Reading Sula, often called the first black feminist novel in the United States, students explore themes of friendship, gender, and race.
Sula, written in 1973 by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, is an influential novel that many would call the first black feminist novel in the United States. In Sula, Morrison develops multidimensional female characters and through them explores themes of friendship, gender, and race. Morrison’s writing style is both distinctive and complex, offering the opportunity for many rigorous lessons around author’s choice and style.
At Match, students have a Composition class 4 days per week in addition to English class. Below, we have included Supplementary Composition Projects to reflect the material covered in our Composition course. For teachers who are interested in including these Composition projects but do not have a separate Composition course, we have included a “Suggested Placement” to note where these projects would most logically fit into the English unit. While the Composition projects may occasionally include content unrelated to English 10, most have both a skill and content connection to the work students are doing in their English 10 class.
In the English lessons of Unit 6 students read Sula, focusing particularly on analyzing Morrison’s complex language as well as her development of the novel’s characters and themes. In these parallel Composition Projects, teachers will have a choice of two projects: one narrative and one literary analysis. The teacher may choose to do both or include other writing projects and/or writing focus areas that respond to students’ interests and/or writing development needs. Since at Match this unit typically falls near the end of the year, we are allowing some flexibility so each individual teacher can choose projects that best align with the types of writing his/her students might benefit from the most.
Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you click and make a purchase, we receive a small portion of the proceeds, which supports our non-profit mission.
Book: Sula by Toni Morrison (Vintage Press, 2004)
Book: Birds by Daphne Du Maurier (Time Warner Books UK, 2004)
Article: “The Undeniable Connection Between ‘Lemonade’ And The Literary Narrative Around Black Women” by Aliya S. King
This assessment accompanies Unit 6 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.
Friendship: Can true friendship withstand anything?
Love: What is love? What different forms can love take? Are there times when we might have to hurt those we love in order to actually help them?
Identity: What is feminism? How does feminism impact identity?
Students will focus on the development of a clear and relevant thesis as well as on sentence variety. In addition, the teacher should reinforce the selection of relevant evidence and usage of advanced vocabulary.
setting, characterization, theme, allusion, diction, foreshadowing, symbolism, point of view (third vs. first), figurative language, juxtaposition, irony, imagery
mal- (malevolent), sub- (substantial), idio- (idiosyncrasy)
Novel: Feminism, pariah
pp. 1–35: repugnant, equilibrium, deviate, rueful, haven, intricate, abated, enchanted
pp. 37–66: temperament, idiosyncrasy, bequeath, fastidious, delirium, pervasive, acquiesce, mutual, avert
pp. 67–85: trudge, ominous, agony, indisputable, mellowed, culmination, euphoria, feeble, lithe
pp. 89–117: plague, insouciant, sanitary, intractable, deficiency, trivial
pp. 117–125: conviction, aberration, contrive, naiveté
pp. 125–149: provoke, indifference, occult, cliché
pp. 150–174: turmoil, relinquish, permanency, solicitous, ruckus, scorn, malevolence, spite, substantial
pp. 1–35: “in port,” shellfire, Elysium
pp. 37–66: jaundice
pp. 67–85: chain gang, heifer
pp. 89–117: tongues will wag, cross to bear
pp. 117–125: pariah
pp. 125–149: chamois (cloth), alabaster, loam
pp. 150–174: death policy
Students will become familiar with the concept of feminism and explore gender norms and debate whether women are judged fairly based on these norms. Students will also explore the complexity of love. Through this unit, they will be challenged to view love in nonconventional ways.
Sula pp. 1 – 6
Explain how Morrison’s description of setting illustrates the main conflict between blacks and whites.
Sula pp. 7 – 16
Explain how Morrison’s use of diction conveys Shadrack’s mental state postwar.
Explain how people in the Bottom view Shadrack.
Sula pp. 17 – 24
Analyze and explain how Morrison characterizes Helene.
Sula pp. 24 – 32
Contrast Sula’s family life with Nel’s and explain how the differences contribute to their friendship.
Sula pp. 27 – 32
Contrast Sula’s family life with Nel’s and explain how the differences contributed to their friendship.
Sula pp. 32 – 35
Explain how Eva shows her love for her children.
Sula pp. 35 – 45
Describe the Peace women’s views on men and explain the larger theme this reveals.
Sula pp. 45 – 49
Analyze what Morrison’s use of diction reveals in this scene. Debate Eva’s motives.
Sula pp. 49 – 56
Analyze how Sula shows her love for Nel and compare this to how Eva shows love.
Sula pp. 57 – 63
Analyze how Morrison creates mood. Explain how the incident at the river impacts Sula and Nel’s friendship.
Sula pp. 63 – 64
Analyze and explain what theme is revealed in this section.
Sula pp. 65 – 73
Explain Eva's love for her children.
Sula pp. 73 – 78
Explain Morrison’s use of foreshadowing in this section.
Sula pp. 79 – 86
Explain how Nel’s marriage changes her and infer how it will impact Sula.
Sula pp. 89 – 91
Birds — at least the first page
Compare how the two authors create mood.
Sula pp. 91 – 104
Complete an in-class mid-unit exam reviewing the standards and skills from the unit thus far.
Analyze the impact of Sula’s return on Nel.
Sula pp. 104 – 111
Explain Morrison’s deliberate choice to shift point of view in this section.
Sula pp. 112 – 117
Explain how Sula is viewed by the people of Medallion and evaluate if this is a fair assessment of her.
Sula pp. 117 – 125
Describe the paradox of Sula’s impact on the town.
Sula pp. 125 – 131
Characterize Ajax and explain his relationship with Sula.
Sula pp. 129 – 131
Analyze and explain how Morrison uses figurative language to describe Sula’s feelings for Ajax.
Sula pp. 131 – 137
Explain Ajax’s impact on Sula by analyzing Morrison’s use of symbols.
Sula pp. 138 – 146
Analyze Nel’s true motives for visiting Sula on her death bed.
Debate which character was the “good” one.
Sula pp. 147 – 149
Explain how Morrison uses figurative language to describe Sula’s death.
Sula pp. 150 – 155
Analyze the impact Sula’s death has on Medallion and explain the irony.
Sula pp. 155 – 158
Explain how Morrison creates mood and explain the impact of Sula’s death on Shadrack.
Sula pp. 158 – 162
Analyze and explain the eventual irony of National Suicide Day.
Sula pp. 163 – 166
Explain how the Bottom has changed over time.
Sula — 167 - end
Debate the truth of Eva’s words.
Analyze and explain Nel’s lesson learned at the end.
Sula — entire novel
“The Undeniable Connection Between ‘Lemonade’ And The Literary Narrative Around Black Women”
Evaluate the argument made by the author of the article.
Compare the article author’s message to the themes of the novel.