by Toni Morrison
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
We can again turn to Rochelle and Sula for this one. When Nel meets Rochelle, she notices that she smells like gardenias. Sula has a birthmark shaped like a rose, and "The Rose Tattoo" is the source of the novel's epigraph. These particular flowers are beautiful and fragrant, even intoxicating. Rochelle intoxicates the young Nel, and Sula intoxicates the many men around her. These characters are also a little dangerous in that they disrupt the lives of the people they encounter. But the thing about flowers is, once they're picked, they don't live for very long. Just as the flower's beauty is fleeting, so too is the presence of both of these women in the novel.