Free Study Guide: Sula by Toni Morrison: Chapter Summary|
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FREE BOOK NOTES: SULA BY TONI MORRISON
Eva’s three children are Pearl, Hannah, and Plum. Pearl marries and moves away to Michigan. Hannah, a widow, and her daughter, Sula, live with Eva. Hannah has a reputation for engaging in sexual relationships with local married men; but she never falls in love or encourages any kind of attachment. Plum, Eva’s only son, also lives in the house. He has returned from the war depressed and hopelessly addicted to painkillers. He steals from the family in order to buy his drugs and sleeps in his room for days with the record playing on. Like Tar Baby, Plum seems destined to die young.
One night in late 1921, Eva goes into Plum’s room to confront her son
about his miserable life and his addiction to painkillers. He is barely
conscious because of the drugs. She sits on the bed crying and holding
Plum for one last time. Eva then pours kerosene on Plum’s bed, lights
it, and returns to her room. When Hannah wakes and comes to tell Eva what
is happening, the two women look into each other's eyes with full realization
of what has happened. The neighbors help put out the fire, but Plum is
This section establishes the family history of Sula in much the same way Nel’s family was introduced in the previous section. Her grandmother (Eva), her mother (Hannah), and her brother (Plum) all live in Eva’s house with Sula, and she is influenced by them all, just as Nel has been influenced by her family. Sula’s relationships with men, women, and children are all shaped by her family ties.
Morrison goes beyond an explanation of Sula’s family to the black community and their family structures at large. When the men leave (and in this book they are always leaving), the women are always strong enough to put together a life for themselves and their children. If the men stay, they are often cared for by the women, who seem to expect little from them. Although Eva’s situation was desperate when her husband left, she found a way to cope; in order to gain money to raise her children, she bravely cuts off her leg for an insurance check in the amount of $10,000. It is a sad commentary on the plight of poor blacks. Hannah fairs better than her mother, for she and her daughter live with Eva; but she still fights to survive after losing her husband. She covers up her misery by having petty affairs with all the married men in town; but she is afraid to have any kind of permanent relationship with a male. In spite of her loose behavior, she is well liked by the females in town because of her liveliness. Sula is greatly influenced by the fight for survival that she sees in her mother and grandmother.
The males presented in the chapter are much weaker than the females. The Deweys
are a commentary on lack of identity. People refuse to see them as different
and call them all the same name; they never fight back for their own identity.
Tar Baby is hopelessly depressed and alcoholic; his only redeeming characteristic
is his beautiful voice, which he shares in church. Plum, Sula’s brother,
is the weakest of all the males presented. He lives his life in a drugged
stupor, often not coming out of his room for days. Since Plum cannot control
his own life, the strong-willed Eva takes charge. To save her son from
a life of misery, she sets him on fire and allows him to burn to death.
Hannah knows and understands what her mother has done, for she is also
a survivor. Sula also is shaped by her relationship to these weak males,
just as she is shaped by the strong women in her life.
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. 09 May 2017