A native Virginian, Eva Peace relocates to Medallion at the urgings of her husband BoyBoy who decides to move there for a job. Eva and BoyBoy have three children: Hannah, Pearl, and Ralph. However, after five years of a tumultuous marriage full of adultery and abuse the couple separates when BoyBoy abandons Eva and the children. With BoyBoy’s departure, Eva finds herself a single mother and is unsure how she will sustain herself and her children. She receives help from various neighbors and contemplates where she might find a stable source of money.
During this time, the youngest of Eva’s children, Ralph, begins to have problems with his bowels. When the situation escalates, and threatens to be fatal, Eva lubricates her hand with lard and loosens his bowels with her own fingers. In this moment, Eva begins to realize the sad reality of her condition. Two days later, she drops off her children with a neighbor, Mrs. Suggs, and promises to return the next day.
However, Eva does not retrieve her children from Mrs. Suggs until eighteen months later. She returns to Medallion with a wealth that is unaccounted for and only one leg. Seeking to explain Eva’s new wealth and missing leg, the townspeople come up with a number of outlandish stories including one that claims Eva sold her leg to a hospital for a $10,000 reward. After retrieving her children from Mrs. Suggs, Eva decides to build a large home on the same road where she and BoyBoy first rented a cabin when they arrived in Medallion.
In that three-story house, Eva hosts family, friends, and those in need of a place to stay. One afternoon BoyBoy, who also appears to have acquired new wealth, arrives at the home to visit Eva. Unsure of her feelings for her former husband, Eva makes him some lemonade and invites him in. The two catch up without discussing the children or Eva’s missing leg. When BoyBoy rises to leave Eva is still unsure how she feels towards him. However, when he whispers into the ear of a woman who appears to be his new girlfriend, Eva laughs aloud realizing that she hates BoyBoy.
After this visit, Eva gradually resigns herself to the upper level of the house. The lower levels become the domain of the boarders and visitors. Having so much spare room in the house Eva begins to search for children who need a home. In 1921 Eva takes in three boys and renames each of them Dewey. Despite differences in age and physical characteristics, the boys begin to think of themselves as a unit. They all begin the first grade together and are mistaken for each other despite their unique appearances. Eva also gives a room to Tar Baby, a soft-spoken man who Eva believes to be white. Tar Baby drinks heavily and seems intent on dying a slow not quite lonely death.
In addition to the boarders, Eva’s children also grow up in the large house on Carpenter’s Road. Aside from Pearl, who moves to Flint, Michigan with her husband, the other two children return to the house. Hannah marries a man named Rekus but after his death, she returns to the home to care for her mother and her mother’s property. After serving in the war, Ralph also returns home. All of the Peace women are known for their love of “maleness.” Eva, though she is not intimate, is very friendly and flirtatious with her male visitors. Hannah, determined to have “touching” every day after the death of her husband, has affairs with many of the married men in the Bottom. It is from her mother’s frequent and passionless relations that Sula forms her own expectations of sex and relationships.
Ralph returns to the home in 1921. He is unkempt and behaves in ways similar to Tar Baby. Shortly after returning, he begins to steal from his family and to take trips to Cincinnati. One night Eva goes down the stairs for the first time since 1910 and rocks Ralph in his bed while remembering him as a little boy. After she stops rocking him, Eva covers Ralph in kerosene and sets him aflame.
Eva Peace is a true example of a matriarch. Her large house at 7 Carpenter’s Road houses many members of the community; newlyweds, former vagrants, and the children that do and don’t belong to her. Her missing leg is a symbol of the physical sacrifices made by women for their children. Nobody truly knows how it is lost and Eva’s activities during her 18-month absence remain untold.
BoyBoy is the second absent father of the story. He, like many men in the novel, is characterized by his absence and inability to remain in the domestic sphere as husband or father. BoyBoy returns after leaving Eva and the two appear to get along fine until BoyBoy flirts openly in front of Eva. Then she proclaims her hate for him and laughs, relishing the feeling. Sexual transgressions on the part of men continue to be a source of anger and resentment for the women of the Bottom.
Aside from BoyBoy, Eva and the Peace women experience a unique fondness for “maleness.” This love is described as a trait the women inherited from Eva. This inheritance manifests itself in different ways in both Pearl and Hannah. Pearl gets married and moves to Michigan. Hannah also marries and moves away from her mother’s home but she returns with daughter Sula after her husband dies. Hannah’s love for “maleness” then becomes a love for mating with men, married and unmarried alike.
Hannah is an example to Sula of what relationships and sex represent. Just as Eva inherits a love of “maleness” from Eva, Sula inherits her understanding of sex from her mother. She is raised knowing more than what was heard at school or on the playground. This later affects Sula’s relationship with men and her feelings about sex.
War is again revealed as an agent of destruction when Eva’s youngest son Plum returns. After the war, he appears to be a mere shell of himself. He has also become addicted to heroin. Unable to watch her son deteriorate in such a fashion, Eva perceives death as the only possible source of honor for him. One night she kills Plum by lighting him on fire, saying that it is the only way for him to die the death of a man. Her actions confuse conceptions of good and bad in the novel and further complicate the construction of motherhood.