Literature Study GuidesSulaPart 2 1965 Summary

Sula | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Sula | Part 2, 1965 | Summary

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Summary

Nel is one of the few people in Medallion still walking everywhere instead of driving a car, and she has witnessed all the changes occurring in the Bottom. The area is now being razed to create a golf course and mansions for wealthy whites. As she walks, Nel reminisces about the beautiful boys she dreamed about in 1921 and how now she recognizes no one. Roads are being built and, along with them, old folks' homes. Everyone is getting old, including Nel. Black people, having made money during World War II, came down to live in the valley, but now they can't afford to move back up into the hills or into any of the riverside land that white people are buying up. Nel feels as if the Bottom is no longer a community because everyone stays in their houses with their televisions and their telephones instead of sharing with others and people don't visit their neighbors as much anymore.

Nel is on her way to visit Eva Peace at a home for the aged. Eva is forgetful and confused, thinking she is doing the visiting and then mistaking Nel for Sula. She accuses Nel of killing Chicken, but Nel tells her it's a lie. Eva won't believe her, and then Nel realizes that Eva is wavering between recognizing her and thinking she is Sula. Nel is still scared, wondering who told Eva that she stood by and watched Chicken drown without doing anything. Eva tells her it was Plum, her dead son. He "tells her things" now.

Nel leaves the home and, as she walks, thinks about the fact that she actually did feel good when Sula let go of Chicken's hands, and calm when Chicken went into the water. The smooth ripple and solemnity of the water obscured the death of Chicken, who disappeared in an instant before her eyes. Nel then wanders down to the graveyard, remembering Sula's burial and the small gathering of community members who didn't actually stand near the gravesite but sang "Shall We Gather at the River," the least they could have done. Eva was not one of the mourners, and Nel thinks that maybe Sula was right; Eva was a harsh, vindictive woman, especially after Eva accuses Nel of causing Chicken's death, an accusation that she believes occurs just "out of spite."

Nel remembers how Nathan found Sula's body, but she was the one to call the hospital, the mortuary, and finally the police, who came but didn't know Sula's first name. They asked, but no one would answer their questions, so the police left with only her last name and address. It wasn't black folks but white folks who cleaned the body and dug the grave. Nel remembers, feels sad, and then leaves the graveyard, passing Shadrack along the way. Shadrack tries to remember where he saw her before but can't, so they don't greet each other or talk. Shadrack now takes out trash for an old folks' home and doesn't fish because there are no fish in the river anymore. As Nel walks away, she feels a ball of fur explode inside her and feels Sula's presence. Suddenly and intensely feeling the loss of her best friend for the first time, she realizes it was not her husband she needed and wanted after he left; it was Sula.

Analysis

Nel remembers her youth in the Bottom. It includes the fat prostitutes and the widows who fed their families on what they made from selling sex. They did it shamelessly; it was all just part of the job. Her memories include all the beautiful boys, too. People then were all somehow tied to each other in the neighborhood; everyone knew about everyone else. Now people isolate themselves inside their homes, on their phones, and in front of their televisions. Families may interact within their own walls, but community is no longer.

Nel's visit with Eva brings back the themes of friendship and betrayal. Eva accuses Nel of killing Chicken, but it isn't possible for Eva to have known for sure that Nel and Sula were involved in Chicken's death, because Nel and Sula kept their involvement secret. There may have been rumors, and Sula's tears at Chicken's funeral may have given her away, but neither girl ever told a soul. When Eva says that Plum tells her these things, Nel believes that Eva is accusing her, purely out of malice, of complicity with murder. Nel considers, and then feels the full weight of the community's spitefulness, how they made accusations against each other all the time and how the people of the Bottom had not fully attended Sula's funeral for the same reason that Eva had not attended. Nel contrasts the treatment of a prostitute, China, whom everyone considered far too "rambunctious," to the treatment of Sula. China was laid to rest by the community, while Sula was not, a spiteful act on the community's part.

The accusation from Eva about Chicken brings to light a connection Sula and Nel had: they both felt a sense of satisfaction watching a person die. They focused on aspects of the incidents that helped them feel something other than fear. For Nel, the peacefulness of the gently flowing river took away any awful feeling she might have had watching it swallow up the little boy; for Sula, seeing her mother dance wildly as fire consumed her was more interesting than the fact that she was being burned alive. Nel now realizes that what she thought was a mature, compassionate reaction to the drowning was actually the calm that can occur after experiencing great excitement.

After thinking about how lonely and solitary Sula's death was and how no one could bring themselves to do the right thing for her, she comes to understand that she misses Sula deeply. Shadrack passes her, and she suddenly feels that Sula's spirit is present. This feeling connects Sula with Shadrack once again in the reader's mind. But the river is no longer the peaceful river, having killed Shadrack's beloved fish, so that he lives a joyless life of fatigue, taking out the trash for none other than Sunnydale, the home where Sula put Eva. Nel is not happy in her life without Sula. She realizes that the ball of anger she has been carrying around inside her has dissolved and the person she has longed for and forsaken is not Jude but Sula.

Loneliness and loss powerfully afflict both Shadrack and Nel. They are the only two people who considered Sula a friend at any point. For Shadrack, it's primarily the loss of his river full of fish. It might even be that the fish were his only true friends. This is expressed in beautiful language: "No more silver-gray flashes, no more flat, wide, unhurried look. No more slowing down of gills. No more tremor on the line." These phrases give the reader a visceral sense of what the river and its fish meant to Shadrack, and the repetition emphasizes the depth of the loss. Morrison describes Nel's cry when she realizes what she has lost as having "no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow." All of Nel's memories circle around to those moments when Sula was important to her, and then they return to the present, her best friend gone.

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