Comprehensive Storyform

The following analysis reveals a comprehensive look at the Storyform for Sula. Unlike most of the analysis found here—which simply lists the unique individual story appreciations—this in-depth study details the actual encoding for each structural item. This also means it has been incorporated into the Dramatica Story Expert application itself as an easily referenced contextual example.

Story Dynamics

8 of the 12 essential questions

Main Character Resolve

Nel lets go of her hatred for Sula; the oppression she has allowed herself to live with is lifted.

Main Character Growth

Nel starts living her own life independent of hurt and anger.

Main Character Approach

From childhood, Nel copes with problems internally:
“...the girl became obedient and polite. Any enthusiasms that little Nel showed were calmed by the mother until she drove her daughter’s imagination underground” (Morrison, 1973, p. 18).
When Nel finds Jude and Sula naked in her bedroom, she thinks:
They are not doing that. I am just standing here seeing it, but they are not really doing it…I just stood there seeing it and smiling, because maybe there was some explanation, something important that would make it all right. (Morrison, 1973, p. 105)
After Jude leaves Nel, she winds up her anger into an imaginary gray ball so that she may function.

Main Character Mental Sex

Nel uses Sula to creates balance within herself and environment.

Story Driver

After Sula swings Chicken Little into the water leading to his accidental drowning, Nel and Sula decide to keep mum; Nel decides to end her friendship with Sula after discovering Sula and Jude naked; after Sula overhears Hannah confess to her friends she loves her daughter but does not like her, Sula determines she no longer can count on others; after the psychological battering of the war and its resultant terrors; Shadrack decides to devote only one day a year to fear; Plum’s drug addiction causes his mother to decide to end his life; and so forth.

Story Limit

Nel’s only options are to keep or release her anger after she accepts her guilt in Chicken Little’s drowning and confronts Sula for the part she has played in the dissolution of her marriage and their friendship.

Story Outcome

A future for the community of the Bottom is never realized:
It was sad, because the Bottom had been a real place. These young ones kept talking about the community, but they left the hills to the poor, the old, the stubborn-and the rich white folks. Maybe it hadn’t been a community, but it had been a place. Now there weren’t any places left, just separate houses with separate televisions and separate telephones and less and less dropping by. (Morrison, 1973, p. 166)

Story Judgment

Nel is emotionally uplifted when she finally is able to release the hurt and anger she has felt toward Sula.

Overall Story Throughline

""Life at the Bottom""

Overall Story Throughline

“Sula” explores a negative situation that, once established, does not change:
The Bottom is established, beautiful but unable to nourish the inhabitants…the community must direct both creative and destructive energy inward. Since its contributions to Medallion and the rest of the world must be limited and menial, and since it cannot express the resulting frustration, the community becomes enmeshed-intensely nurturing and as intensely restrictive and destructive. (Pollock, 1986, p. 1550)

Overall Story Concern

The black community of the Bottom wants a better future for itself, one way they think this can be attained is by sharing in the work of the New River Road; Helene, under the supervision of her grandmother, marries Wiley Wright and moves to Medallion to avoid a future of living with the stigma of her mother’s prostitution; Eva Peace is desperate enough to stick her leg in front of an oncoming train to collect insurance money that will provide for her family’s future.

Overall Story Issue

Because Helene considers Hannah “sooty,” she does not allow Nel to become friends with Sula; Shadrack is regarded as the town madman; Sula is considered a “roach” for putting her grandmother in Sunnydale, a “bitch” for stealing away Jude…
But is was the men who gave her the final label, who fingerprinted her for all time. They were the ones who said she was guilty of the unforgivable thing-the thing for which there was no understanding, no excuses, no compassion. The route from which there was no way back, the dirt that could not ever be washed away. They said Sula slept with white men…all minds were closed to her when that word was passed around. (Morrison, 1973, p. 112)

Overall Story Counterpoint

Overall Story Thematic Conflict
Preconception vs.Openness

Overall Story Problem

The community is restricted economically and psychologically.

