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Free Study Guide: Sula by Toni Morrison: Chapter Summary

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This section shows the disintegration of the relationship between Sula and Nel. It is years later, and Nel becomes involved with Jude Greene, a twenty-year-old waiter. He wants to get a job building a road from Medallion to the river, but even though he is a hard worker, he is not hired because he is a Black. He is bitter about the fact that he is not hired, for he knows that he can work better than many of the white men being employed. In his discouragement, he asks Nel to become his wife, hoping marriage will make him feel more like a man; Nel gladly accepts. Nelís mother, Helene, is excited about the wedding. For years, she has dreamed about having a large and elaborate wedding celebration, like none ever seen before in The Bottom.

On the day of the wedding the citizens of The Bottom are dancing, celebrating, drinking, and having a fine time. Nel, as usual, is prim and proper. She is eager to settle down and be a good wife, seeking respectability in the community. After the celebration, Nel notices Sula leaving The Bottom. Though she does not realize it, Sula is leaving for a very long time; she does not return for nearly a decade.


This section is rather short, and centers on the character of Jude, the marriage of Nel, and the disappearance of Sula. The young Jude is a typical black male. He longs to work at something meaningful amongst the camaraderie of other black men. In hopes of being employed in road building, he repeatedly goes to the job site looking for work. He is never selected because of his race. The discrimination infuriates him; yet he knows he can do nothing about it. His response is to pressure Nel into becoming his wife. He hopes that being a husband will make him feel masculine. It is a sad reason to get married. Nel accepts his offer because it is the proper social thing to do. She looks forward to settling down as a wife and gaining respectability, as her mother has taught her. It is apparent that neither Jude nor Nel is marrying out of love for the other.

Helene is delighted over the marriage. She has always dreamed of planning a big wedding celebration for her daughter. Furthermore, she is delighted that Nelís attachment to Sula will be replaced by her attachment to a husband. Helene knows that Nel was a different person around Sula; she was less proper and more independent, a fact that threatened Helene. Now, she is certain that Jude will take Nel away from her mildly rebellious life with Sula, a fact that pleases Helene. Sula, however, is not pleased by the change in circumstances. As soon as the wedding celebration is over, she leaves Medallion without saying a word to Nel. She will stay away for ten years.

Weddings and marriages are supposed to be wonderful things; but Morrison clearly points out a sense of loss in the marriage of Jude and Nel. Beneath the happiness of the wedding celebration, there is an underlying layer of sadness. Symbolically this is portrayed in the fact that Nelís wedding veil prevents her from feeling the kiss of her new husband. Since the couple is not marrying out of love, they are clearly compromising themselves, settling for less than the best. Nel, in particular, is giving up her identity. With Sula by her side, she would sometimes emerge from her prim and proper stance and be her true self. By marrying Jude, she is doing what society expects of her, becoming the picture of respectability; she will settle down, serve her husband, and have children. Additionally, she seems to be losing her closest friend, for Sula, obviously upset by the marriage, is leaving Medallion at the end of the chapter.

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Sula by Toni Morrison: Free BookNotes Summary

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