Is "Sula" a tragic novel? I think it is. Because Sula grows up in an unusual family and many tragedies happen during her growth. Those kinds of tragedies we can even see it at the very beginning of the story. "Eva had married a man named BoyBoy and had three children: Hannah, the eldest, and Eva, whom she named after herself but called Pearl, and a son named Ralph whom she called Plum." (32) After five years of their marriage, BoyBoy left Eva without leaving anything except $1.65, five eggs, three beets, and three children. "She was confused and desperately hungry." (32) Sometimes, she will get help from her neighbors in the Medallion town. In one middle of December, Plum stopped having bowel movements. Eva tried her best to save his life. Two days later, she left all her children with her neighbor and left the town. Eighteen months later, Eva returned with one leg. "First she reclaimed her children, next she gave the surprised Mrs. Suggs a ten-dollar bill, later she started building a house on Carpenter's Road, sixty feet from BoyBoy's one-room cabin, which she rented out." (35) From here, we can see that there is a tragedy after the leaving of BoyBoy, Eva has no choice and becomes desperate. She leaves the town and sells her leg to support the family. We also see that Eva loves Plum. Hannah is the mother of Sula. She married to a man called Rekus who died when Sula was about three years old. Sula was staying in the big old house with Eva until she left the town after her best friend, Nel's marriage.
It is rather peculiar because in the big old house, there are different kinds of tenants and there are many male guests playing around in that house. There are Dewey boys and Tar baby. All of them are staying in the house because Eva takes them in. From that, Eva earns respect from the community because she benefits the homeless. It is also very strange that he Dewey boys originally are different young boys. But they always mix up themselves in front of people. Therefore, they always mess people up. There is a lot of male guests in the house because "'With the exception of BoyBoy, those Peace women loved all men.' 'Hannah simply refused to live without the attentions of a man, and after Rekus' death had a steady sequence of lovers, mostly the husbands of her friends and neighbors.' '… Sula came home from school and found her mother in the bed, curled spoon in the arms of man' '… taught Sula that sex was pleasant and frequent , ...'" (41, 42, & 44). We can see that from here Sula is growing up in a disorder and chaos family. In 1920, another tragedy happened. Plum returned from the war and became drug addicted. At one night, Eva went to his room and burned him up. She burns him up because she has to kill him before the drug totally destroys her son. "She demonstrates a deep and abiding love for Plum that when she saturates him in kerosene and strikes a match, we accept her heinous crime as an act of desperation born out of love." (Melby 76) From this point, we can also see that Eva is controlling everything on her own hand. As she feels that she has sacrificed herself to save the family. Her children have to do everything that she wants them to do.
Sula is growing up in this family with disorder and chaos. However, her best friend, Nel, is totally different from her. Nel's mother, Helene Sabat is the daughter of Creole whore. In Helene's early childhood, she stayed with her grandmother for sixteen years. Then, she married to Wiley Wright who was a seaman. He will only be at home three days out of every sixteen. Therefore, Nel stays with her mother most of the time. "'Helen's hand 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.' 'Helene Wright was an impressive woman, at least in Medallion she was.'" (18) Although these two