In Toni Morrison’s novel, Sula, many deaths has occurred which impacted society and their decision to how they want to handle each person’s death. The novel uses the duality of apathetic and sympathetic to compare society’s reaction to the different deaths that took place in the bottom land. Society was more drawn to a specific death in their town, but more passive on other deaths as if they didn’t matter, which they should because the death of a person overall is a devastating experience and everyone should mourn for that victim. Further in the book, you can also see the duality between good and evil amongst the characters and how their actions and behavior takes a role in society.
As the novel continues, you can identify various situations that involved the community expressing apathy and sympathy. When Plum, Sula’s uncle, had died in the novel, the people in the Bottom Land showed apathy towards his death. When childhood friend, Chicken Little, had died, it only drove the people into the mindset that there was a loss of child innocence and that everybody is gonna die soon which also shows an example of apathy. When Hannah, Sula’s mother, had committed suicide in front of the townspeople, everybody witnessed her burning to death and this death received the most sympathy out of everybody else’s death. Each death had different reactions and opinions in the novel.
Plum was murdered by his mother Eva Peace when she set him on fire, barely feeling any remorse for her actions which highlights the duality of evilness. Eva felt apathetic towards the situation based on how she reacted after she had done it. Plum was recently a participant in the war which had destroyed him mentally and when he got home his family realized he had a drug addiction. Eva loved her son Plum so much that she didn’t want him dying an unbefitting death so she burned him alive while he was sleeping. Hannah, Eva’s daughter, rushed up to Eva’s room screaming, “‘Plum! Plum! He’s burning, Mamma! We can’t even open the door! Mamma!’”(Morrison, 48). Eva looked deeply into Hannah’s eyes and replied, “‘Is? My baby? Burning?’”(Morrison, 48). At this moment it highlights how unbothered Eva felt after she did something so tragic of killing her own flesh and blood. Morrison criticizes Eva as an evil person because she didn’t feel any guilt for lighting her only son on fire despite her “reasons” she had for doing so. Eva didn’t even realize the hurt she put Hannah through when she had done so which shows she is very selfish, only caring about what she feels at the moment and doing what she feels needs to be done. This proves how apathetic Eva really is and how she comes off to the readers. Plum is a human being just like everyone else and he didn’t deserve to die the way he did. In the real world one wouldn’t just kill a family member just because they have serious issues because that’s just isn’t normal. If one really loves that person there is other ways to handle it.
As Chicken Little’s death approaches in the book, there is a sense of evil and good that manifest in his death. As the townspeople begin to find out about Chicken Little’s death, they showed mixed emotions towards it. They expressively showed sympathy just for the simple fact that people gathered at his funeral. However, they showed apathy as well because people didn’t really realize Chicken Little was gone and no one went out looking for him. He had been missing for days. Sula was playing with Chicken Little Swinging him around when she accidentally let go of him and he flew into the water. In the novel, it states, “the water darkened and closed quickly over the place where Chicken Little sank. The pressure of his hard and tight little fingers was still in Sula’s palms as she stood looking at the closed place in the water. They expected him to come back up, laughing. Both girls stared at the water”(Morrison 61). When Sula and Nel witnessed Chicken Little’s death, they were more concerned about if people had seen him drowning him. We discover that Chicken Little’s death scares Sula and makes her upset as to Nela, she takes his death differently and feels a strange sense of satisfaction. Later in the novel we see how Nel actually felt about Chicken Little’s death. Nel says to herself, “why didn’t I feel bad when it happened? How come it felt so good to see him fall?”(Morrison, 170). Here, readers learn that when Nel had watched Chicken Little drown at that moment she felt thrilled which is not normally what someone is supposed to feel. Readers can also interpret Sula as feeling apathetic as well because she didn’t do anything to help the poor boy or call for help. Overall, readers feel a sense of apathy from these characters and the townspeople because they didn’t really mourn for Chicken Little’s Death and the people who were there to witness it which is Nel and Sula, didn’t do anything about it.
Hannah, similarly to her brother Plum, died by a fire, however, she set herself on fire after Eva had told her why she had killed Plum. Hannah’s death was the most impactful on the society since the townspeople witnessed it first hand. They felt sympathy for Hannah as “she lay there on the wooden sidewalk planks, twitching lightly among the smashed tomatoes, her face a mask of agony”(Morrison, 76). Even Eva, her mother, risked her safety by jumping out her top floor window when she seen Hannah on fire. She tried to put out the fire herself but it was too late. People surrounded Hannah shocked about what they had just witnessed. That’s when “somebody covered her legs with a shirt. A woman unwrapped her head rag and placed it on Hannah’s shoulder. Somebody else ran to Dick’s Fresh Food and Sundries to call the ambulance”(Morrison, 76). At this point the town is concerned with what has happened to both Hannah and Eva. They take action to call the ambulance and cover the horrible sighting of Hannah’s body as she lays on the ground. It was a very devastating scene for the people and they showed a lot of sympathy. This highlights how compassionate the townspeople felt for these two victims. This death was the one that most impacted the society forcing them to realize how devastating death is and a change must come.
Overall, Sula uses the duality of apathetic and sympathetic to compare society’s reaction to the different deaths that took place in the bottom land. Society was more drawn to a specific death in their town, but more passive on other deaths as if they didn’t matter, which they should because the death of a person overall is a devastating experience and everyone should mourn for that victim. In the real world, if one dies it supposed to make everyone realize that life is too short and everyone deserves a chance to live out their full life span. It shouldn’t take the death of a specific person to make society realize that this is wrong and there needs to be a change. Chicken Little’s as well as Plum’s life were as important as Hannah’s life. It took the townspeople too long to realize that which is wrong and they should feel ashamed.