Literature Study GuidesSulaPart 1 1927 Summary

Sula | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Sula | Part 1, 1927 | Summary



Nel is getting married to Jude Greene, and all of the Bottom is half drunk because someone poured cane liquor into the punch bowl. Everyone is dancing, and Helene Wright, though she was helped a great deal by Sula, is exhausted from all of the preparations. The wedding is held in the church, and there is a real reception afterward (hence the punch bowl, which Sula, the bridesmaid, insists on). It is a rare occurrence for the Bottom, but Helene's reputation depends on it, and Jude is a well-liked member of the church choir. Jude's decision to get married is based on his need to have someone to care about his hurts, and there is a crushing one, an offense that has affected many of the men in the Bottom. A new road is being built between Medallion and Porter's Landing, and there will be a bridge (later downgraded to a tunnel) built to cross the river. Only a few older black men have been hired to work on the project, to bring food and clean up after the white workers. The white men working on the project avoid the younger men who want to work there. Jude particularly wants a job like this because part of being a man, according to him, is making something you can be proud of. He feels his waiter job at the Hotel Medallion is too womanly.

Jude is full of rage. The company building the road hires skinny white men and turns away healthy, strong black men. This rage is what motivates him, along with not wanting to turn to his mother anymore for support, to ask Nel to marry him. Jude believes that marrying Nel makes him more of a real man. His attentions flatter Nel in a way she has never been flattered before, so she responds to his rage with comfort and understanding. Ajax has told him women just want to take care of a man's misery, and that is certainly true about Nel. When the hubbub dies down, Nel and Jude want to go off to make love. Meanwhile, Nel sees Sula head off down the road. Nel thinks she looks amused, judging from the way her retreating figure strolls merrily away. It will be the last time they see each other for 10 years.


The racism that causes Jude to be denied a construction job grounds his choice of Nel as a wife because she is a woman who can soothe his rage. The reception, with music and alcohol, as well as the rare church wedding, gives the community something to take their minds off the fact that they will not be allowed to work on the road that will go through their town, the New River Road. Jude is not the only man who is furious, and the lack of jobs for men in the Bottom puts everyone in a difficult economic position.

Readers might wonder if other men are doing the same thing, choosing women for their ability to handle the community's rage. If Jude and Nel's marriage is based more on alleviating his rage rather than true love, the future of the relationship is in doubt. If this is happening in one relationship, readers can guess that it might happen frequently in the Bottom, and Ajax's pronouncement that women just want to help men out of their misery seems to have merit, at least in this marriage.

Sula encourages Nel to be with Jude because his compliments make her happy. The narrator describes how Nel and Sula have never argued over or competed for men. They have always been supportive of each other when it comes to handling men. The lead-in to this description, "in those days," foreshadows the idea that Sula and Nel will not always be this agreeable. Sula, at this point in their friendship, is amused and pleased that Nel and Jude are together, but she leaves town as soon as she can.

People still support Sula because they remember that she had to witness the horrible burning of her mother and Eva's desperate attempt to put the fire out, so Sula uses that desire to help herself, getting the details of the wedding settled so the whole community can have a party. Sula repays the community by leaving for 10 years. She wants nothing to do with marriage herself, and her goal is to get out of Medallion.

The description of Nel as a woman without aggressiveness and spunk reveals that her strict mother has taken all of the spontaneity and "sparkle" out of her. Nel is only able to be her complete self with Sula, so the self that Jude sees is not the real Nel. It could be argued that Nel sees a fictional husband rather than the real character because every compliment Jude gives Nel seems "keener" because of Sula. Sula always wanted "Nel to shine." When Sula is gone, the marriage will change. The return of Sula 10 years later, the narrator says, will be "thick with birds," and this is not a positive omen.

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