Overall Story Solution

Expecting Sula’s death to bring them good fortune, the townspeople, in a manic mood, for the first time join Shadrack’s celebration of National Suicide Day in 1941. They follow him to the construction site of the tunnel where, as usual, black workers have not been allowed to contribute. As they destroy the site in anger, many enter the tunnel and are killed when they begin to tear down its support work. Ironically, when they finally turn repressed anger to its proper object, they are destroyed. (Pollock, 1986, p. 1552)

Overall Story Symptom

The people of the Bottom are detracted from a better future by the white power structure that blocks them from jobs that will provide economic stability; the community does not attempt to impede evil, they choose to outlast it, so when Sula returns to town:
They laid broomsticks across their doors at night and sprinkled salt on porch steps. But aside from one or two unsuccessful efforts to collect dust from her footsteps, they did nothing to harm her. As always the black people looked at evil stony-eyed and let it run. (Morrison, 1973, p. 113)

Overall Story Response

The community is the “help” in a white society:
As the initial group of about twenty people passed more houses, they called to the people…to come out and play in the sunshine-as though the sunshine would last, as though there really was hope. The same hope that kept them picking beans for other farmers; kept them knee-deep in other people’s dirt; kept them excited about other people’s wars; kept them solicitous of white people’s children…(Morrison, 1973, p. 159-160)

Overall Story Catalyst

The community had pinned their hopes for a stable economic future on jobs the building of the tunnel spanning the river would provide. The tunnel had been planned, postponed, and replanned for years. After Sula’s death, which they take as a sign of a brighter future, members of the community join Shadrack’s celebration of National Suicide Day and go to the job site. Once there, they realize they will never be hired and have, in fact, deferred their future for years. This realization leads to the destruction of the job site, and inadvertently, many of their deaths.

Overall Story Inhibitor

The black community’s dreams of a future require a change in the white power structure which does not begin to happen until twenty-five years after Sula’s death. Even then, the progress for the community is superficial.

Overall Story Benchmark

The community’s current situation is bleak, without any real progress being made.

Additional Overall Story Information →
Overall Story Throughline Synopsis

“Sula” tells the story of a friendship between two girls, Sula Peace and Nel Wright. This central relationship in the novel develops against a background of bizarre, enmeshed family ties, the closely knit and judgmental black community of “the Bottom,” and, finally, the remote and exploitive white power structure of Medallion and beyond….(Pollock, 1986, p. 1550)

Main Character Throughline

Nel Wright — Sula's best friend

Main Character Throughline

Nel undergoes a change in her thought process after Sula questions Nel’s belief in her own goodness, and Eva puts equal blame on Nel and Sula for Chicken Little’s death.

Main Character Concern

Nel is concerned with becoming Sula’s friend; after Jude leaves, Nel becomes a lonely, bitter woman.

Main Character Issue

Nel chooses to put her responsibilities as Jude’s wife before her commitment to Sula:
“Nel’s response to Jude’s shame and anger selected her away from Sula. And greater than her friendship was this new feeling of being needed by someone who saw her singly” (Morrison, 1973, p. 84).
Despite her anger toward Sula, Nel takes on the responsibilities associated with her death.

Main Character Counterpoint

Main Character Thematic Conflict
Responsibility vs.Commitment

Main Character Problem

To negotiate through daily life, Nel stifles her rage toward Jude and Sula by putting it into an imaginary gray ball of fur that hovers just outside of her peripheral vision. This act of control does not free her, rather, it serves to stunt her emotional growth.

Main Character Solution

Nel confronts her anger and is able to express sorrow at the loss of Sula, thereby releasing the pain she has carried in the imaginary ball of fur.

Main Character Symptom

Nel gives into the temptation of hushing up the cause of Chicken Little’s death; Nel is consumed with how Jude and Sula’s falling to the temptation of sexual betrayal has affected her life.
For now her thighs were truly empty and dead too, and it was Sula who had taken the life from them and Jude who smashed her heart and the both of them who left her with no thighs and no heart just her brain raveling away. (Morrison, 1973, p. 110-111)

Main Character Response

Despite Nel’s anger at Sula’s betrayal, her conscience directs her to visit Sula’s sickbed, and later, graveside.

Main Character Unique Ability

Despite her hatred toward Sula, Nel is still committed to her childhood friend, as evidenced by a visit to her sickbed.

Main Character Critical Flaw

Nel’s assurance that she has always made the moral choice is undermined when Eva accuses her of taking an equal part in the guilt of Chicken Little’s death; and when Sula questions her:
“‘How you know?’ Sula asked. ‘Know what?’ Nel still wouldn’t look at her. ‘About who was good. How you know it was you?’ ‘What you mean?’ ‘I mean maybe it wasn’t you. Maybe it was me.’” (Morrison, 1973, p. 146)

Main Character Benchmark

Nel must entertain the idea that she has a share of guilt in Chicken Little’s death.

Additional Main Character Information →
Main Character Description

Nel conforms to the community and society. “Nel was the color of wet sandpaper-just dark enough to escape the blows of the pitch-black truebloods and the contempt of old women who worried about such things as bad blood mixtures…”(Morrison, 1973, p. 52).

