Rachel Grace Chaos’ Major Project

“Once people understood the boundaries and nature of his madness they could fit him, so to speak, into the scheme of things”

The two paintings in this project are reflections of characters in Toni Morrison’s Sula. For the paintings, the mediums are collage and acrylic paint on canvas. The original goal in creating these paintings was an aim to reveal the implicit biases in each variation of a human and relate to our discussion of Sula that focused on how Morrison represents various disabilities. In the end, it became much more nuanced than that. The final works do, I hope, reveal the perspectives of disability that Morrison shows in Sula, but they also reveal the celebration of disability that Morrison creates in her text. 

First, a disclaimer: Morrison creates the characters in her novel to have complex identities that include race, gender, and physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. My pieces focus on textual descriptions and circumstances surrounding disability, I am not in any way trying to speak about Black individuals’ identities and their experiences, I am just continuously inspired by Toni Morrison and her work and created these pieces in response to her text.  

The physical process of creating these pieces centered around finding the appropriate clippings from magazines that I felt illustrated each idea best. In looking through the catalogs and catalogs and catalogs of magazines in my collection, the vision of the paintings comes together. The paint plays a big part in creating these pieces because color holds a lot of meaning to individuals. The left side of Sula’s piece could not just be a plain grey because her view of life still has depth. Can one properly convey madness without paying close attention to how they use the paints at their disposal? Once I finished combing through Morrison’s text, clipped the magazines, and mixed the paint, it was time to assemble the masterpieces. 

The first piece of work is an illustration of Morrison’s perspective of madness as illustrated through the character of Shadrack. The title of the piece is the quote that inspires it: “Once the people understood the boundaries and nature of his madness they could fit him, so to speak, into the scheme of things” (Morrison 15). Shadrack’s madness becomes the “fabric of life up in the Bottom of Medallion” (Morrison 16) and essentially, he fades into the background of the town, therefore the grey landscaping, grey clouds, and grey painted background show how the world exists with Shadrack; people simply “had no attitudes or feelings about Shadrack’s annual solitary parade” (Morrison 15). Morrison describes Shadrack and his “madness” on the “first… National Suicide Day” with “eyes [that] were so wild, his hair so long and matted, his voice so full of authority and thunder” (Morrison 15). Shadrack wears striped pants in the painting to represent his madness and has a small breaking bomb at the bottom of his feet as a metaphor for his “thunder” cracking the foundation of the town. 

Shadrack has an ability that no one else has in the novel, he empathizes with Sula. His ability to connect and reassure Sula, an almost untouchable entity, makes him one of the sanest characters in the novel, although the town sees him as “wild”. The yellow growing out above and beyond Shadrack shows the light that Shadrack brings to Sula in providing permanence in her life with his word “always”. The spirals spanning outside of Shadrack’s yellow identity are a metaphor for his National Suicide Day. Morrison introduces the act of National Suicide Day as an act of madness, but in the end, it is Suicide Day that recognizes suffering as human because “the same folks who had sense enough to avoid Shadrack’s call were the ones who insisted on drinking themselves to death or womanizing themselves to death” (Morrison 16). Shadrack, a madness-aligned character exists as a disabled identity in the town because of his mental disabilities from the war, but also in celebrating the same day every year, he provides sanity to the people who otherwise would not receive it. 

The second painting displays on the left how Sula sees the world and, on the right, how the world sees Sula. This painting is titled “Golden”. Sula exists, both through her birthmark and through her actions, as a spectacle and a body that violates the norm. Sula is a disability-aligned character because of the way others view her, she exists as “the devil in their midst” (Morrison 117). The right side of the painting reveals the spectacle and disgrace others see in Sula through the image of red representing the image of the “devil”. On this side, Sula wears a red dress, exists in a red cloud, and thinks in red thought bubbles because she is “the fourth” face of the “God of three faces they sang about” (Morrison 118). The fire, a symbol of something that continues to grow and devour surroundings, serves as a metaphor of the “birthmark that spread from the middle of the lid toward the eyebrow” which “grew darker as the years passed” (Morrison 53). This side also features a bird to represent “the plague of Robbins” (Morrison 112) with Sula’s return and a thought bubble with the image of a person jumping out of a window to represent the trauma of Hannah’s death that Sula carries with her. 

