Toni Morrison’s Sula: queering binaries, uniting traditions




This article analyzes Toni Morrison’s novel Sula from the point of view of feminist theory and queer theory. The novel inspired a lot of debates between scholars, who looked at various aspects of the novel, such as its complex web of relationships between and within genders, its take on race, and its exploration of female sexuality. While the term “lesbian” literature does not seem to fit the novel, the scholars agreed on the term “queer” literature. It can be explained by the fact that Sula depicts intense and existentially significant relationships between women, but without the sexual dimension. The article’s use of queer theory enables the researcher to view the novel, as well as the protagonist, within the queer continuum rather than through the binding approach of fixed gender and sexual identities that were not necessarily typical in African American communities. The article turns to the African religions references in Sula, such as the beliefs of the Yoruba people, encoded by Toni Morrison in particular Sula herself being an embodiment of Aje, the spirit of female power. We can see that Toni Morrison also skillfully employs the Western tradition, and this is what makes Sula so complex and so prone to be analyzed with the help of queer theory – the binaries in this text are not fixed and open to interpretation. Though the African matrix is not directly related to queer theory, it is a part of the meaning of the text. The author also turns to the European medieval tradition of “misrule.” All these identities only lock black womanhood in. Paradoxically, a black woman’s safe space, the shelter of her stability is rooted in fluidity – perhaps, alluding to the waters and the river gods and spirits of the African ancestors whom Toni Morrison summons to this world. The world that in its Western dimension appears to be “misruled,” “carnavalesque” and “upside down” – it all depends from what angle to look at. The article concludes that the novel, and the character of Sula, strives to dismantle the biases of white feminism, as well as the epistemological binaries of and western discourse.

Keywords: feminist, queer, race, identity, compulsory heterosexuality, Yoruba tradition, Aje, epistemological binary.


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