Main Character Throughline Synopsis

Penguin book description:
Nel Wright chooses to stay in the place of her birth, to marry, to raise a family, to become a pillar of the tightly knit black community.

Influence Character Throughline

Sula Peace — Nel's best friend

Influence Character Throughline

Sula is concerned with living a full life, “‘I don’t know everything, I just do everything….I sure did live in this world.’” (Morrison, 1973, p. 143).

Influence Character Concern

Sula is concerned with keeping Nel’s friendship:
She had clung to Nel as the closest thing to both other and a self, only to discover that she and Nel were not one and the same thing. She had no thought at all of causing Nel pain when she bedded down with Jude…..she was ill prepared for the possessiveness of the one person she felt close to. (Morrison, 1973, p. 119)
When Sula herself finally falls in love it is with a man as independent as she, and he leaves her after recognizing her possessiveness.

Influence Character Issue

The impact Sula’s amorality has on the community is to encourage its members to consider the needs of others before their own:
Their conviction of Sula’s evil changed them in accountable yet mysterious ways. Once the source of their personal misfortune was identified, they had leave to protect and love one another. They began to cherish their husbands and wives, protect their children, repair their homes and in general band together against the devil in their midst. (Morrison, 1973, p. 117-118)

Influence Character Counterpoint

Influence Character Thematic Conflict
Morality vs.Ability

Influence Character Problem

After her mother’s admission of dislike, Sula feels she has no familial emotional support and loses the center of herself; Sula feels she is supportive of Nel, and is surprised to discover she has harmed her only friend.

Influence Character Solution

Sula speaks out against the community, and worse, does not take part in it.

Influence Character Symptom

Sula questions Nel’s self-righteousness.

Influence Character Response

Sula helps create a balance in Nel’s life:
Her old friend had come home. Sula. Who made her laugh, who made her see old things with new eyes, in whose presence she felt clever, gentle and a little raunchy….Sula never competed; she simply helped others define themselves. (Morrison, 1973, p. 95)

Influence Character Unique Ability

Sula does what is best for herself:
Sula was distinctly different. Eva’s arrogance and Hannah’s self-indulgence merged in her and, with a twist that was all her own imagination, she lived out her days exploring her own thoughts and emotions, giving them full reign, feeling no obligation to please anybody unless their pleasure pleased her. (Morrison, 1973, p. 118).

Influence Character Critical Flaw

Sula does not take responsibility for anyone, and is ostracized by the community who believe she has shirked her responsibility to her grandmother by putting her in a rest home.

Influence Character Benchmark

Sula’s curiosity is boundless; the process of gathering experiences intrigues her and keeps her moving from man to man and town to town.

More Influence Character Information →
Influence Character Description

Sula flaunts the community’s and society’s conventions. Sula was a heavy brown with large quiet eyes, one of which featured a birthmark that spread from the middle of the lid toward the eyebrow, shaped something like a stemmed rose. It gave her otherwise plain face a broken excitement and blue-blade threat like the keloid scar of the razored man who sometimes played checkers with her grandmother. The birthmark was to grow darker as the years passed, but now it was the same shade as her gold-flecked eyes, which, to the end, were as steady and clean as rain. (Morrison, 1973, p. 52-53)

Influence Character Throughline Synopsis

Penguin Book description:
Sula Peace rejects all that Nel has accepted. She escapes to college, submerges herself in city life, and when she returns to her roots, it is as a rebel, a mocker, a wanton sexual seductress.

Relationship Story Throughline

""Best Friends""

Relationship Story Throughline

As girls, Nel and Sula are of one mind; as women, their attitudes diverge:
“She had clung to Nel as the closest thing to both an other and a self, only to discover that she and Nel were not one and the same thing” (Morrison, 1973, p. 119).

Relationship Story Concern

Nel and Sula conflict over Sula giving into her sexual desires and making love with Nel’s husband.

Relationship Story Issue

Nel and Sula are both in denial about how they have harmed each other. Nel feels betrayed by Sula taking away (then forsaking) her man; Sula feel betrayed by Nel for allowing a man come in between the two’s friendship.

Relationship Story Counterpoint

Relationship Story Thematic Conflict
Denial vs.Closure

Relationship Story Problem

Nel’s control of her pain does not allow her to reconcile with Sula until after Sula’s death; Sula’s lack of self-control is what caused a problem with them in the first place.

Relationship Story Solution

Nel and Sula cannot reconcile until Nel lets go of her pain.

