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The Displacement of Archetypal Characters in Sula

Author YuXiaoLing
Tutor LuoHong
School Yunnan University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Toni Morrison Northrop Frye archetype displacement of archetypalcharacter the quest for self-identity
CLC I712.074
Type Master's thesis
Year 2012
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As the second novel of Toni Morrison. Sula (1973) has drawn universal attention among critics, who have done many valuable researches about the novel. Sula’s quest for self-identity as a black female is one of the most important themes of this novel and also one of the hottest topics among the researchers. Toni Morrison, who is a black woman writer, was exposed to all kinds of myths since her childhood. Her works, such as Tar Baby (1981) and Song of Solomon(1977) are partly characterized by the colorful mythologies. Although not so obvious, the elements of mythology in Sula should not be neglected.The quest for self-identity as a black woman, the friendship between two women, mother and daughter’s relationship and the meditation about good and evil are all hot issues. Talking about the mythological elements in Sula, many researchers maintain that this novel is full of archetypal images, characters, plots and themes. Therefore, this thesis embarks from the archetypal characters presented in this novel to reveal the reasons why Sula fails in her quest for self-identity. This thesis argues that Sula’s quest for an equal self-identity is a failure because of double oppression of racism and sexism, and her irresponsibility toward the tradition of the black community.Northrop Frye is a forerunner of archetypal criticism. His Anatomy of Criticism (1957) introduces his main idea about archetypal criticism. He first proposes that the traditional emphasis of literature in practice and theory "has been on representation or lifelikeness"’which means that literature works should have something in common with actual life whatever the time they involve. Then Frye comes up with the device of displacement. According to Frye’s definition, displacement is a device in literary creation to integrate mythical structure into realistic fiction. It is used to make a literary work more plausible and convincing considering people’s common understanding toward literature forms. Writers, especially realistic fiction writers, intend to "displace myth in a human direction". Therefore, this thesis, based on Northrop Frye’s archetypal criticism, analyzes the three displacements of archetypal characters in Sula, and tries to prove the external and internal reasons for Sula’s failure in her quest for self-identity. This thesis holds that Sula"s quest for her self-identity is doomed to fail, and the reasons of her failure could be analyzed from the displacements of three archetypal characters. In terms of the archetype of Sula’s image as Satan, this thesis maintains that Sula’s satanic characteristics cause her irresponsibility for her family, community and herself, making her disconnected with the community. Considering Sula’s irresponsibility as compared with black male’s wrong doings, this thesis identifies that sexism is one of the external reasons for her failure. Eva Peace is the displacement of the archetype of God and the Great Mother. The analysis of Eva’s image as God and the Great Mother reveals the internal cause for Sula’s failure and proves racism as another external cause for her failure. The third archetypal character is Shadrack, the displacement of the archetype of Dionysus, he shares some resemblance with Sula. They both have a will of rebellion and freedom but get different reactions from the community. What’s more, the two face a totally different life course. Shadrack survived both the war and the crash of the tunnel, which implies his survival in his quest for self-identity. However, Sula faces death finally, which announces the failure of her quest for her self-identity.Morrison describes three typical archetypal characters in this novel. Sula represents black’s will of freedom and equal identity, Eva reflects both the traditional and the untraditional parts of black woman and Shadrack speaks for the black men who are the mainstream of the black community. Characterizing them in this way, Morrison expresses her own meditation about the black and their living style. She praises the bravery of Sula who fights hard for her self-identity, and intends to provoke the empathy among the blacks. The will of freedom and equality is necessary, but the connection with the black community and its tradition are also needed.

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