Study Guide

Sula Pride

By Toni Morrison


She lost only one battle – the pronunciation of her name. The people in the Bottom refused to call her Helene. They called her Helen Wright and left it at that. (1919.6)

This is a subtle way for the people in the Bottom to nip at Helene's pride. She is proud of how far she's come, but this pride comes across as haughty and demeaning. Calling her "Helen" rather than "Helene" is a way of taking her down a peg.

Underneath all of that shine she saw defeat in the stalk of his neck and the curious tight way he held his shoulders. (1921.18)

BoyBoy suffers from false pride when he visits Eva. On the surface, he looks and acts like he's a successful, important man, but the way he carries himself when he thinks no one is looking suggests that it's probably an act.

Four white boys in their early teens, sons of some newly arrived Irish people, occasionally entertained themselves in the afternoon by harassing black schoolchildren. (1922.11)

We see here how pride can lead to misdirected and dangerous behavior. The Irish boys are scorned by the upper-class whites who live in Medallion. In reaction, they turn their own scorn on the Black children in the Bottom.

Pride goeth before a fall. (1937.44)

As Eva argues with Sula, she invokes the idea of pride as it appears in the Bible, as a sin. She warns Sula that pride will lead to her eventual downfall.

It was the first time I see her look anything but hateful. Like she smellin' you with her eyes and don't like your soap. (1939.31)

The residents of the Bottom perceive Sula's isolation as a sign of pride. She's too proud to crack a smile or look at them with any sign of friendliness, and they take this willfulness as the type of pride that Eva warns about.

"Proud?" Sula's laughter broke through the phlegm. "What you talking about? I like my own dirt, Nellie. I'm not proud." (1940.28)

Everyone around her thinks Sula is a proud woman, but she doesn't see herself this way. She prefers to stay home, and she doesn't want to be bothered with people coming to help her. Sula simply sees this as living her life on her own terms.

You laying there in that bed without a dime or a friend to your name having done all the dirt you did in this town and you still expect folks to love you? (1940.76)

We see that Nel has come to regard Sula just as the rest of the Bottom does. She is shocked at the audacity of Sula's pride.

I didn't mean anything. I never meant anything. I stood there watching her burn and was thrilled. (1940.89)

When Eva accuses Sula of being proud and comments on how she just stood and watched Hannah die, we don't really get to hear Sula's side of the story. But we do here. It's not pride that makes Sula respond to Eva's accusation the way she does; it's the fact that she knows Hannah never really cared about her. That is what makes her so angry and why she proudly declares that her fires will be her own.

Her once beautiful leg had no stocking and the foot was in a slipper." (1965.14)

The one outward marker of Eva's pride was her beautiful leg, but she no longer cares enough to bother with it. In a sad way, Eva's lack of pride shows that the woman who was once so tough has just given up.