Toni Morrison explores the complexities of race, gender, and matrilineal influence in Sula. Although much recent feminist criticism has addressed the operations of race and gender in the novel, this essay provides the first developed examination of Morrison’s strategic use of three diminutive boys, all named “dewey,” to emphasize the willfully self-destructive tendencies of the novel’s female characters. Burdened with their community’s limiting idealizations of femininity and motherhood, the women of Sula practice various forms of self-harm in an effort to develop and proclaim their holistic, autonomous selves. The deweys’ mischievous childhood games foreshadow the consequences of female self-harm, but they also reveal the ways in which communal abuse is transformed by women into agency. A careful analysis of the deweys’ significance is thus critical to any discussion concerning the relationship between Sula’s female characters and their community. The deweys are the key to uncovering the profound irony of self-destruction committed by women who strive to achieve independence while wrestling with the broader communal suffering they both inherit and transmit.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.