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Sula | Symbols


Sula's Birthmark

Sula has a birthmark above one eye, from the middle of her eyelid to her eyebrow. Depending on the person describing the birthmark, it is either a beautiful thing or a mark of evil. The mark symbolizes the opinions of other characters about Sula: people see what they want to see. Nel sees it as a rose on a stem, which "gave her glance a suggestion of startled pleasure." However, Nel's children see it as a "scary black thing over her eye," and Jude sees it as a venomous snake. He thinks "her wide smile took some of the sting from that rattlesnake over her eye." Shadrack, who considers Sula as his only visitor and friend, sees the mark as "a tadpole over her eye (that was how he knew she was a friend—she had the mark of the fish he loved)."


The plague of robins that appears in the Bottom at the same time Sula returns is a symbol of evil. In this case it is too much of a good thing; their arrival is a welcome sign of spring, but a plague of them creates a huge mess. Everything is covered in excrement, and dead robins lie rotting on people's lawns. Eva is sure the plague is an omen; Sula will soon inflict her evil on the community. The narrator describes evil as a necessary part of life, synonymous with all the difficult aspects of life the community endures. As an evil, Sula's behavior is lumped in with disease, white people, and too many robins: possible or likely but survivable nevertheless.


Fire symbolizes the destruction of family bonds. Eva, rather than watch her son Plum fade away from his heroin addiction, chooses to sever ties with him by burning him to death. She soaks him in kerosene and lights him on fire. However, this is not the only bond destroyed by fire. Hannah accidentally sets herself alight and burns to death. Sula loses her mother, but the tie between them has already been broken when Hannah says to her friends that she doesn't like Sula. Sula watches her mother burn and doesn't make a move to help save her. Hannah's death also severs the bonds between Eva and her daughter, but Eva survives and must live out the rest of her life in misery.

Questions for Symbols

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