To date I have taught Sula to two tenth
and three ninth grade classes. The tenth graders
were summer school students who needed credits;
the ninth graders were not tracked. Only a few of
the ninth graders had ever written essays on literature;
few had written social issue essays. Through guided
writing of providing thesis statements and outlines
for the first two writing assignments and thesis
statements for the second, there was a very high
percentage of success in all three assignments.
Other assists leading to clear thinking and focus
in the end products were, for the Love and Death
essays, charting and responding to those events
together throughout the reading in addition to log
reflections on these topics; and, for the social
issue essay, the methodical process of identifying
the issues, committing to the issue, researching,
sharing research and writing in class.
This novel is on the extended core literature list
for ninth graders. It is a gloomy but fascinating
scenario; as a matter of fact a colleague told me
she was surprised it could be taught to ninth graders,
that she had wanted to study it in college in a
course on gothic novels. During the reading, students
commented on how bleak it is, but I told them I
had read an interview of Ms. Morrison where she
was quoted as saying, "I can only teach by
taking away," and that her background is steeped
in the classics, which are known for dramatic levels
of death and destruction.
I was looking for a book with social issues and
this has easily ten in the first five chapters.
These issues include a Jim Crow Law encounter and
a kind of de facto demonstration at the end where
the people of the African American community destroy
a tunnel they had been promised jobs to build.
Morrison, of course, is a tremendous role model
for her exquisite expression and resultant success.