Sula Peace’s most obvious physical characteristic is the large birthmark immediately above her eyes. The birthmark is intimidating and even frightening, and inspires many elaborate stories among the people of the Bottom. Yet it’s also exotic and enticing, especially the way that it grows steadily darker as Sula gets older. It seems that Sula’s ever-darkening birthmark is a symbol of her age, maturity, and growing sadness—the very things she’s trying so hard to fight against. At the same time, Morrison claims that the birthmark resembles a “stemmed rose”—an image that is both feminine (the flower) and masculine (the long phallic stem). This points to Sula’s androgynous qualities: she’s a woman who desires the independence and freedom of a man. Perhaps it would be most accurate to say that the birthmark symbolizes whatever we conceive it to represent. Each character in Sula provides a different interpretation of the birthmark: Sula’s admirers think it looks like a snake, Shadrack the fisherman think it looks like a tadpole, etc. The birthmark is like a Rorschach inkblot test, revealing more about the interpreter than about Sula herself.
Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Birthmark appears in Sula. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.