The people of the Bottom in Medallion, Ohio “knew Shadrack was crazy but that did not mean that he didn't have any sense or, even more important, that he had no power” (Morrison 15). In Toni Morrison’s novel Sula, Shadrack is a brief, but largely considerable character. His significance stems from the fact that he personifies one of Morrison’s main themes in the novel, which is the need for order, as well as that he serves as human embodiment of the community’s repressed feelings. As is often the case with any introverted emotion, the townspeople’s eventual acceptance of Shadrack causes both liberation and grief. However, Shadrack is not a sage, omnipotent being; he is merely an undiluted representation of the thoughts which others within the community cannot and will not express.
Appropriately, Shadrack is the first major character to be introduced in the novel, much as an unfiltered thought is the first that comes to mind in any given situation. He is an ancestral presence - a husband, a father, a provider dispensed by the gods to “always” be there as the voice in the back of one’s head, constantly present and ever providing the most candid guidance (Lewis 92). People of the Bottom fear Shadrack not only because of his peculiar behavior but also because he does not look like them. Earlier, while he was in the hospital recovering from shell-shock “his fingers began to grow in higgly piggly fashion like Jack's beanstalk, all over the tray” (Morrison 9). This is especially significant as, although Shadrack grew up in the Bottom, he began to look different as he grew older and, subsequently, the community began to fear him. In a similar fashion, as one matures the inner voice becomes more precise and defined and, often, is ignored in lieu of emotions which are more familiar and comforting, though potentially juvenile.
Shadrack’s reputation as the town outcast is, arguably, due to his role as the symbolic vessel of the townspeople’s repression. Pushed, both literally and figuratively, to the edge of town, Shadrack only emerges into the consciousness of the citizens during his annual parade down Carpenter’s Road. This is largely emblematic of the human tendency to suppress one’s true feelings until they emerge magnificently. Even so, the people of the Bottom hide in their homes and shut their windows, refusing to acknowledge their own true thoughts. Furthermore, Shadrack’s recognition of Sula, despite her distinction as the town pariah, is indicative of her overall acceptance within the community. Just how Shadrack attempted to control his fear, the community refuses to expel Sula out of fear, instead choosing to accept her presence, even if it is only as a source of gossip and as a scapegoat for resentment (Foulks 19). It is noteworthy that, upon Sula’s death, the townspeople turn this same gossip and resentment upon each other for lack of a common victim.
Shadrack represents the imposition of the outside world on the black people of Medallion, in...