Toni Morrison / Sula / 1973

Shadrack’s hands grow out of proportion. He sees his own “grave black face” in the basin of a toilet. He walks through the Bottom ringing a bell for the first National Suicide Day. Nel’s mother Helene smiles “coquettishly” at a white who told her to “git [her] butt on in there” to the black section of the train. Rochelle darkens her eyebrows with the burnt head of a match. Nel whispers to herself, “I’m me.” Eva pulls stools out from her infant son’s bowels using her finger and lard. Eva names several orphans Dewey. Tar Baby, a white, sings “In the Sweet By-and-By.” Eva discovers that her adult son Plum is not drinking strawberry crush; that’s blood-tainted water. She burns him to death as he sleeps in bed. Ajax calls Sula and Nel “pig meat,” and they guard their eyes “lest someone see their delight.” Mrs. Wright reminds Nel to pull her nose. Nel and Sula throw the boy Chicken into the water, where he drowns. Hannah’s dress catches fire, and she dies from the burns. Eva falls from her second-story window attempting to get to Hannah. Sula watches, “standing on the back porch just looking.” Jude marries Nel. “If he were to be a man, that someone could no longer be his mother.” Ten years later, Sula returns with a plague of robins. Nel and Sula share a “rib-scraping laugh.” Nel walks in on Jude and Sula naked, on all fours. The people in town notice that Sula seems “free of any normal signs of vulnerability.” Sula “like any artist with no art form […] became dangerous.” Sula rejects lovers who regard sex as healthy or beautiful. Through a blue-glass window, Ajax stares at Sula. He brings milk, drinks it at the sink, brings black berries still on the branch, lets loose a jar of butterflies in the bedroom. He talks to her. Sula begins to discover possession. She ties a green ribbon in her hair. Ajax’s eyes dim with momentary regret. His name is Albert Jacks. Nel goes to Sula. She gets medicine, then returns. In bed, Sula dies. “It didn’t even hurt. Wait’ll I tell Nel.” Shadrack leads the suicide day procession to New River Road, tunnel excavation site. They go into the tunnel, destroying timber, brick. A lot of them die in the tunnel. Nel visits Eva. Later, thinking of Sula, she says “we was girls together.” She cries.


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