After completing Sula in 1973, Morrison says that she knew she was a writer. 1 And as an indicator of talent, depth, and stylistic innovation, Sula assures Morrison's literary reputation. Superficially, the novel seems a continuation of themes and structures introduced in The Bluest Eye. Again, Morrison uses paired female characters; themes of identity, love, and responsibility; a vivid sense of community; shifting narrative perspectives; and rich use of irony and paradox. But Sula challenges readers in ways The Bluest Eye does not, primarily because of Morrison's presentation of evil and the structures she employs to reveal its polymorphic nature.
Divided into two roughly equal parts, with a prologue followed by chapter titles consisting of dates, Sula appears to move in a straightforward progression from 1919 to 1927 and then from 1937 to 1941, with "1965" as the novel's epilogue. But the events of various chapters don't necessarily occur during the dates indicated; indeed, the text spirals and laps back on itself, accruing sometimes changing or contradicting meanings as it goes. This demands the reader's concentrated effort, for Morrison here dramatizes her talent for using language as "both indicator and mask." 2Sula insists that readers put aside conventional expectations to enter a fictional world deliberately inverted to reveal a complex reality, a world in which evil may be a necessary good, where good may be exposed for its inherent evil, where murder and self-mutilation become acts of love, and where simple answers to ordinary human problems do not exist. Sula has drawn many critical essays that have attempted to give it a sys