Relationship Story Symptom

Nel and Sula’s emotional assessment of the two major events in their friendship differ; the accidental drowning of Chicken Little leaves Sula feeling she cannot depend on herself, whereas Nel for years afterward had been proud of her own maturity, serenity, and compassion for Sula, later realizing her feelings were “only the tranquillity that follows a joyful stimulation” (Morrison, 1973, p. 170). Nel feels heartbroken at Sula’s treachery with Jude, while Sula feels Nel’s unforgiveness betrayed their friendship:
“And you didn’t love me enough to leave him alone. To let him love me. You had to take him away.” “What you mean take him away? I didn’t kill him, I just fucked him. If we were such good friends, how come you couldn’t get over it?” (Morrison, 1973, p. 145).

Relationship Story Response

Once the girls realize Chicken Little is dead, Sula asks Nel, “Shouldn’t we tell?” to which Nel uses the logic, “Let’s go. We can’t bring him back” (Morrison, 1973, p. 170). Sula reasons it is fine to have sex with Jude because she and Nel “had always shared the affection of other people:  compared how a boy kissed, what line he used with one and then the other” (Morrison, 1973, p. 119).

Relationship Story Catalyst

Sula returns to Medallion in hopes of renewing her friendship with Nel.

Relationship Story Inhibitor

Sula chooses to sleep with Nel’s husband; upon discovery, Nel makes the choice to end her friendship with Sula.

Relationship Story Benchmark

Sula considers how her act of sleeping with Jude has changed her relationship with Nel:
Nel was the one person who had wanted nothing from her, who had accepted all aspects of her. Now she wanted everything, and all because of that. Nel was the first person who had been real to her, whose name she knew, who had seen as she had the slant of life that made it possible to stretch it to its limits. Now Nel was one of them. (Morrison, 1973, p. 120).
Nel contemplates how after cutting Sula out of her life, the thought of her still lives with her, “‘Why, even in hate here I am thinking of what Sula said’” (Morrison, 1973, p. 108).

Additional Relationship Story Information →
Relationship Story Throughline Synopsis

Penguin Book cover description:
This rich and moving novel traces the lives of two black heroines from their growing up together in a small Ohio town, through their sharply divergent paths of womanhood to their ultimate confrontation and reconciliation. Both women must suffer the consequences of their choices. Both combine to create an unforgettable rendering of what it means and costs to exist and survive as a black woman in America.

Additional Story Points

Key Structural Appreciations

Overall Story Goal

The goal of common concern to the black community of the Bottom is to have a viable future. To do this, they must suffer through life’s daily indignities, overcome fears (in the incarnation of Shadrack) and outlast evil (in the incarnation of Sula):
“The purpose of evil was to survive it and they determined (without ever knowing they had made up their minds to do it) to survive floods, white people, tuberculosis, famine and ignorance” (Morrison, 1973, p. 90).

Overall Story Consequence

After Sula’s death, the people of the Bottom rejoice thinking they have survived her evil presence. But without her as a tangible object to project their hostility, they begin to develop negative drives and desires:
Hard on the heels of the general relief that Sula’s death brought a restless irritability took hold….mother’s who had defended their children from Sula’s malevolence (or who had defended their positions as mothers from Sula’s scorn for the role) now had nothing to rub up against. The tension was gone and so was the reason for the effort they had made. Without her mockery, affection for others sank into flaccid disrepair….Now that Sula was dead and done with, they returned to a steeping resentment of the burdens of old people. (Morrison, 1973, p. 153-154)

Overall Story Cost

Eva suffers the loss of her leg, and eventually, her home; Nel suffers marriage to an unfaithful spouse; Shadrack loses his fish business; Sula loses her only friend; and so forth.

Overall Story Dividend

Helene is transformed from a whore’s daughter to a woman respected in the community; the Deweys become part of the Peace household; marriage metamorphoses Jude:
The more he thought about marriage, the more attractive it became. Whatever his fortune, whatever the cut of his garment, there would always be the 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. Without that someone he was a waiter hanging around a kitchen like a woman. With her he was head of a household pinned to an unsatisfactory job out of necessity. (Morrison, 1973, p. 83)

Overall Story Requirements

To improve the community’s economic quality of life, the men must be hired on as workers for the tunnel (named the New River Road).

Overall Story Prerequisites

Medallion’s council of founders must consider that, with the seeming prosperity after the war, trade will increase with cross-river towns justifying the need for building a connecting tunnel.

Overall Story Preconditions

The community must learn how to act in a certain (subservient) manner, in order to operate in a white man’s world.

Overall Story Forewarnings

Members of the community come up with the idea to follow Shadrack on National Suicide Day, a parade of people that ends at the job site and in many of their deaths.

