Literature Study GuidesSulaPart 2 1941 Summary

Sula | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Sula | Part 2, 1941 | Summary

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Summary

When Sula Peace dies, the people of the Bottom sing and are hopeful that things are going to get better. They don't go to the funeral home but hang at the edge of the cemetery to make sure Sula is actually gone. Good news does come to the Bottom. The announcement comes that black men will be hired to help build the tunnel, and a senior home is being built. Eva will be moved from the decrepit home Sula put her in to the much nicer home that will allow black residents.

However, the winter of 1941 is horrible in Medallion. A glaze of ice covers everything, and people can't get into town. Their clothing isn't warm enough to protect them, and their houses are not made to withstand the cold winds. Deliveries are only made to richer white people, and women of the Bottom can't get to their jobs in Medallion, so they lose wages. By the time the winter is over, people are starving and sick. In addition, the lack of pressure from Sula's evil presence makes them go back to treating each other badly because there is no longer any measuring stick against which to compare their behavior. Spitefulness and deceit are back in town.

It's January 3rd, National Suicide Day in the Bottom, and the sun finally comes out after a couple of days of warmer weather. Shadrack goes out with his bell, but he doesn't want to; his heart is not in it. He had seen Sula's body laid out for burial and realized that his visitor would come no more, even though she never visited his cottage again after her childhood visit so many years before. He fondly remembers the "tadpole over her eye," which he thinks is how he knows she was his friend. Shadrack walks the streets with a heavy heart, and one by one, the people of the Bottom come out of their houses to follow him. Soon there is a parade behind Shadrack, minus Helene Wright and a number of religious people who think the scene is too bizarre. They all go down to the tunnel together. The people begin to tear apart the piles of brick and destroy the construction site. The tunnel collapses, killing several people, including Tar Baby, Dessie, the Deweys, and some of Ajax's brothers. Shadrack, with no song and no hangman's rope, just keeps ringing his bell.

Analysis

Sula's death does not result in a complete change of luck for the Bottom. The announcement of new jobs lifts the community's spirits, but a horrible winter and many illnesses also follow Sula's passing. This is not the worst of it. The loss of Sula's destructive presence causes people to misplace the good in themselves. Once the pressure is off to be righteous in the face of an evil presence, they begin to behave as if no one is watching; they frequently and freely lose their tempers, hit their children, yell at their elders, and commit other indecencies they had been able to suppress when Sula was around. Morrison suggests that Sula was actually a positive counterforce in the neighborhood and that a community experiences both good and evil in the natural course of events.

Shadrack hasn't changed, though; he is still as crazy as ever. His feelings of loss are summed up in his remembrance of the birthmark over Sula's eye. For him it's a tadpole, his "favorite fish," and a sign that Sula was a friend. The birthmark symbolizes whatever the person describing it feels about Sula. For Shadrack, fish, the river, and friendship are one and the same.

Shadrack's function in the neighborhood as a harbinger of the new year brings people out of their houses. His intention in creating National Suicide Day was to isolate and limit his pain and fear to only one day a year. The people of the Bottom have had a winter full of pain and fear, and this day becomes the one time they get to express it. They take their revenge on the construction company by "killing" the project, raging against the racism that denied them wages, respect, and their well-being.

However, the people of the Bottom have not forgotten that the way they have endured evil up to this point has been to identify it and discuss it but not take action to try to eradicate it. Their rage against the evil of racism is self-defeating. Their acts of vandalism and destruction of the tunnel result in the death of several people, and their future jobs working at the site are no more. It feels good to vent the rage, but the consequences are painful. Just as Sula betrayed her best friend, the people of the Bottom betray themselves.

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