Essay Example on Mental Illness: Unfair Treatment and Stigma in Toni Morrison's Sula

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1113 Words
Date:  2022-12-27

Individuals who are mentally ill receive unfair treatment due to the negative stigma that surrounds them. In the real world, mental illness isn't just a problem; it is a challenge that is portrayed in many literary works. In the novel, Sula by Toni Morrison has given a significant focus on the condition of mental illness through Shadrack and Plum who both suffer forms of PTSD from wartime. Mostly, such people are less likely to seek help considering the negative stigma that surrounds people with mental disorders. However, Shadrack, the war veteran makes a move of celebrating the National Suicide Day since he sees the whole life as unexpected and surprising. Therefore, Shadrack's mental illness is a metaphor and the paper explore what it represents as well as how it relates to other characters in the whole novel.

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Shadrack sees it good to celebrate the National Suicide Day as he feels that Death shouldn't become unexpected since already life is hectic and astonishing. According to Morrison, "nothing ever interfered with the celebration of National Suicide Day" (7) and that's why most people in medallion saw it odd in celebrating the day thinking that Shadrack has gone insane. Mostly, Medallion people have been ignoring the day and some even laugh off the day and when Shadrack starts to celebrate the day, they see him as an outcast and an oddball but in a real sense, he is mentally ill as a result of fighting in the war.

Shadrack and Plum were traumatized during the First World War that left them with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other types of mental illness leading them to become indifferent, impulsive and depressed that consequently destroys their closet relationship. PTSD is a long-lasting effect that both soldiers encounter after being the survivor of war terrors. During that time, people less understood what brought PTSD and how it manifested. That's why the Medallion people perceived Shadrack as a person who has gone insane especially when he marches on the street, makes a lot of noise and screams something on the National Suicide Day. Due to this, Shadrack is isolated from his own community as people think he has no sense. "At first, people in the town were frightened, they knew Shadrack was cray but that did not mean he didn't have any sense or even more important, he had no power" (Morrison, 14-15). Due to this, Shadrack is left with no relationship as no one can associate with him.

Shadrack's mental condition related to that of Plum who had health problems since he was a very small boy. PTSD escalated Plum causing him to revert like a child and causing him to struggle with substance abuse challenges especially from the moment he returned home from war. According to O'Reilly (10), it is this combination that worsened his already troubled relationship with Eva. As a result, he had no one to turn to including his mother who had a mental issue of plethora. Eva sees the best solution to make Plum leave him is through killing him. Although Eva knows there is something wrong with Plum, he fails to understand PTSD and misinterpret the condition thinking that Plum wants to become a child again. Consequently, he burns him alive instead of finding a solution that can help Plum. Despite Shadrack and Plum suffering from the PTSD that resulted from the trauma of World War I, they are exposed to a community that does not help them nor understands them.

Sula on the other hand experiences many traumas in her whole life. An instance is when he was a child when there was the death of Chicken Little whom she accidentally threw him in the river. This affected Sula as it made her be impulsive in her actions and indifferent about others. Another trauma took place when he watched a child fall down the stairs and watched her mother burn to death. Lack of Sula's empathy is indicated when she seduced the husband of her best friend. Also, she has been left impulsive through her responses. "Sula was distinctly different and she lived an experimental life - ever since her mother's remarks sent her flying up those stairs, ever since her one major feeling of responsibility had been exorcized on the bank of a river with a closed place in the middle" (Morrison, 118-119). All these experiences have taught Saula that there is no one that u can count on and no self to count on either. Her experimental life has made her act irrationally without considering the feelings of others. Bryant gives an insight as to why she does so, "The recognition of the complementary nature of their difference is gradual, and for Nel, who seems more reflective than Sula, her consciousness of their relative strengths and weakness occurs in connection to traumatic events" (Bryant, 737). This led to the destruction of Sula especially with everyone surrounding her.

Nel experiences a gray ball depression when her husband, Jude cheats on her with her best friend, Sula. Morrison notes that "Nel was amidst of it, hating it and scared of it, as it was too much to not only lose Jude but also have no Sula to talk to" (110). Though Nel tries to ignore it, the depression state follows her around making her to "spend the whole summer with the gray ball, the little ball of fur and string and hair" (109). The condition has made her block out the light due to the suffering she undergoes through that were as a result of traumatic events.

Shadrack's mental illness is a metaphor in the novel, Sula by Toni Morrison. The untreatable stress changes the outlook of such individuals suffering from mental illness thus grievously harming their relationship with one another and leading to ultimate tragic ends. Although there are people that can help Plum, Sula, and Nel to change their traumatic experience into a healthy one, they are unable to do so since they have less knowledge of the PTSD condition. Toni Morrison has tried to show how different relationships have brought death between characters. Although such relationships are strengthened through death though grieving moment, lots of relationships are negatively affected throughout Sula. Medallion community saw Shadrack's action as a crazy one and disregarded it, but in the end, they saw its impact and were able to join him. Therefore, Morrison has brought out the issue of Mental illness in his character in a unique way so as to create a strong impact on the reader.

Works Cited

Bryant, Cedric Gael. "The Orderliness of Disorder: Madness and Evil in Toni Morrison's Sula." Black American Literature Forum. Vol. 24. No. 4. St. Louis University, 1990.

Morrison, Toni. Sula. Christian Bourgois, 2015.

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Essay Example on Mental Illness: Unfair Treatment and Stigma in Toni Morrison's Sula. (2022, Dec 27). Retrieved from

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