life. On the contrary, Sula left Medallion to pursue her study in another city.
Some years later, Sula came back to her hometown. Sula lived in her grandma’s dwelling after putting Eva in a home for the elderly. She didn’t get married because she thought it was useless to get married. The reason was just like what she always said to herself, and also to Nel, “Men were created to leave their wives for another woman.” instead of living alone because being left by her man, Sula intentionally chose to live alone, by not getting married.
Sula did like what her mother did: fucking any guy she wanted. She even also fucked Jude, Nel’s husband. She didn’t feel guilty. Unfortunately, Nel saw Jude and Sula fucking in front of her own eyes. Feeling guilty or what, Jude left Medallion, not clear where. Apparently, it made friendship between Sula and Nel end.
Some years later, when Sula was seriously ill and dying, living alone in her dwelling place, Nel, as an ex good friend of hers, came to visit Sula. They had a talk. One most interesting dialog was as follows:
Nel: “But what about me? What about me? Why didn’t you think about me? Didn’t I count? I never hurt you. What did you take him for if you didn’t love him and why didn’t you think about me? I was good to you, Sula, why don’t that matter?”
Sula: “It matters, Nel, but only to you. Not to anybody else. Being good to somebody is just like being mean to somebody. Risky. You don’t get nothing for it.”
I really love this part. Sula criticized Nel’s way of thinking that when we do good things to others, it is all because we want to do good things, without any hidden intention behind it; such as that the ones we “help” will help us back. Because when we expect that, and then we find out that we don’t get what we expect, we just hurt ourselves.
How many people around us—and probably we are also included—do like what Nel did toward Sula? Being good to someone only because we expect something good in return? And when we don’t get what we expect, we will feel hurt. As a result, we want to take revenge? Once someone takes revenge, it will cause someone else to do the same thing. It will be like devilish cycle, won’t it? It will never end.
Indeed it is very difficult to be really pure in heart when we want to do good things to others without expecting someone else will repay us. Moreover when we are accustomed to being indoctrinated by our teachers or parents like, “Do good things to others. They will repay you.” or “Do good things to others. God will put you in heaven later.” What if in fact, heaven and hell are just myth? People will blame their teachers or parents as cheaters and get angry.
I’d prefer to choose to do good things to others. Period. I don’t want to hurt myself later. When all people think this way—do good things to others; meaning nobody hurts anybody else, everybody will live in peace in this world. Hopefully.