The left side of the painting represents how Sula sees the world and is based on the description of Sula’s eyes at the beginning of the novel, she has “gold-flecked eyes, which, to the end, were as steady and clean as rain” (Morrison 53). Sula remarks that “the real hell of Hell is that it is forever” (Morrison 117), which shows how dull she feels forever is. Consistency is Hell and “ugliness [is] boring” (Morrison 122) and Sula’s “lonely is [hers]” (Morrison 143), so I painted the background of her perspective grey with white flecks throughout. Sula’s overall perspective on life is that it is dull and boring, which so contrasts with how the town sees her. So, the two perspectives now live in conversation together on this painting revealing how Morrison writes Sula as a disability-aligned character and uses her to illustrate implicit biases. 

On the topic of implicit biases and devaluation of disabled bodies in disability studies is Snyder and Mitchell’s Introduction to Cultural Locations of Disability. Snyder and Mitchell discuss that “the devaluation of disabled bodies places in jeopardy all bodies that exist within proximity to ‘deviance’” (Snyder and Mitchell 5). This relates to my illustration of Sula because she exists less as a disabled body and more so as a deviant body in Morrison’s text and it is her “deviance” that marks her identity in the town, as illustrated on the right side of “Golden”. More so, Snyder and Mitchell discuss the cultural model of disability and come to an “understanding that impairment is both human variation encountering environmental obstacles and socially mediated difference that lends group identity” (Mitchell and Snyder 10). The idea of impairment as something that is socially mediated is relevant to my discussion earlier of Shadrack’s othering at the hands of the town. Shadrack exists as an othered body because “Once the people understood the boundaries and nature of his madness they could fit him, so to speak, into the scheme of things” (Morrison 15). Shadrack’s disability is, in part, a result of social mediation and how they designated him in society, which is visible in my portrait of him. The paintings reveal the idea of implicit biases of disabled bodies and Mitchell and Snyder’s discussion of “deviance” and how society deems what is acceptable and in what category it is. 

1252 words

I pledge- Rachel Grace Chaos

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. Sula. Vintage Classics, 2020. Print.

Snyder, Sharon L., and David T. Mitchell. Cultural Locations of Disability. The University of Chicago Press, 2015. Print.

Hannah Harris’ Major Project- Shadrack in Sula

Unintentional Leader: An Examination of Shadrack in Toni Morrison’s Sula

In disability studies, it seems there is no way to just leave people be. Disabled individuals are either ignored entirely or idolized for living with their condition, not that they really have much of a choice. By evaluating Shadrack in Toni Morrison’s Sula, I found evidence of both. Through most of the novel, Shadrack is isolated in his cottage and, while the residents of the Bottom know of him, they are perfectly content to misunderstand him and exclude him from their lives 364 days of the year: “Once the people understood the boundaries and nature of his madness, they could fit him, so to speak, into the scheme of things” (Morrison 15). However, in the final pages, Shadrack is made to be an unintentional leader and the object of “inspiration porn” to his fellow community members. I view this as Morrison’s critique of the way society is inept in its handling of disability either by under or overcompensating. 

The first thing I noticed was Morrison’s choice of name for this disabled figure, and it gave me inspiration for the metaphor of my dance. His name alludes to the biblical narrative of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo in the book of Daniel. Here, these three men refuse to worship the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar and are punished to die in a fiery furnace (New International Version). Like Shadrack, they refuse to conform to society and would rather face death, just like the celerartion of National Suicide Day, than bow down. This also begs the question of what represents the king in Morrison’s novel. Perhaps, as in Good Kings Bad Kings (Nussbaum), it is the system itself and the evil it perpetuates. In Sula, not only is Shadrack scrutinized under the weight of his disability, but the entire community is held down by racism. Through this biblical reading, the minute appearance of Sula at Shadrack’s cottage after she drowns Chicken Little, while traumatizing for her, is Shadrack’s equivalent of the angel appearing in the fire. This is a glimpse of the eternal where one need “not be afraid of the change —the falling away of skin, the drip and slide of blood, and the exposure of bone underneath” (Morrison 157).  It lasts just long enough, and her purple ribbon is left behind, giving Shadrack some hope that he might one day be liberated from the furnace and the rule of the bad king. 

