Sula

Reading Sula, often called the first black feminist novel in the United States, students explore themes of friendship, gender, and race.

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New Units For 9th and 10th Grade English

Unit Summary

Sula, written in 1973 by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, is an influential novel that many would call the first black feminist novel in the United States. In Sula, Morrison develops multidimensional female characters and through them explores themes of friendship, gender, and race. Morrison’s writing style is both distinctive and complex, offering the opportunity for many rigorous lessons around author’s choice and style.

At Match, students have a Composition class 4 days per week in addition to English class. Below, we have included Supplementary Composition Projects to reflect the material covered in our Composition course. For teachers who are interested in including these Composition projects but do not have a separate Composition course, we have included a “Suggested Placement” to note where these projects would most logically fit into the English unit. While the Composition projects may occasionally include content unrelated to English 10, most have both a skill and content connection to the work students are doing in their English 10 class.

In the English lessons of Unit 6 students read Sula, focusing particularly on analyzing Morrison’s complex language as well as her development of the novel’s characters and themes. In these parallel Composition Projects, teachers will have a choice of two projects: one narrative and one literary analysis. The teacher may choose to do both or include other writing projects and/or writing focus areas that respond to students’ interests and/or writing development needs. Since at Match this unit typically falls near the end of the year, we are allowing some flexibility so each individual teacher can choose projects that best align with the types of writing his/her students might benefit from the most. 

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

  • Book: Sula by Toni Morrison (Vintage Press, 2004)  

Supporting Materials

Assessment

This assessment accompanies Unit 6 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Key Knowledge

Intellectual Prep

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  • Read and annotate the novel Sula and this unit plan.
  • Read and annotate the paired works of fiction and nonfiction.
  • Take the unit test and draft an answer to the essay portion of the exam.
  • Read and annotate the paired composition projects, planning for how the daily target tasks can scaffold students toward success in the projects.

Essential Questions

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Friendship: Can true friendship withstand anything?

Love: What is love? What different forms can love take? Are there times when we might have to hurt those we love in order to actually help them?

Identity: What is feminism? How does feminism impact identity?

Writing Focus Areas

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English Lessons Writing Focus Areas

Students will focus on the development of a clear and relevant thesis as well as on sentence variety. In addition, the teacher should reinforce the selection of relevant evidence and usage of advanced vocabulary. 

  • Thesis: Clear and relevant
  • Evidence: Draws relevant evidence to support topic
  • Diction: Uses some advanced vocabulary
  • Syntax: Uses some sentence variety

Composition Projects Writing Focus Areas

  • Focus on Task: appropriate for task, purpose and audience 
  • Diction: Includes precise language and vocabulary
  • Thesis: Includes a clear, relevant and unique thesis statement.
  •  Analysis: Demonstrates clear and logical reasoning
  • Evidence: Draws relevant evidence to support position
  • Professional Revised: Adequate revisions

Vocabulary

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Literary Terms

setting, characterization, theme, allusion, diction, foreshadowing, symbolism, point of view (third vs. first), figurative language, juxtaposition, irony, imagery

Roots and Affixes

mal- (malevolent), sub- (substantial), idio- (idiosyncrasy)

Text-based

Novel: Feminism, pariah

pp. 1–35: repugnant, equilibrium, deviate, rueful, haven, intricate, abated, enchanted

pp. 37–66: temperament, idiosyncrasy, bequeath, fastidious, delirium, pervasive, acquiesce, mutual, avert

pp. 67–85: trudge, ominous, agony, indisputable, mellowed, culmination, euphoria, feeble, lithe

pp. 89–117: plague, insouciant, sanitary, intractable, deficiency, trivial

pp. 117–125: conviction, aberration, contrive, naiveté

pp. 125–149: provoke, indifference, occult, cliché

pp. 150–174: turmoil, relinquish, permanency, solicitous, ruckus, scorn, malevolence, spite, substantial

Idioms and Cultural References

pp. 1–35: “in port,” shellfire, Elysium

pp. 37–66: jaundice

pp. 67–85: chain gang, heifer

pp. 89–117: tongues will wag, cross to bear

pp. 117–125: pariah 

pp. 125–149: chamois (cloth), alabaster, loam

pp. 150–174: death policy

Content Knowledge and Connections

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Students will become familiar with the concept of feminism and explore gender norms and debate whether women are judged fairly based on these norms. Students will also explore the complexity of love. Through this unit, they will be challenged to view love in nonconventional ways.

Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

Future Fishtank ELA Connections

Lesson Map

3

  • Sula pp. 17 – 24

Analyze and explain how Morrison characterizes Helene.

6

  • Sula pp. 32 – 35

Explain how Eva shows her love for her children.

7

  • Sula pp. 35 – 45

Describe the Peace women’s views on men and explain the larger theme this reveals. 

9

  • Sula pp. 49 – 56

Analyze how Sula shows her love for Nel and compare this to how Eva shows love.

11

  • Sula pp. 63 – 64

Analyze and explain what theme is revealed in this section. 

12

  • Sula pp. 65 – 73

Explain Eva's love for her children.

13

  • Sula pp. 73 – 78

Explain Morrison’s use of foreshadowing in this section.

14

  • Sula pp. 79 – 86

Explain how Nel’s marriage changes her and infer how it will impact Sula.

15

  • Sula pp. 89 – 91

  • Birds — at least the first page

Compare how the two authors create mood. 

17

  • Sula pp. 104 – 111

Explain Morrison’s deliberate choice to shift point of view in this section. 

19

  • Sula pp. 117 – 125

Describe the paradox of Sula’s impact on the town.

20

  • Sula pp. 125 – 131

Characterize Ajax and explain his relationship with Sula. 

22

  • Sula pp. 131 – 137

Explain Ajax’s impact on Sula by analyzing Morrison’s use of symbols.

24

  • Sula pp. 147 – 149

Explain how Morrison uses figurative language to describe Sula’s death. 

25

  • Sula pp. 150 – 155

Analyze the impact Sula’s death has on Medallion and explain the irony. 

27

  • Sula pp. 158 – 162

Analyze and explain the eventual irony of National Suicide Day.

28

  • Sula pp. 163 – 166

Explain how the Bottom has changed over time.

31

Assessment

Composition Projects

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

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L.9-10.3

L.9-10.6

RI.9-10.1

RI.9-10.2

RL.9-10.1

RL.9-10.2

RL.9-10.3

RL.9-10.4

RL.9-10.5

SL.9-10.1

SL.9-10.1

SL.9-10.2

W.9-10.1

W.9-10.1.a

W.9-10.1.b

W.9-10.10

W.9-10.2

W.9-10.3

W.9-10.3.a

W.9-10.4

W.9-10.5

W.9-10.6

W.9-10.9

W.9-10.9.a

W.9-10.9.b