“‘You think I don’t know what your life is like just because I ain’t living it? I know what every colored woman in this country is doing.’
‘Dying., Just like me. But the difference is they dying like a stump. Me, I’m going down like one of those redwoods. I sure did live in this world.’”
On her deathbed Sula expresses to Nel her thoughts about the accepted lifestyles and positions of women in Medallion. Though Nel thinks Sula should have settled down and had children, Sula takes in pride in her decision not to conform. She says that everyone is dying, but considers her route to death to be nobler than that of her peers.
“‘I don’t know,’ her mother said. ‘I don’t talk Creole.’ She gazed at her daughter’s wet buttocks. ‘And neither do you.’”
After encountering her mother, Rochelle, in New Orleans for the first time since Childhood, Helene seeks to distance herself further from this woman who brings her shame. Rochelle speaks in Creole to Helene and Nel and is surprised to find that Helene has not taught Nel the language. Helene remarks that neither she nor her daughter will speak Creole, the language of her estranged mother.
“It was on that train, shuffling toward Cincinnati, that she resolved to be on guard—always. She wanted to make certain that no man ever looked at her that way. That no midnight eyes or marbled flesh would ever accost her and turn her into jelly.”
When traveling with her mother on the train, Nel is disgusted by the woman’s behavior towards the white conductor. Even worse are the scornful stares that Helene receives afterward from her fellow black passengers. In this moment, Nel promises herself never to be the target of such hateful male gazes.
“The narrower their lives, the wider their hips.”
Again, Sula critiques the traditional choices of women in her society. She considers those with wide hips, an indicator of motherhood, to have less meaningful lives than those without children.
“Each time she said the word me there was a gathering in her like power, like joy, like fear. Back in bed with her discovery, she stared out the window at the dark leaves of the horse chestnut. ‘Me,’ she murmured. And then, sinking deeper into the quilts, ‘I want…I want to be…wonderful. Oh, Jesus, make me wonderful.’”
Returning from the trip to New Orleans with her mother, Nel decides that she will exist free from her mother’s discipline and strictness. She returns with a newfound sense of individuality and proclaims a desire to be “wonderful.” Nel tries to define herself in opposition to her mother. This confidence leads her to befriend Sula.
“Nibbling at each other, not even touching, not even looking at each other, just their lips, and when I opened the door they didn’t even look for a minute and I thought the reason they are not looking up is because they are not doing that. So it’s all right. I am just standing here. They are not doing that. I am just standing here and seeing it, but they are not really doing it”
Upon discovering her husband and her best friend having sex, Nel is initially confused and believes that her eyes are deceiving her. Neither Jude nor Sula looks up when Nel enters the room. She takes this as a sign that nothing wrong is occurring but is quickly proven wrong when her husband looks up and walks out, announcing that he would come back for his things later.
“He fought a rising hysteria that was not merely anxiety to free his aching feet his very life depended on the release of the knots. Suddenly without raising his eyelids, he began to cry.”
After being released from the Veteran’s hospital, Shadrack stumbles around the town. He is unable to perceive things correctly and feels a throbbing pain in his head. Thinking that he must untie his shoelaces, Shadrack sits on a curb to do so, but he is unable to untie them. Frustrated and afraid, Shadrack begins to cry on the curb. He is later mistaken for a vagrant and removed from the curb by the police.
“With the exception of BoyBoy, those Peace women loved all men. It was manlove that Eva bequeathed to her daughters.”
All of the Peace women display an extreme love for men. Hannah sleeps with unmarried and married men, which makes her somewhat resented by the women in the neighborhood. Though she takes no lovers after BoyBoy, Eva also has many male visitors with whom she is sometimes flirtatious. Pearl is the only Pearl woman who remains married and movies away to Michigan with her husband.
“‘All that time, all that time, I thought I was missing Jude.’ And the loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. ‘We was girls together,’ she said as though explaining something. ‘O Lord, Sula,’ she cried, ‘girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.’ It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had not top, just circles and circles of sorrow.”
At the end of the novel, 550year-old Nel departs from visiting Sula’s grave. Just after leaving, Nel passes Shadrack on the road. She then stops and truly mourns the loss of her friend, realizing that the grey ball that appeared after Jude left represented the sorrow and pain she felt about losing Sula. Only after Sula’s death and many years living without her, Nel finally acknowledges that she misses the friend with whom she shared so many childhood memories and an unmatchable bond.
“Her once beautiful leg had no stocking and the foot was in a slipper. Nel wanted to cry—not for Eva’s milk-dull eyes or her floppy lips, but for the once proud foot accustomed for over a half century to a fine well-laced shoe, now stuffed gracelessly into a pink terrycloth slipper.”
In her old age, Eva has lost some of the strength and stature of her younger years. When Nel visits her in the nursing home, she is shocked by the transformation. The image is a reminder of Sula’s vengeful decision to place Eva in a nursing home away from her large home and community. Eva’s fine taste is dulled by the standard adornments given to her by the nursing home. It is as though Sunnydale has changed the woman and stripped her of her earlier pride.
Sula Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Sula is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Sula’s death leaves the neighbors without a scapegoat or an example against which they can govern their actions. Sula, as the social pariah of the Bottom, long symbolized everyone’s conception of evil and badness. Her death leaves people without a...
Sula's home is unconventional and vibrant. Sula sees home as a place that transcends the nuclear family. Her home was multigenerational and matriarchal. Home meant a sense of place where women were valued rather than subjugated. Sula internalized...