Shadrack breaks free from the furnace, but it does not lead to his happiness. Those who had ignored him finally praise him for “overcoming”, and they are inspired to overcome their oppression as well. Like the questioners in “Nondisabled Demands”, they “get to say/ [he is] an inspiration” (Weise), but Shadrack never asks to be one. Interestingly, when searching for Weise’s poem on my own, every publication of it I found online omitted the last stanza, “If you refuse to answer then we call/ your doctor. Then we get to say/ You’re an inspiration” (Weise). I was unable to find answers about whether this change was truly an omission from an earlier PDF version of the poem we read for class or if the stanza was added later, although the former seems more likely. It makes me wonder why that portion was removed given it relates to one of the central discussions we often come to during class about “inspiration porn”. I am left to question whether Weise no longer stands by her assertion that society does this even as I have explored instances of this very behavior in Morrison’s fictional society with this project. 

This idea of “inspiration porn”, coined by Stella Young, has recently been examined at the crossroads of disability and race. Sami Schalk adds to this discourse in her discussion of the viral “Black Panther prosthetic” video from 2018 where a tattoo artist presents a young black amputee boy with a new prosthetic leg airbrushed with images from the new Black Panther movie (Scalk 100). In examining the media coverage of this video, Schalk sees the first wave of media coverage not as inherent “inspiration porn”, but she critiques the news outlets’ hyperfixation on the boy’s race rather than his status as an amputee, making them ableist in a sense just as bad as “inspiration porn” (Scalk 108-109).  However, the second wave of coverage did just the opposite, downplaying race and drawing heavily upon the idea of “inspiration porn” (Scalk 111). I propose a reading of Shadrack as the subject of “inspiration porn”, especially at the end of the novel. Ironically, this fetization of Shadrack does the most immediate harm, not to him, but to the townspeople who sacrifice themselves in the tunnel: “Old and young, women and children, lame and hearty, they killed, as best they could, the tunnel they were forbidden to build” (Morrison 161). Here, the dynamic between Shadrack and his dying neighbors is not complicated by racial difference, but the inspiration received from Shadrack’s yearly event is finally enough to motivate a rebellion of the people against racial inequality. However, I do not believe this was ever Shadrack’s intention, and it links his name and his disabled status to deaths he never could have prevented. This emphasizes the inability to exist in that middle ground for disabled people; either their existence is minimized, or it is larger than the elephant in the room. No one gets free from oppression without being unhappy or dead. An unintentional leader cannot help. 

These are the ideas I aimed to capture in my spoken word poetry and dance: the ways in which Shadrack’s character connects to his namesake, and the questions this raises about fighting the system, blind ignorance, and what happens when recognition of disabled inspiration goes too far. 

I began by writing the poem which is included below. I selected the background music, “The Way” by Zack Hemsey, edited it to fit with the voiceover of the poem, and added it to the recording of my choreography. 

Word Count: 993

Unintentional Leader

No one listened to me, until they did. 

At first, I couldn’t even listen to myself. 

Didn’t know who or where I was. Didn’t know why

Death hung in the air and crept at every corner. 

Decided I wouldn’t bow down to that King

That bad King. 

Like those three Isrealites 

Opposed to King Nebuchadnessar. 

Except they got caught. 

I got liberated. 

My answer: National Suicide Day. 

And “the rest of the year would be safe and free”1 


That yearly celebration barely made up for 

That cottage I kept within 

The other 364 days.

Lonelier than all I’d even known.

No better than Meshach and Abednigo.

That was my furnace. Stifling. 


One day, 

A child.

Running, frightened, straight to my door. 

Lord’s angel appeared in that furnace. 

How long did I wish her to stay?

How long would I fight to defy the dead

And the living with their judgements?

“Always. Always”2 

 “Assurance of permanency”3 

1941: they followed.

