Sula

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Helene Sabat Wright Character Analysis

Helene Sabat is a proud, pious woman who was born in New Orleans, and later moved to Medallion, Ohio to marry Wiley Wright, her cousin. Helene was born in a whorehouse in New Orleans, but she was raised by her grandmother to be good and proper in all ways. Helene demands control over every part of her life—a quality she passes down to her child, Nel Wright. Like most of the other characters in Sula, Helene struggles to make sense of her painful, traumatic life—goodness and piety are ways for her to “take control” and stave off her own misery.

Helene Sabat Wright Quotes in Sula

The Sula quotes below are all either spoken by Helene Sabat Wright or refer to Helene Sabat Wright . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race and Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage International edition of Sula published in 2004.
1920 Quotes

He was a seaman (or rather a lakeman, for he was a ship's cook on one of the Great Lakes lines), in port only three days out of every sixteen. He took his bride to his home in Medallion and put her in a lovely house with a brick porch and real lace curtains at the window. His long absences were quite bearable for Helene Wright, especially when, after some nine years of marriage, her daughter was born. Her daughter was more comfort and purpose than she had ever hoped to find in this life.

Related Characters: Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene , Helene Sabat Wright , Wiley Wright
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, we meet Helene Wright and her husband, Wiley Wright. Helene marries Wiley when she's still a young woman, despite (or really, because of) the fact that Wiley is a sailor, and spends all his time sailing around the Great Lakes. Helene seems not to want much contact with a man--perhaps because she's had so much experience as a child with male aggression and sexuality (she was born in a brothel), or perhaps because she just prefers to be alone and independent. So it suits her fine to marry a man who's never home.

It's worth asking why Helene bothers to marry anyone--if she's disgusted with men, why bother? In the unstable, racist society of the 1920s, Helene knows that she needs a man to support and protect her; she also wants the approval and attention of her peers. In general, though, the passage makes it clear that we're going to be reading a novel about women, first and foremost: the men in the novel (with one or two major exceptions) are largely peripheral to the plot.

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It was on that train, shuffling toward Cincinnati, that she resolved to be on guard—always. She wanted to make certain that no man ever looked at her that way. That no midnight eyes or marbled flesh would ever accost her and turn her into jelly.

Related Characters: Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene , Helene Sabat Wright
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we get our first insight into the mind of Nel Wright, the troubled daughter of Helene Wright. Nel is only a small child when Helene takes her to the American South to visit her childhood home in Louisiana. On the train, Nel watches as Helene is accosted by a white man, who bullies her. Helene tries her best to cooperate with the man, and smiles deferentially at him--but then she faces the clear contempt of the black men on the train.

Even as a young girl, Nel feels a strange mixture of pity and contempt for her mother—Nel swears to herself that she’ll never allow men to treat her that way; to make her feel submissive and helpless. The passage is also important because it establishes an antagonistic relationship between men and women, in and out of the black community. Furthermore, it suggests that coming of age—here represented by Nel’s promise to herself—consists of the moment in which one becomes conscious of sex and sexual politics.

1927 Quotes

She was not only a little drunk, she was weary and had been for weeks. Her only child's wedding—the culmination of all she had been, thought or done in this world—had dragged from her energy and stamina even she did not know she possessed. Her house had to be thoroughly cleaned, chickens had to be plucked, cakes and pies made, and for weeks she, her friends and her daughter had been sewing. Now it was all happening and it took only a little cane juice to snap the cords of fatigue and damn the white curtains that she had pinned on the stretcher only the morning before.

Related Characters: Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene , Helene Sabat Wright
Page Number: 79-80
Explanation and Analysis:

Helene Wright presides over the wedding of her child, Nel Wright. Helene has spent her entire adult life immersing herself in the social life of a married, “classy” woman. She does all the right things—goes to church, hosts dinner parties, befriends her neighbors, etc. Now, Helene is about to experience the defining part of her life as a well-off wife: the wedding of her daughter. She spends a huge amount of time preparing for the wedding—she knows perfectly well how important it is, both for her daughter and for her “image” in the community.

And yet the description of the wedding is strangely bitter and melancholy. Helene’s entire life has been building up to this scene—and it's quite the anticlimax, despite Helene's cathartic drunkenness during the celebration itself. Morrison seems to be critiquing the stereotypes of domestic, female life, a life that's overly concerned with the material trappings of success and happiness, and yet neglects real happiness and real emotional connections. (Helene is never shown to be particularly close to Nel—she seems to love being perceived as a good mother more than she loves her own daughter.)

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Helene Sabat Wright Character Timeline in Sula

The timeline below shows where the character Helene Sabat Wright appears in Sula. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1920
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...Sundown House as possible.” This chapter is told from the perspective of a woman named Helene Sabat. Helene is born in a New Orleans brothel called the Sundown House, to a... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
When Helene is a young woman, a seaman named Wiley Wright comes to New Orleans to visit... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
After being married to Wiley for nine years, Helene gives birth to a daughter, Nel, whom she adores. Secretly, Helene is happy that Nel... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
In November 1920, Helene receives a letter from Henri Martin, explaining that Helene’s grandmother is ill. Helene is nervous... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
Helene and Nel board a train bound for New Orleans. When they board, they make a... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...chapter shifts to Nel’s perspective. On the train to New Orleans, Nel witnesses her mother, Helene, fumbling with her tickets when the white conductor comes to collect them. Helene, afraid of... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
As Nel and Helene travel down to New Orleans, the conditions on the train get worse and worse. Black... (full context)
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
In New Orleans, Nel and Helene make their ways to Cecile’s house (until this moment, the narrator hadn’t made it clear... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
Rochelle asks Helene if Nel is her only child, and compliments her for being pretty like Helene was.... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
Nel and Helene travel back to Medallion from New Orleans. When they return to their house, they find... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...plays with, because Sula’s parents are supposed to be “sooty.” The first time Sula visits Helene’s house to play with Nel, Helene falls in love with Sula—Sula is well-behaved, and nothing... (full context)
1922
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...“prince” one day. Nel lives in a very orderly house, presided over by her mother, Helene. Sula’s house, on the other hand, is always chaotic when she is growing up. Yet... (full context)
1927
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
The year is 1927, and there is a great dance going on in Helene Wright’s house in the Bottom. Old folks dance with children, and everyone seems to be... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Helene has arranged for her daughter to be married in an actual church—a very expensive wedding,... (full context)
1937
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...with one another. Nel feels Jude looking at her—the same way the veterans looked at Helene years ago, on the train to New Orleans. Jude and Sula walk out, and Jude... (full context)
1941
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
...out to dance with Shadrack, and laugh and cheer for National Suicide Day. Some, like Helene Wright, refuse to join in, and watch the parade with scorn. (full context)