In Sula, Toni Morrison has created an unforgettable story about the friendship of two African America women, and how their maturation and search for self-hood is developed in a
female-centered family structure. In Andrea O' Reilly's book, Toni Morrison and Motherhood: Politics of the Heart, O'Reilly shows how in Toni Morrison's writings, Morrison sees mothering as a culturally determined experience. O'Reilly tells us that:
Morrison, building upon the traditions of black motherhood, positions motherwork in African American culture as a political undertaking in its commitment to empowerment and thus can not be understood or appreciated from the ideological lens of sensitive mothering. (32)
O'Reilly further explains that for the black culture, "motherwork" can be positioned " through the tasks of preservation, nurturance, [and] cultural bearing . . ." (32). By using O'Reilly's model of the three tasks of "motherwork" in a close reading of Toni Morrison's novel, Sula, I plan to show how the process of mothering directly impacts the ego development of the primary protagonists, Nel and Sula.
I will also analyze how Nel and Sula's mothers and grandmothers ineffectively perform the three tasks of preservation, nurturance, and cultural bearing; thereby, prohibiting the process of healing. I also argue that the racial oppression and economic hardship that the mothers in Morrison's novel experience clearly affect the way in which they perform the three tasks of motherwork.
First, central to this concept of "motherwork" is the task of "preservation." It is the mother's primary responsibility to preserve or protect her children. O'Reilly elaborates that
". . . mothering for many black women, particularly among the poor, is about ensuring the physical survival of their children . . ." (32). The poverty which constructs Eva Peace's reality, constantly threatens the survival of her children and distances her from any...