Opening Lines: Riff No.4

by caroline on August 31, 2011

OPENING LINES: Riff No. 4, August 2011
“…there was once a neighborhood”

“In that place, where they tore the nightshade and blackberry patches from their roots to make room for the Medallion City Golf Course, there was once a neighborhood.”
Toni Morrison, Sula (1974)


I am thinking about the character Sula as I walk along the main street of my mostly white middle class neighbourhood. I am wondering what we’d be saying to each other, Sula and I, were we walking side by side. Perhaps we’d peer into shop windows while we chatted about neighbourhoods, about what makes a real neighbourhood. Perhaps we’d share thoughts on the common good, on culture and community, on class, race and gender, or on the ever-simmering angers and biases that bind us together, that tear us apart.

Sula herself is the embodiment of just such a discussion, but the theoretical underpinnings of her character are best left to her creator, Toni Morrison. Sula’s observations would be bold, sharp, and straight up, containing all the laughter and pain and defiance of the community she grew up in. Heads would turn as we walked. Sula knows her beauty. Faces passing by would light up if she danced ‘a bit of a cakewalk, a bit of black bottom’ for the street musician on the corner. We might laugh when I attempt to join in.

In her own story, it is Sula who rises up against the confining mores of her neighbourhood. And ultimately it is Sula, or rather a hatred for all she represents, that binds the townspeople together, and then tears them apart. Sula flees, exiling herself to a life of urban adventure and pleasure. Her eventual return, just as her small community of black families has given way to white folks’ prosperity, casts a new light on all that has transpired, and on who Sula really was.

The opening line of Morrison’s poignant novel  ‘…once there was a neighborhood’, speaks to our time nearly forty years after it was written. It is the universal human condition. Stories of exile, displacement, and loss of community are all around us. Right here at home, one thinks of Africville, Oka, Canada’s Parliament occupying Algonquin land; one thinks of the resettlement of Newfoundland outports, of shrinking farm, mining, and fishing communities. Globally, entire populations are fleeing wars, occupations, famine, economic and environmental devastation, progress.

I would love someone else to write the next paragraph! Something about remarkable human resistance and resilience, something about weaving a new tapestry from all these shifting strands. All of which I believe.
Any takers?

One comment

Couldn’t presume to take it on Caroline. But love the imagery you have given us—a new tapestry. Shifting strands. Possibly a warp and weave in motion — in process of creation. How I would love to believe that we are entering an “awakening”.
Neighborhoods and Globe. Now there’s an excellent vision.

by Gail Starr on 10/11/2011 at 2:58 am. #