Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"I didn't mean nothing by it, Mamma": Contesting an unstated implication in Toni Morrison's "Sula"

In Toni Morrison's Sula, Hannah Peace asks her mother Eva how she feels about her, her sister Pearl, and her brother Plum: "Mamma, did you ever love us?" After Eva responds testily, Hannah tries to downplay the question: "I didn't mean nothing by it, Mamma." This does not console Eva, who wonders how a question can mean nothing: "How you gone not mean something by it?" But the meaning that they are contesting is not the question's straightforward sense. If Hannah "means nothing", then the question has no further purpose than its sense, but for Eva, the question must have some further purpose, and she takes offense at its unstated implications. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 August)

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