Whether it is read from an historical, psychological, literary, or any other sort of applicable perspective, the reader must admit that Toni Morrison's novel Sula allows itself be read in many different ways. Perhaps that is one of the beauties of the book: people from many different backgrounds can find things profoundly interesting in this story focusing on young African-America girls in northern America following World War One. I agree with this, but also believe that there is a perspective that outweighs others in both insight and clarification of the novel's motifs and symbols. That is the psychoanalytical perspective, and it is specifically the work of Jacques Lacan on the "Mirror Stage" that lends itself particularly well to this fictional work.
[...] In the end, the army did contribute two fragments to his eventual shattered pile of an identity: for the first (but not last) time, the feeling that any group he is a part of will leave him behind as it moves on; and a fear surrounding death: not specifically of “death or dying but the unexpectedness of both” (Morrison 14). The latter stems from the gruesome encounters he has on the battlefront. Because he has not experienced the “deflection of the specular I into the social (i.e. [...]
[...] Although Lacan concedes that one can never be whole and will always be fragmented in some way, the Mirror Stage nonetheless gives the child valuable tools and a sense of strength that it needs to deal with the things it will have to deal with in its life within the Umwelt. So in an almost literal sense, the child views the body it sees in the mirror as a kind of for its precious, vulnerable Innenwelt. In short, Lacan understands the Mirror Stage as identification, in the full sense that analysis gives to the term: namely, the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image” (Lacan 442). [...]
[...] His time in the prison cell is one of the most important moments of his life presented in the novel. It is in this moment when Lacan would say Shadrack comes closest to having an identity; and yet at the same time, the moment mirrors his ultimately shattered and distant relationship with a true, somewhat-whole identity. The moment he sees himself in the reflection of the toilet water is perhaps the first time since the war, since his identity began to be poked and pulled by so many careless hands, that he has truly seen himself in a mirror. [...]
[...] He has no sense of his self being a part of the world that can alter and manipulate it; all he can do is expect things to happen to him: he “expected to be terrified or exhilarated—to feel something very strong” (Morrison as he was pushed by external forces to this battlefield in France. Lacan would equate Shadrack to a child—specifically, a child during the Mirror Stage. His “purity and whiteness” is, as far as the reader is concerned, for the first time conflicting and colliding with reality (for him, the world outside the comfortable realm of childhood and his well- known home town). [...]
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