In Toni Morrisons Sula, the society of Hannah and Sula is divided over each characters sexual choices. Even though they both engage in the same activities, they are each judged for these actions differently. Society has no qualms with the sexual choices of Hannah. Her character sleeps with many men throughout the novel, and all the while, society never objects. This is because she was once married. After her husband died she longed for the touch and embrace of another man a man who might fill the empty hole in her heart, a man who might cure this affliction.
Sula, on the other hand, is despised for the choices she makes. According to society, Sula is using men solely for her own selfish pleasure. Unlike Hannah, society feels that Sula doesnt deserve any sympathy for her actions. While Hannah may be looking for a new soul mate to fill the role of her husband, Sula is only looking for a quick fix. Every society has its own distinct values and certain ideals of how a person should behave, especially in public. There is no universal morality. What is viewed as normal and acceptable is legislated by a majority.
Each system of rules and regulations that are established differs in each society. Those who follow the rules are rewarded with praise and approval; they become apart of the majority and, as a result, become part of the process of adding new rules and revising old ones. Those who dont play by the rules, like Sula, are viewed as outcasts. In most societies, sex is an uncomfortable topic of conversation. It is difficult to distinguish what characterizes a healthy sexual relationship and one that is unhealthy. One person can think that sex is and should be considered a horrible thing that should never be practiced.
Another person can view sex as a beautiful thing that God gave us the ability to engage in. The novel shows how two people within the same family can be viewed completely different for their sexual actions. Society ends up defining which sexual choices are acceptable and which are not. The novel shows how two women can make the same sexual choices and receive different consequences. Even though Hannah and Sula make similar sexual choices, Hannah is offered sympathy for hers while Sula is condemned. When Hannahs husband dies, she is put in a compromising situation.
She misses the physical satisfaction of having a partner. She longs to feel the warmth of a simple embrace and touch of a man – any man. She turns to many men to reconcile the emotional attachment she felt in the relationship with her husband. She sleeps with newly-weds that come into her mothers house for their honeymoons – men who have been married for many years and men who have never been married at all. Unlike Sula whose relationships dont last any longer than a one night stand, Hannah sleeps with these men more than once.
Oddly enough, in return she gains respect from their wives. Morrison writes: “Hannah had been a nuisance, but she was complimenting the women, in a way, by wanting their husbands” (pg. 115). The fact that Hannah sleeps with these men more than once suggests that she feels emotionally attached to them. Sex is then elevated into an emotional experience rather than a purely physical one. The wives, who in a way reflect Hannah society, are not outraged with Hannah for sleeping with their husbands. Instead, they are sympathetic to her behavior.
They see Hannah as a victim. It is not her fault that she is reaching out to other men for comfort in an otherwise uneasy period in her life. They believe that Hannahs actions are justified because she is looking for a sharing relationship, not just a sexual encounter. Sula, on the other hand, is not viewed with the same compassion as Hannah is. Like Hannah, she is also considered promiscuous. Sulas decision to have an affair with Jude and many other men in Medallion causes the town to despise her.
A huge scandal erupts because Sula, unlike Hannah, sleeps with womens husbands only once, and then no more. Morrison writes: “It was almost as if she was trying them out and discarding them without any excuse the men could swallow. So the women, to justify their own judgement, cherished their men more, soothed the pride and vanity Sula had bruised” (pg. 115). The wives are bitter that Sula has used their husbands simply for sexual pleasure. Unlike Hannah, there is no relationship, there is no emotional attachment, and so, Sula gains no sympathy whatsoever.
She is viewed, not as a victim, but as a victimizer. Sula is not looking for love. She is looking for her own personal satisfaction. She uses men left and right for her own pleasure, and then forgets all about them, even their names, as though nothing had ever happened. Sulas sexual choices are viewed as bad because she attempts to dominate these husbands rather than love them mutually. The reason why Sulas actions are despised and why Hannahs actions are viewed without prejudice is simply because of the values that are instigated in their society.
Society deems what is right and what is wrong, and in accordance to sex, what is acceptable and what is not. Because Hannah is a victim and is searching for a loving relationship to replace the one that she lost when her husband died, she gains her communities sympathy. Sula is a different story: by using men for her own personal sexual satisfaction, Sula is placed as an outcast to society. The society in which she has been brought up in will not accept sexual relations that do not condone an equal relationship.