Study Guide

Sula Loyalty

By Toni Morrison


After five years of a sad and disgruntled marriage BoyBoy took off. During the time they were together he was very much preoccupied with other women and not home much. (1921.5)

BoyBoy has no loyalty to his wife, and this is true of many of the men in the novel. BoyBoy represents a larger pattern of behavior – the many husbands who cheat on and leave their wives.

Eighteen months later she swept down from a wagon with two crutches, a new black pocketbook, and one leg. (1921.8)

If we believe the rumor – that Eva arranged to lose her leg in order to get money to support her kids – we can see how fiercely loyal she is to them. Loyalty to family can make a person do unimaginable things.

Her aim was determined but inaccurate. She slashed off only the tip of her finger. (1922.13)

Sula cuts off part of her own finger to protect Nel from bullies. This is reminiscent of Eva's willingness to lose her leg for her children, and it shows that Nel and Sula are more like family than friends.

Mamma, did you ever love us? (1923.1)

When Hannah asks this of Eva, she shows us the difference between loyalty and love. Eva was loyal to her children – she kept them fed and clothed – but did she ever really love them? Hannah understands the difference.

Eva knew there was time for nothing in this world other than the time it took to get there and cover her daughter's body. (1923.41)

This is what Eva thinks just before she jumps out the window to try to save Hannah. It reflects a similar idea to that of her lost leg, but it's such an important scene that we couldn't leave it out. Sometimes, one person is so loyal to another that she'll even die for her.

The more he thought about marriage, the more attractive it became. Whatever his fortune, whatever the cut of his garment, there would always be that hem – the tuck and fold that hid his raveling edges; a someone sweet, industrious, and loyal to shore him up. And in return he would shelter her, love her, grow old with her. (1927.8)

This is a decidedly different image of marriage than we get in the rest of the novel. Jude wants a marriage based on shared loyalty that is as much his responsibility as it is Nel's.

So Eva locked her door from then on. But it did no good. In April two men came by with a stretcher and she didn't even have time to comb her hair before they strapped her to a piece of canvas. (1937.52)

In sharp contrast to the loyalty Eva displays for her children, Sula isn't compelled by the same feelings. It might be that she's been hurt by Eva or that she simply needs her own space in the house. Whatever the reason, a lack of loyalty allows her to have Eva committed.

His visitor, his company, his guest, his social life, his woman, his daughter, his friend – they all hung there on a nail near his bed. (1941.13)

Shadrack's attachment to Sula's belt shows us how someone can be loyal to a symbol. The belt is the symbol of Sula and all that she has come to mean for him.

The following day Nel walked to the burying and found herself the only black person there, steeling her mind to the roses and pulleys. (1965.65)

Nel's loyalty to Sula trumps her anger. Once Sula has died, Nel expresses her loyalty by fulfilling the duties of one friend to another.

All that time, all that time, I thought I was missing Jude. [. . . ] We was girls together. (1965.72)

At this moment, Nel seems to realize that her loyalty has been misdirected. Although she thought she'd been missing Jude all these years, she realizes that it was really Sula. They'd been friends since childhood, and that's a rare loyalty.