I suppose I led. 

Didn’t really mean to. 

Down they went 

Into that tunnel. 

Bowed down to the wrong King. 

Now why 

Should they have done that?4

Made a leader 

Of a man like me.

I never wanted

Them to say I was an inspiration.5


  1. Morrison p. 14
  2. Morrison p. 63
  3. Morrison p. 157
  4. Mimics style of the final lines of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  5. “Nondisabled Demands” by Jillian Weise


Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. 26 Oct. 2008, 


Hemsey, Zack. “The Way” The Way, Self-released, 2011. 

Morrison, Toni. Sula. 1st Vintage International ed, Vintage International, 2004.

New International Version. Biblica, www.biblica.com/bible/niv/daniel/3/. Accessed 12 Nov. 2021. 

Nussbaum, Susan. Good Kings Bad Kings. First Edition, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013.

Schalk, Sami. “Black Disability Gone Viral: A Critical Race Approach to Inspiration Porn.” CLA 

Journal, vol. 64, no. 1, College Language Association, Mar. 2021, pp. 100–120. EBSCOhost, https://doi.org/10.1353/caj.2021.0007.

Weise, Jillian. “Nondisaled Demands.” PDF on dis/lit course website. Fall 2021. 

I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.

Hannah Harris

Irene Andrade’s Class Summary for 9/21/21

The class started off with its regular segment of announcements, which consisted of upcoming disability awareness month events in October, an extra credit lecture by Rachel Wonderlin on Dementia care, and one last note about intersectionality from the previous class theory piece, Chris Bell’s “Introducing White Disability Studies: A Modest Proposal.” Large-group discussions revolved around which characters are read as disabled in Toni Morrison’s “Sula,” and small-group discussions explored the effects of being read as disabled among other topics through our assigned poetry pieces.

Professor Foss prompted the class discussion with a question, whether there are “Particular things about Eva that should not just be read in the lens of disability, but disability, race, and poverty,” echoing his last note about intersectionality from the Chris Bell piece. The class was initially quiet, processing the themes of disability in addition to race and poverty enveloped in the experiences of Sula’s characters. After getting no direct responses to the question, Professor Foss quoted an older book from today’s theory piece author, Rosemarie Garland Thompson, “physical disability neither diminishes nor corrupts Eva’s character, rather confirms Eva’s power. [Eva is a] rewritten Black eve striding the realms ordinary and unordinary, her legs signal presence and empowerment.” From there, Megan pointed the class to today’s theory piece by Rosemarie Garland Thompson, “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory”, she quoted “Female, disabled, and dark bodies are supposed to be dependent, incomplete, vulnerable, and incompetent bodies.” (3). Megan’s and Professor Foss’s evidence persuaded many in the class to acknowledge their points, and as a result several agreed that Eva truly went against the grain of the stereotypes set onto Black disabled women. Professor Foss added that other people have read Eva as a deity or goddess figure despite her disability and asked the class whether they agreed. The class, however, did not directly answer this question even with the proposed evidence of Eva having the “power” in the book to name others, be worshipped by others, and having the decision to kill others such as her own son, Plum, without consequence. Multiple students expressed that they believed Eva was powerful in the sense that her physical disability did not stop her from doing things (e.g., jumping out a window to save her daughter, or taking care of her loved ones for so long), but no one voiced whether she could be directly considered a deity the way Professor Foss described. With no direct responses to the question, Professor Foss made one last remark, postulating that Eva could also be seen as both a deity figure and a disturbingly powerful figure.