Plot Progression

Dynamic Act Appreciations

Overall Story

Overall Story Signpost 1

The current situation of the community “the Bottom” is established. People are black and poor, oppressed by the white power structure and mythology of their own making. Townspeople have their own unique identity and role, for example, Shadrack is the town madman, founder of “National Suicide Day”; the one day of the year he encourages townspeople to kill themselves or others, and Eva Peace, matriarch of her household which includes family and strays, is able to interpret people’s dreams.

Overall Story Signpost 2

Helene encourages Nel to pull on her nose, “don’t you want a nice nose when you grow up” (Morrison, 1973, p. 55); Jude and other young black men find they are still not accepted on the basis of color when they apply for laborer jobs on the New River Road:
It was after he stood in lines for six days running and saw the gang boss pick out thin-armed white boys from the Virginia hills and the bull-necked Greeks and Italians and heard over and over, “Nothing else today. Come back tomorrow,” that he got the message. (Morrison, 1973, p. 83)

Overall Story Signpost 3

Sula comes back to Medallion after ten years in the midst of a plague of robins, which the community takes as an omen of future misfortune.

Overall Story Signpost 4

Nel and Sula confront their past; Eva asks Nel about the long ago day she had watched Chicken Little drown; the community has dissolved and disappeared into the past.

Main Character

Main Character Signpost 1

After a trip into her mother’s past, Nel realizes Helene is not infallible, and begins to establish her own identity:
“‘I’m me. I’m not their daughter, I’m not Nel. I’m me. Me’....For days afterward she imagined other trips she would take, alone though, to faraway places.” (Morrison, 1973, p. 28-29).

Main Character Signpost 2

As a girl, Nel daydreams about being a princess, as a young woman, Nel is concerned with fulfilling the role of a bride.

Main Character Signpost 3

Nel makes the transformation from a serene wife and mother into an abandoned and miserable woman.

Main Character Signpost 4

Nel finds it difficult to accept the idea that she did not just innocently see Chicken Little drown, but had watched with great interest.

Influence Character

Influence Character Signpost 1

From the easy way Sula’s mother takes lovers, Sula comprehends that sex “was pleasant and frequent, but otherwise unremarkable” (Morrison, 1973, p. 44).

Influence Character Signpost 2

When the gang approaches, Sula circumvents their violence by slashing off her own fingertip, frightening off the boys and impressing Nel; Sula performs the duties of a bridesmaid, “she handled most of the details very efficiently” (Morrison, 1973, p. 84).

Influence Character Signpost 3

Sula achieves full control of Eva’s household, including guardianship of her grandmother; Sula does not understand Nel’s possessiveness of her husband; she is possessive of Ajax, “Sula began to discover what possession was. Not love, perhaps, but possession or at least the desire for it” (Morrison, 1973, p. 131).

Influence Character Signpost 4

Sula experiences the dying process.

Relationship Story

Relationship Story Signpost 1

Nel and Sula instinctively gravitate to each other, as two halves attempting to become whole.

Relationship Story Signpost 2

Sula forces Nel to confront her fears about bullies when she suggests they walk home from school the shortest route possible, where they are sure to encounter the Irish teen boys who had harassed Nel before; Sula’s terror when she tosses Chicken Little into the water and he drowns is calmed by Nel; Nel and Sula explore the mystery of men:
The cream colored trousers marking with a mere seam the place where the mystery curled. Those smooth vanilla crotches invited them; those lemon-yellow gabardines beckoned to them. They moved toward the ice-cream parlor like tightrope walkers, as thrilled by the possibility of a slip as by the maintenance of tension and balance. The least sideways glance, the merest toe stub, could pitch them into those creamy haunches spread wide with welcome. (Morrison, 1973, p. 50-51)

Relationship Story Signpost 3

Sula considers her action of placing Eva in a home to be the right thing to do (for herself), Nel does not and wants to at least work out a plan to make Eva’s stay bearable; Sula does not take into consideration how sleeping with Jude will affect Nel or their friendship; and so forth.

Relationship Story Signpost 4

Nel and Sula recall the event that has kept them apart. Their very different feelings about the affair causes more conflict between the two:
“How come you did it, Sula?”...Sula stirred a little under the covers. She looked bored as she sucked her teeth. “Well, there was this space in front of me, behind me, in my head. Some space. And Jude filled it up. That’s all. He just filled up the space.” “You mean you didn’t even love him?” The feel of the brass was in Nel’s mouth. “It wasn’t even loving him?”... “But what about me? What about me? Why didn’t you think about me?” (Morrison, 1973, p. 144)

Plot Progression Visualizations

Dynamic Act Schematics


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