Books that form us: Sula by Toni Morrison

Inspiration Story Series

My painting, “The Bookerfly” is loosely about the stories that turn into our wings. We read them while we’re developing in our cocoons, and when we come out of the cocoons, they become our wings. I would liken this to adolescence and then adulthood, but if life has taught me anything it is that our breaking down and rebuilding is a cycle, and we don’t always know where we are in the cycle but nevertheless it continues on. Recently, it got me thinking- what books have had a profound impact on my life? And I want to know, what stories have impacted your life? 

For example, I remember a very specific “ah-ha” moment in an english class my junior year. The class was specific to reading author’s who weren’t white, so we were reading Achebe, Hurston, Alexie, and of course, Morrison. It was a great chance to break down cultural expectations and barriers, and to get to know ourselves a little bit better. My teacher, whose name I regretfully have forgotten, was a very, very good teacher, and not only did we learn about different cultures through these novels, but she started to teach us how to break down the way novels tell truths, and how to really pick out the symbols with a fine tooth comb. It is because of her that I fell head over heels in love with literature, and ended up attending University for it. Anyway,

I remember sitting in the class discussing Sula by Toni Morrison. As a young woman, I looked at the character of Sula with a bit of reverence and hero-worshipping. If you’ve read the book, you know that Sula has her flaws and shortcomings, and doesn’t always act in the best way. But I loved how she broke the rules laid out for women (specifically women of color), that she was her own individual with wants and needs and that she was unapologetic in her actions (though… again… she arguably took it a little too far as far as her friend Nel was concerned.) She represented not only a desire to be an individual (I’m looking at you Chopin) but the very embodiment of a character living life to fit her own perspective. And, while I super duper value community, I value belonging vs fitting in. Which means, being yourself in the community, versus being who you are supposed to be in order to be part of it. 

My ah-ha moment came when, in class, I was tasked with deciphering the role of the Deweys in the book. The deweys are three boys who are adopted by Sula’s grandmother, and even though they differ in looks, ages and background, they are all given one name (deweys) and treated as one person. Until asked to break it down, I just kind of accepted them as an oddity, something that just exists. But after looking at them a little more specifically, I realized that they were Morrison’s example of what happens when a person loses all individuality, and through some magical realism and codes, Morrison makes it clear that losing individuality not only stunts a person’s  growth (for these boys never seem to age), but that it is… at its base… evil.

Anyway. There are so many books I can think of that had a profound effect on me while I was growing up. Some that made me feel less lonely, some that showed me hope, some that gave me strength, some that helped me make sense of this world I’m flying though. I don’t remember all of them or why they had a profound effect… but I’m thinking, it might be time to read some oldies but goodies. And, I’d really love to hear about a book that you feel helped you form into the beautiful butterfly you are today, and why.

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