Although Beloved may be Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison's most famous work (it won the Pulitzer Prize and Oprah made a movie of it), Sula also received critical acclaim and popular attention. Parts of the novel appeared in Redbook, and it was nominated for a National Book Award.
Sula was Morrison's second novel, published in 1973 while Morrison was working at Random House. The novel tells the story of a friendship between two African-American women. They suffer some normal and not-so-normal ups and downs, and we see them grow from young girls to middle-aged adults. Like much of her other work, Sula offers some fascinating commentary on the lives of African-Americans and the hardships they face, on issues of gender, on the relationships between mothers and daughters, and on the ways men and women relate to each other. Morrison has said that she is invested in recording the history of African-Americans, and while Sula mostly focuses on the two central female characters, we also get a look at the African-American community of which they are a part, of the customs and traditions they share, and of the ways they deal with pain, fear, love, sex, and death.
At its most basic level, Sula is about friendship – the things that can make it stronger and the things that can complicate it. Sharing secrets that no one else knows, stealing your best friend's man, getting angry and losing touch – they're all in here.
Most of us have had to deal with friends hurting or disappointing us. While our problems might not have been as monumental as those between Nel and Sula, they may have seemed so at the time. Sula shows the depths of friendship and devotion that two women are capable of, and that's encouraging. It's true that they go through a lot of heartbreak, but each continues to care deeply for the other, overcoming fights and anger and feelings of betrayal.
But it also cautions us about waiting too long to deal with these issues. People move, go off to college, and get new jobs, and we could find ourselves left behind with the same unresolved feelings that Nel has at the end of the novel. Sula comments on the things we all deal with when it comes to the people in our lives; it challenges misconceptions about female friendship and makes us think twice about holding onto anger.