Literature Study GuidesSulaPart 2 1940 Summary

Sula | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Sula | Part 2, 1940 | Summary



Three years pass. Nel hasn't seen Sula once in those three years and decides to visit her because she hears Sula is very ill. There are no words of greeting. Nel simply asks Sula if there is anything she can do to help, and Sula asks her to go to the pharmacy for a prescription. Nel notes that Sula picks up the friendship right where it left off, as if nothing had happened, and thinks it is typical of Sula to do so. Nel starts to tell Sula that someone needs to stay and take care of her, but Sula thinks she can do everything on her own. Nel tells Sula that as a woman, and a "colored woman at that," she can't have everything and she can't act like a man. Sula says she knows what every black woman's life is like, but Nel disagrees, telling her she wouldn't say the things she says if she had children. Sula replies that she would definitely act like a man because men always leave their children. She thinks that her dying is different than that of other women in the Bottom because she is dying after having truly lived. Sula agrees this makes her life lonely in the end, but it is her lonely, not a "secondhand lonely" that someone else causes.

Nel finally asks the question tht has troubled her all along—why did Sula take Jude away from her? Sula says it was just to fill a space in her head, and Nel can feel herself getting angry, realizing that Sula never really loved Jude. She demands to know why Sula didn't consider her feelings. Sula wants to know why the simple act of sleeping with him destroyed their friendship. Nel thinks to herself that it is impossible to get a straight answer from Sula because she really doesn't know right from wrong and doesn't understand that what she did was hurtful. Nel leaves, saying she won't ever be back, and Sula asks her if maybe, instead of Nel being the one who was good to Sula, it was actually the other way around.

Sula lies back and takes more of her pain medicine, thinking that all Nel will ever take away from their friendship is how Sula wronged her. From Sula's perspective, nothing in the Bottom has changed or will change, and nothing she did was meaningful. She truly enjoyed watching her mother burn, mostly for the novelty of seeing her mother squirm and dance in the flames. Sula has a dream about the Clabber Girl Baking Powder lady, where the lady disintegrates into powder and Sula keeps trying to put handfuls of it in her pockets but is subsumed by choking smoke. When she wakes up gagging, she is in terrible pain but too tired to yell, so she just looks at the boarded-up window from which Eva jumped, and she tries to remember who told her that death would "always" feel like being gently surrounded by water and washed away. This thought comforts her as she realizes she has stopped breathing and her heart has stopped. Her last thought is that she should tell Nel how death "didn't even hurt."


This chapter illustrates the deep divide that now exists between these two women. Their former closeness explains their ability to restart their relationship after three years as if no time had passed and their friendship had never ended. But it's now clear to both that they have different outlooks on their former friendship and on their power as women. Nel thinks life without a man is lonely and meaningless; therefore, Jude's infidelity with Sula is a reason to hate Sula, not men. Nel also believes that the women of her community have little social or economic power and can't expect to be independent. Sula has a completely different outlook on life, having always been independent and done what she wanted for her own pleasure. Sula also believes that sleeping with Jude was no big deal. It was just something she did to fill "empty space" in her head. Nel should have gotten over it and kept the friendship going. Sula's view of friendship is childish: she believes the passing years should change nothing essential. They would always share everything, their dreams, their inner thoughts, their men. In contrast, Nel sees it more clearly. There can be no future for their friendship unless Sula takes responsibility for the damage she has done to her family and to Nel. But, Nel thinks, asking Sula to tell "the difference between right and wrong was like talking to the deweys."

Sula's final question to Nel about which one of them was actually good to the other reveals that Sula thinks she may have done Nel a favor by exposing how easily Jude could leave her. But Nel's ruminations about how resentful and ashamed she still is about Jude's affair with Sula show that the situation is more complex. It's not just the sickness in her stomach that she feels, thinking about Jude and Sula entwined together. She has been left with children she wants to fiercely protect, but she allows her love for them to shield her from the hurt and emptiness she feels. She has to pull back and take care not to suffocate them. She feels as if her love for her children is now "monstrous," a "cumbersome bear-love" that could smother her children with "its crying need for honey." And she blames Sula for this change. Morrison's poetic language describing Nel's emotional state of mind encourages readers to empathize more fully with Nel and to gain insight on the dynamics of this final visit with Sula.

Morrison uses body language as well as the sensory experience of each character to illustrate their emotions. Lying and now dying in bed, Sula feels totally alone and glad there is no one there, especially no Eva. She feels safer just looking at the boarded-up window from which Eva flung herself; it makes her feel isolated from the people, the cities, the towns she thinks are all the same and nothing like her. When she is in so much pain that she needs to turn, she won't do it because she wants to keep the view of the boards and the metal holding them onto the window. When Nel finally works up the courage to ask Sula why she had an affair with Jude, Nel leans forward and holds onto the brass rail of the bed. She can taste the brass in her mouth when she hears Sula confirm that she never actually loved Jude. The metallic taste brings to mind anger and disgust, as well as injury, though it is Nel's inner world that is reeling from Sula's admission.

Just before Sula dies, she gets the urge to tell Nel about how death doesn't hurt. This passage is reminiscent of Nel's thoughts earlier in the novel when Jude first leaves her for Sula. Even in extreme anger, she still thought about what Sula would say about her feelings and how they would talk about them. Even as the friendship dissolves, there are solidities that never fade, no matter the difficulties of maintaining them through time. The urge to talk with each other, to share experience, is still there, even at the moment of death.

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