Rural Characterization in Sula and Winesburg, Ohio

  This analysis focuses on the similarities and differences of rural characterizations between Sula by Toni Morrison and Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. The paper will begin by analyzing the common rural themes in the two texts, including rural isolation, resistance to change, and rural-urban migration. The next part of the paper will discuss the unique rural practices, culture, and ideas in each novel.


           The first similarity in the characterization of the rural areas in Sula and Winesburg, Ohio, is rural isolation. The main characters in Sula, Nel, and Sula became friends because of being lonely. “They were solitary little girls whose loneliness was so profound it intoxicated them…” (Morrison 51). The book continues to explain that Nel was an only child, and so was Sula. Notably, they did not have siblings, neighbors, or friends of their age to interact or play with. As a result, they spent time alone until they became friends. “When Nel, an only child, sat on the steps of her back porch surrounded by the high silence of her mother’s incredibly orderly house…” (Morrison 51). It is evident that Nel was always surrounded by silence in her mother’s house. “Sula, also an only child, but wedged into a household of throbbing disorder constantly awry with things, people, voices and the slamming of doors, spent hours in the attic behind a roll of linoleum galloping through her own mind…” (Morrison 51). Similarly, Sula was always alone, lonely, and lost in her thoughts.

The theme of rural isolation and loneliness is also common in different stories in Winesburg, Ohio. For instance, in the “Adventure” tale, Winesburg is described as a lonely rural town. The main character in the story, Alice Hindman, is socially isolated. She works in a small store, and her elderly employer is not talkative. Besides, the store rarely gets any customers during winters and rainy days. As a result, she did not have anyone to talk to during the day. Alice’s lover had also moved to the city and stopped writing her letters. “As time passed and she became more and more lonely, she began to practice the devices common to lonely people” (Anderson 87).

Another similarity between rural areas in both texts is rural-urban migration. The main characters in the two novels leave small towns and move to big cities to look for better lives and opportunities. In the “Departure” tale from Winesburg, Ohio, George Willard is moving to the city to fulfill his dreams and as an adventure. “The young man, going out of his town to meet the adventure of life, …” (Anderson 203). “The young man’s mind was carried away by his growing passion for dreams” (Anderson 203). The story also shows that many other young people were migrating to urban areas from rural areas to chase their dreams. “Tom had seen a thousand George Willards go out of their towns to the city” (Anderson 203). Ned Currie in the “Adventure” story, is another character who left Winesburg to find a job in the city. “Ned Currie went away to Cleveland where he hoped to get a place on a city newspaper and rise in the world “(Anderson 85). He relocated to Cleveland to build his newspaper career. However, Ned did not find the professional opportunity he expected, and he had to move to Chicago.

In the same way, Sula, in Sula, leaves the small town of Medallion after high school to find her independence. Sula leaves immediately after her best friend Nel’s wedding. “It would be ten years before they saw each other again, and their meeting would be thick with birds” (Morrison 89). ““Don’t you say hello to nobody when you ain’t seen them for ten years?”” (Morrison 91). The passages indicate that Sula lived in the city for ten years before returning to Medallion.

Finally, resistance to change is a similar characterization of the rural in the two texts. Specifically, the characters in the two novels are reluctant to embrace significant changes in their lives. Nel in Sula says. ““Hell ain’t things lasting forever. Hell is change”” (Morrison 108). Nel was tired of the many changes occurring in life. She wanted people and things to remain the same. For example, Nel was afraid that her children would grow up and eventually die. She claimed she would be happy if she never had to leave her small white room. She also hated the fact that men left their families.

Resistance to change is also observed in the short story “Queer” in Winesburg, Ohio. The residents of the small town of Winesburg in this story expect social conformity. For that reason, they judge Elmer because he is different. Elmer says, ““I will not be queer-one to be looked at and listened to,” he declared aloud. “I’ll be like other people”” (Morrison 158). Due to his oddness, he has no friends, as the people of Winesburg look down on individuals who they consider strange.


           Although the rural in the two books are characterized by similar themes, including isolation, resistance to change, and leaving small towns for big cities, they are also some differences. Firstly, religion is a central cultural practice in rural areas in Winesburg, Ohio. In the “Adventure” story, Alice prays in various situations. She also starts going to church prayer meetings on Sundays and Thursdays. “Alice joined the church because she had become frightened by the loneliness of her position in life” (Anderson 89). Hence, church and religion help rural residents socially and spiritually. Furthermore, in the story “Terror” a farmer named Jesse prays and sacrifices God for giving him plentiful harvest and a boy. “Now he had decided that like the men whose stories filled the Bible, he would make a sacrifice to God” “(Anderson 73). The story shows that rural people believed children and abundant harvests were blessings from God.

Conversely, religion is not a rural characterization in Sula. Instead, the rural people of Medallion believe in superstitions. The Medallion residents associated robins with an evil omen. Since many robins were observed the day Sula returned home, the town feels that Sula is also evil. “Accompanied by a plague of robins, Sula came back to Medallion” (Morrison 89). “When Sula opened the door she raised her eyes and said, “I might have knowed them birds meant something” (Morrison 91). Sula and her grandmother do not get along. Thus, the grandmother says that she should have known a bad omen (Sula) was coming when she saw the birds.

Secondly, the rural Medallion in Sula means segregation of black and white people. The whites live in the valley town of Medallion, while the blacks reside in the hills called the Bottom. On the other hand, racial segregation is not a characterization of the rural regions in the stories in Winesburg, Ohio. The Winesburg text does not focus on racial issues among rural people.


In both Winesburg, Ohio, and Sula, rural isolation, resistance to change, and rural-urban migration are common themes. The rural people in these texts feel lonely because they are physically and socially isolated from others. Moreover, many people are moving from rural areas to find more opportunities in the city. Resistance to change is another common theme in the two texts. Rural people are rejecting changes occurring in their lives or people who behave differently. However, while religion is a major cultural practice in rural Winesburg, superstition is a norm in Sula. Besides, racial segregation is a characteristic of the rural in Sula but not Winesburg, Ohio.

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