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

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


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

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep


  • 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


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


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



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)


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


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


  • Sula pp. 1 – 6

Explain how Morrison’s description of setting illustrates the main conflict between blacks and whites.


  • Sula pp. 7 – 16

Explain how Morrison’s use of diction conveys Shadrack’s mental state postwar.

Explain how people in the Bottom view Shadrack.


  • Sula pp. 17 – 24

Analyze and explain how Morrison characterizes Helene.


  • Sula pp. 24 – 32

Contrast Sula’s family life with Nel’s and explain how the differences contribute to their friendship.


  • Sula pp. 27 – 32

Contrast Sula’s family life with Nel’s and explain how the differences contributed to their friendship.


  • Sula pp. 32 – 35

Explain how Eva shows her love for her children.


  • Sula pp. 35 – 45

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


  • Sula pp. 45 – 49

Analyze what Morrison’s use of diction reveals in this scene. Debate Eva’s motives.


  • Sula pp. 49 – 56

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


  • Sula pp. 57 – 63

Analyze how Morrison creates mood. Explain how the incident at the river impacts Sula and Nel’s friendship.


  • Sula pp. 63 – 64

Analyze and explain what theme is revealed in this section.


  • Sula pp. 65 – 73

Explain Eva's love for her children.


  • Sula pp. 73 – 78

Explain Morrison’s use of foreshadowing in this section.


  • Sula pp. 79 – 86

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


  • Sula pp. 89 – 91

  • Birds — at least the first page

Compare how the two authors create mood.


  • Sula pp. 91 – 104

Complete an in-class mid-unit exam reviewing the standards and skills from the unit thus far.

Analyze the impact of Sula’s return on Nel.


  • Sula pp. 104 – 111

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


  • Sula pp. 112 – 117

Explain how Sula is viewed by the people of Medallion and evaluate if this is a fair assessment of her.


  • Sula pp. 117 – 125

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


  • Sula pp. 125 – 131

Characterize Ajax and explain his relationship with Sula.


  • Sula pp. 129 – 131

Analyze and explain how Morrison uses figurative language to describe Sula’s feelings for Ajax.


  • Sula pp. 131 – 137

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


  • Sula pp. 138 – 146

Analyze Nel’s true motives for visiting Sula on her death bed.

Debate which character was the “good” one.


  • Sula pp. 147 – 149

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


  • Sula pp. 150 – 155

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


  • Sula pp. 155 – 158

Explain how Morrison creates mood and explain the impact of Sula’s death on Shadrack.


  • Sula pp. 158 – 162

Analyze and explain the eventual irony of National Suicide Day.


  • Sula pp. 163 – 166

Explain how the Bottom has changed over time.


  • Sula — 167 - end

Debate the truth of Eva’s words.

Analyze and explain Nel’s lesson learned at the end.


  • Sula — entire novel

  • “The Undeniable Connection Between ‘Lemonade’ And The Literary Narrative Around Black Women”

  • Lemonade

Evaluate the argument made by the author of the article.

Compare the article author’s message to the themes of the novel.



Composition Projects

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.9-10.3 — Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

  • L.9-10.6 — Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.9-10.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RI.9-10.2 — Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.9-10.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RL.9-10.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.9-10.3 — Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

  • RL.9-10.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

  • RL.9-10.5 — Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.9-10.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9—10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • SL.9-10.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9—10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • SL.9-10.2 — Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.

Writing Standards
  • W.9-10.1 — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • W.9-10.10 — Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

  • W.9-10.1.a — Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

  • W.9-10.1.b — Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level and concerns.

  • W.9-10.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

  • W.9-10.3 — Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

  • W.9-10.3.a — Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.

  • W.9-10.4 — Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

  • W.9-10.5 — Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

  • W.9-10.6 — Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology's capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

  • W.9-10.9 — Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

  • W.9-10.9.a — Apply grades 9—10 Reading standards to literature (e.g., "Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work [e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare]").

  • W.9-10.9.b — Apply grades 9—10 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., "Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning").