Literature Study GuidesSulaPart 2 1937 Summary

Sula | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Sula | Part 2, 1937 | Summary



Sula's return to Medallion is heralded by a plague of robins. Normally a welcome harbinger of spring, too many robins has created an excrement hazard as well as piles of dead birds everywhere. However, the people of the Bottom react to the alarm of "evil days" with acceptance, and they see it as a necessary part of life. They let evil run its course, in nature and in people as well. Outsiders, white people, see their reaction as "slackness, slovenliness or even generosity," but it is really an acceptance of evil as an integral part of life; it is there to struggle against, to overcome, and white people are on that list of evils.

Sula returns to the Bottom decked out in a fancy flowered dress, high heels, a fur stole, a veiled hat, a beaded purse, and a little red traveling case. She looks like a movie star, traipsing through the robin excrement up into the Bottom on foot. Eva is not impressed and looks at her with the same disgusted expression she gave her husband, BoyBoy, when he last crossed her threshold. She and Sula begin arguing immediately, and it becomes clear that Sula didn't tell anyone she was coming home. Eva starts harassing her about getting married and having babies, and Sula doesn't want any of that. The argument escalates into Eva calling Sula a "crazy roach" for watching Hannah burn, after Sula accuses her of putting her leg under a train for insurance money. Eva says Sula should have burned, and Sula strikes back. She threatens to burn Eva like Eva burned Plum and soon after takes guardianship of Eva and has her committed to a home for the aged against her will.

Nel sees Sula's return as a much-needed boost to her mood. With Sula home, even listening to Tar Baby sing in church makes Nel smile at the intensity of his emotion. Her love for Jude takes on a different tone, as it has become a "gray web around her heart." Sula comes to visit and soon has Nel laughing so hard she cries, talking about raunchy teen stories of sexual encounters gone wrong. Sula describes Medallion as half full of people who need killing and half full of people who are a "drawn-out disease." Nel's kids, who think Sula's birthmark is scary, wonder what they are laughing at, but Nel and Sula tone down the specifics. Nel says all the boys liked Sula best, but Sula wonders where they all are now. The big city is just a big Medallion, Sula says, the same everywhere she goes. Nel complains to Sula that she never wrote to anyone while she was gone, and Nel didn't know where to write because Eva didn't tell her.

Nel asks about Eva and finds out that Sula has put her out of the house and into a home run by a white church. She is horrified, wonders who will take care of the Deweys and Tar Baby, and asks Sula why she did this to Eva. She lies to Nel, changing her story a few times. First she says Eva is ill. Then she tells Nel that she is scared of Eva and that it's true that Eva burned Plum. Sula tells Nel she always had more sense and perhaps it was a bad idea to put Eva in the hospital. Sula and Nel decide to have Eva's insurance checks come to Nel to ensure that Eva is taken care of, because Nel says doctors never see the patients in the home and Eva will need "special comforts."

Jude comes home, and Nel immediately knows he has had a bad day. Jude tells a story about a customer insulting him, and the end result of his tale is that the black man has it bad. Sula interrupts and tells him that's not true. Jude wonders how this woman with "a copperhead over her eye" can possibly say this, but Sula says that white women both want and fear black men, black women try to smooth the way and hang on to their men, children think their fathers don't love them, and black men love themselves, hanging out together all the time, never alone. Jude and Nel laugh at Sula. Then Jude makes a comment about all of it being a bad way to show love, and he thinks to himself that it's no wonder Sula isn't married.

The next section is in Nel's voice, in first person. Jude has left her for Sula. He has also left his tie behind. Nel doesn't understand how he could leave when they knew each other so well and took care of each other for 10 years. She recalls seeing Jude and Sula naked on the floor together, and she stood there smiling like there had to be some reasonable explanation for what she saw, and it wasn't really that Jude was committing adultery with Sula. Jude gets dressed, and Sula doesn't right away, as if it's no big deal that she is there naked with her best friend's husband. Jude pushes past Nel and says he will be back for his things. Nel thinks about how she didn't want to embarrass Jude by telling him his fly was open and how she was embarrassed by the dust under the bed they must have seen down there. She is numb and goes to the bathroom floor to wait for the upset feeling to come, but it doesn't. She is angry, hates Sula for what she has done, but notes she is thinking of what Sula would say even though it's Sula she hates.

