With Sula, Morrison establishes water as primary among the discrete structures of signification and modes of figuration by which she reminds the novel’s characters and African American readers, alike, where they were before they were “straightened out,” or uprooted from their cultural homelands. Sula’s water figurations function, moreover, to restore to the African American collective memory a specific figure of culture and gender: Orisa Osun. In this article, I demonstrate the novel’s productive relationship to the oral literature, iconography, and ritual dramaturgy of the water goddess, Osun, a meaning-making paradigm that is paramount in the cultural praxes of women and men throughout the African diaspora. Drawing on Morrison’s criticism, I will also examine the workings of social memory within the context of the narrative’s emphasis on the powerful role of memory as both a form of knowing and as a system for storing and transmitting cultural knowledge.


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pp. 291-307
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