While the group could decide whether Eva’s disability weakened or empowered her, they soon realized that this was not the same case for Shadrack’s character. The class seemed to unanimously agree that Eva’s character was much more easily integrated into the community of the Bottom because her prominent disability for much of her life was a physical one. Her missing leg allowed for her to be read as physically disabled even though we concluded that it still did not hinder her from being a strong character. This opened a short discussion on invisible versus visible disabilities, and how they are regarded comparatively. Rachel suggested that with Eva, it was easy to read how it was not her physical disability that made her disagreeable to the readers and other characters, but rather her personality and attitude. In contrast, Shadrack’s disability cannot be so easily demarcated from his personality to the reader. Rachel commented that only Eva’s attitude can be drawn up to comparison to Shadrack’s “madness”, not her disability. Professor Foss describes Shadrack as a “pied piper”, offering strong, but delusive enticement to the community members of the Bottom. Students discussed how the scene where Shadrack calls everyone to the construction site does not help his trustworthiness to readers, and could potentially perpetuate the “warning of messing with people like him”. The discussion of Shadrack’s behavior that added to his inability to be trusted by both readers and the community lead us into the topic of the way he was regarded by Sula in particular. Professor Foss noted that Sula was the only character that seemed to acknowledge Shadrack as a person compared to other community members. However, the class noted how Sula’s death in coincidence of her final discussion with Shadrack, also did not help his character distinction between his personality and disability by potentially sealing her fate.

At this point, Professor Foss posed the question of whether Sula’s birthmark (and fingertip) could be read as a disability, and quotes back to Thomson’s piece on freakery and how some may be read as disabled due to “physical markers or indications”. Much of the class voiced that they could understand how this perspective could be validated given the history of birthmarks being viewed as negative things such as a “witches mark” or cosmetic imperfections when visible. Professor Foss brought back the idea of intersectionality and inquired whether Sula’s personality can be distinguished from her potentially disabling birthmark. He followed this with another point from an older piece by Thomson which suggested that Sula’s birthmark and fingertip are “hyperlegible text from which her community reads her hopes and point of reference for social boundaries, pariah and mark of social order,” and that this seems to be just a few of the many “evils” that are attributed to her character. In this way, Sula’s experiences seem similar to both Eva and Shadrack. Sula’s personality may be easier to distinguish from her personality due to her read physical disability, yet her lack of integration to the community may have been due to her other social identities, like Shadrack. The students concluded that her birthmark has heavy implications of ostracization and closely relates to how neoliberalism persuades consumers to get rid of this imperfection according to current monetary beauty standards.

Finally, we were called into small groups to discuss 4 previously assigned readings: “Until” by Ayisha Knight, “Hypoesthesia” by Laurie Clements Lambeth, “Deaf Blind: Three Squared Cinquian” by Jonh Lee Clark, and “The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window” by Joy Harjo. One of the most prominent themes of “Until” for all groups was the overcoming of social norms into self-love. The author was read as disabled because she is Deaf, but many groups noted her feelings of “not disabled enough,” and noticed how powerful and confident her signing was now that she was able to express herself past the social norms of disability. With “Hypoesthesia”, one of the most prominent features my group and I noticed was how well the author was able to depict the experience of disassociation through the format of the poem. Many other groups also noticed the disassociation of the narrator and, naturally, attributed it to the assault. They also referred to how some may read the narrator as deviant from the “sexual norm” and pathologize their behavior. That deviancy can be read as a disability and is treated pathologically in today’s American society. All groups noted how people make spectacles out of disabled people that can do “mundane” things, such as cook for oneself, for John Lee Clark’s “Deaf Blind” poem. All groups also noted the juxtaposition of being a spectacle to being a “nobody” because the narrator was just doing what everyone else can do, but under the light of a Deaf-blind person. Professor Foss later in large group noted a scholar who called this phenomenon “inspo-porn”. For “The Woman Hanging From the Thirteenth Floor Window”, some groups seemed confused as to what exactly was happening within the poem, but most seemed to understand that there was a incongruence to the way the narrator identified themselves and what was happening in their life.

Ultimately, the class came to conclusions about how characters’ disabilities from Toni Morrison’s “Sula” are read, and other major themes through previously assigned poems which were discussed through small group in this class period. Our discussions showed how students were able to read different characters’ and narrators’ disabilities and their social implications according to our view of social norms. However, the group was also able to explore these implications along the lines of intersectionality, considering not only each characters’ disability, but also class, gender, race, etc. Following how these people may be read as disabled, along with how this may affect or be affected by their other social identities, lead many to wonder how exactly this affected each person’s personal identities, and how we could distinguish the social from the personal.