by Toni Morrison
Hannah makes an early departure from the novel, but her influence on Sula remains constant and profound. By sleeping with her friends' husbands, Hannah teaches Sula to regard sex as "pleasant and frequent, but otherwise unremarkable" (1921.40). Hannah "ripple[s] with sex" (1921.39). She seems quite happy without a husband, and she doesn't seem particularly concerned with being a good mother to Sula. (She tells her friends that she loves her daughter but doesn't like her.) It's not clear what we should make of Hannah. Should we dislike her for sleeping around, and for neglecting Sula? What does she tell us about marriage and propriety, happy as she is without either?
Hannah's death further complicates these questions. Sula watches her mother die in a fire, but we never hear of any grief on Sula's part. Is Hannah being punished? Or is the fire somehow redemptive? We never get the answers to these questions. Many of Hannah's qualities emerge in Sula as an adult. Perhaps this is a commentary on the legacy that mothers pass onto their daughters.