Nel sees a gray ball of string and fur hovering at the periphery of her vision, and it scares her. It follows her everywhere, and she continues to have a "dry flake" in her throat. She sleeps with her children beside her in bed to soothe their fears about monsters they see in the movies, and being afraid with them is better than seeing or touching the gray ball. She wants to talk to Sula about her feelings, but she can't because Jude left her for Sula, so she loses both her husband and her best friend. She thinks her "old thighs" will never experience joyful touching again. She will go to her grave without having the pleasure of a man in her bed now that Jude is gone. She believes Jesus is telling her this is not something she can experience again, and it is a horrible cross to bear.


The return of Sula should be a wonderful thing for Nel, but it all goes wrong. Eva realizes right away that the robins are a bad omen, because Sula won't listen to her or follow her advice about what to do with her life. Sula bullies Eva and threatens to burn her, knowing Eva had done the same to Plum. Fire has torn apart the Peace family, and it becomes part of the conversation again. Eva's "crazy roach" insult becomes the view that everyone ends up having of Sula, who has no interest in being what anyone in the community expects her to be. Sula lives for herself. Eva is terrified of Sula, for good reason. Sula really did just watch her mother burn because it was interesting, and Sula could very well do the same to Eva, but she decides to just get Eva out of the house and take over instead.

Sula lies to Nel about why she commits Eva; she is now capable of lying to her best friend. When Nel catches her with Jude, Sula doesn't seem to think she has done anything wrong, and Nel sees her as not really being naked. Jude is the one who is naked, and Jude is the one who has done something wrong. Nel begins to mourn the loss of Jude, and her sadness and anger are stored in the gray fuzzy ball just out of sight. She is devastated and wants to talk with Sula, even though Sula has betrayed her. It is as if Sula can do no wrong, but Nel knows that isn't true now. The betrayal knocks Nel down emotionally, so far down that she can't even cry.

The robins are a symbol of too much of a good thing turning into its opposite. Similarly, Sula's over-the-top jokes, dress, and attitude about the community become insulting and disrespectful. Her tirade with Jude is distasteful to him, but his opinions don't stand a chance against her. When Nel catches him with Sula, it is clear that he doesn't think Sula is so awful. Rather, she is exciting and different, so he falls for her. Afterward, there is no discussion; he immediately decides to leave.

The birthmark above Sula's eye is a symbol of all of the sides of Sula that people see. Nel sees it as a beauty mark, a rose on a stem, but her children perceive it as a "scary dark thing." Jude sees it as a copperhead snake or a rattlesnake, a sign of danger. However, she does make him laugh. Right away, he is thinking about why she isn't married and whether or not she is attractive, suggesting that he is heading for a fall. Earlier in the kitchen scene, Nel mentions that Jude is still handsome, and Sula notices. This sets the stage for their betrayal of Nel.

Nel's inability to feel the anger and pain of her dilemma and her continued willingness and desire to talk with Sula show just how repressed she has been. The gray ball of fur and string hearkens back to the description of Jude's love as a gray web around her heart, and she has taken all of that gray webbing and rolled it into a ball that she can't look at directly or touch. She can't explore why Jude has betrayed her, nor can she think about why Sula hurt her. She has to block everything out to survive. Nel thinks about how her thighs are now "empty," and she talks with Jesus about this emptiness, believing Jesus is telling her she can't experience the pleasures of lovemaking anymore. She feels frustrated and angry that she must carry this repressive cross to her grave. She thinks Sula is wrong about hell being sameness and everything lasting too long, because her own private hell is actually the change wrought on her life by this betrayal.

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