I was listening to “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel as I read Sula yesterday, and the serendipity of it all got me thinking about some of the themes and motifs we see in Sula - oxymorons, silence, loneliness, water - and how they are all interconnected.
The Sound of Silence is a blatant oxymoron. It is prevalent in Toni Morrison’s Sula; and it is the title of a Simon and Garfunkel song - a song which appears in the classic 1967 film, The Graduate.
The lyrics of the song at one point relate to water - “silent raindrops fell/ and echoed in the wells of silence.” In The Graduate, these words play periodically throughout; as Dustin Hoffman stares blankly ahead, enveloped by a fish tank in the background; as he sinks to the bottom of the pool clad in scuba gear. There is a clear motif of water in the song and film, which, when paired with the constant repetition of “silence” in the song, implies the film character’s isolation, loneliness, and confinement.
Direct correlations between silence, water, and loneliness are harder to come by in Sula. They all appear in instances with only a shadow of over-cross, but a few intances to name are:
- when Sula reflects on the loneliness she experiences during sex - “in the center of that silence was not eternity but the death of time and a loneliness so profound” (123) - she objectifies silence, which is oxymoronic because silence is often regarded as an absence, not an incarnation.
- after Chicken Little drowns - “The water was so peaceful now. There was nothing but the baking sun and something newly missing” (61) - Nel and Sula admire the silence - in this case, the peace - with which the water swallows someone whole. The particular word choice here - “peaceful” - is at first an eerie, then depressing, then soothing look at death.
The second passage in particular is what reminded me of those water scenes from The Graduate - when Dustin Hoffman appears to find the bliss in solitude as well as the burden; so close to drowning, so near to death, and yet so near to the end of suffering.
Lastly, this concept of death as bliss made me consider the larger themes in Sula. The town where the novel takes place is in the hills - “near heaven.” Sula’s surname - Peace. Shadrack’s promise to Sula of “a sleep of water always.” Death has constantly loomed around every corner in this novel, though never ominously - only jokingly, peacefully, and silently.