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Free Study Guide: Sula by Toni Morrison: Chapter Summary

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ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY / ANALYSIS: SULA BY TONI MORRISON

SECTION NINE, 1939

Summary

Sula breaks off her relationship with Jude. He is so ashamed of his behavior that he buys a bus ticket to Detroit and never contacts Nel or his children again. Everyone in Medallion is horrified over Sula’s behavior and cannot believe that she has betrayed her best friend; they are also shocked that she has put Eva, her own grandmother, in a nursing home. The whole community calls Sula a roach and a bitch. The men of The Bottom also reveal that Sula has done the unforgivable by sleeping with white men. Everyone in Medallion judges her to be evil; they turn their backs on her.

Viewed as a villain, Sula becomes the town scapegoat, blamed for every bad thing that happens; she supposedly causes sickness, accidents, and bad weather. When a small boy named Teapot falls on Sula's steps, she is blamed for pushing him, even though she was inside. When Sula goes out to help the child up, his drunken mother walks by and assumes Sula has harmed him. Though she has no money, the woman takes Teapot to the hospital and proceeds to make a case against Sula. Another time, a man looks at Sula while sucking the marrow out of chicken bones and chokes to death. Ironically, Sula also has a good affect on the town. When the townswomen begin to hate Sula for sleeping with their husbands, they begin to cherish their husbands more. When Sula treats Eva cruelly (in their opinion), they begin to care for their elderly, cherishing them more.

A mythology soon develops about Sula. People say that she does not age, does not lose her teeth, and is not bitten by insects. They judge her birthmark and crooked finger to be evil signs. The people even comment that Sula does not belch when drinking beer. One woman has actually seen Shadrack approach Sula and tip his hat, a shocking sight indeed; Shadrack has never been polite to anyone.


Sula begins to see Ajax. The affair begins when Ajax walks up to Sula’s house with two quarts of milk. They go to the kitchen, where he drinks the milk; then they have sex. Eventually they fall into a frequent pattern of seeing each other, for Ajax regularly stops by to bring Sula food, ice, and household items. He is comfortable about the relationship with Sula, for he believes that she is not interested in a traditional relationship, since everything about her defies tradition and convention. Like most men, he is certainly not interested in commitment.

After a while, Sula begins to feel a new kind of desire for Ajax, unlike any she has known in her twenty-nine years. She begins to prepare carefully for his visits; she cooks meals for him, fixes herself up, and chases off the Deweys so she and her man can be alone. Ajax senses her increasing devotion to him and desire for a permanent commitment. Fearful of such things, he makes up his mind to end the relationship. Sula is hurt and lonely after Ajax leaves, for she had become utterly attached to him. She looks for memento’s from him and finds his driver's license in a drawer. When she looks at it, she learns that his name was really Albert Jacks (or A. Jacks, which sounds just like Ajax). Sula curls up in bed with his driver’s license, sings a song to comfort herself, and falls asleep.

Notes

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this section is the insight it lends to Sula’s psyche. Her thoughts and view of the world are presented, rather than simply observing her through other people. Despite the increasing superstitions of the townspeople regarding Sula, her strength is evident and poetically described; but her fragility is also presented. It is obvious that Morrison understands this complicated character very well and has a lot of sympathy for her.

When she returns to Medallion, Sula reveals her thoughts about Nel. She holds her friend to a very high standard and does not accept that Nel can differ from that standard. Sula’s own standards are not so high. She compromises herself by sleeping with Nel’s husband, Jude. After she is caught with Jude, Sula mourns the loss of Nel but is too proud to do anything about it, just as Jude is too ashamed to try and make things right.

Sula definitely has an empty spot in her life without Nel; therefore, she turns to Ajax to try and fill the emptiness. In many ways, Ajax is like Sula; he is kind and wants no commitment. In her loneliness, it is easy for Sula to become attached to him, breaking her own rules. Her devotion to Ajax quickly scares him away. Sula is heart-broken and miserable without him. At the end of the section, she is much like Nel after Jude’s departure. In her pain, Sula has become more human.

It is important to analyze the town’s reaction toward Sula. The people of The Bottom make up all sorts of tales about her, bordering on the absurd. Sula is blamed for every misfortune in Medallion. Ironically, as they persecute Sula, believing her to be an evil force to be defied, the people of the community become more unified and kinder to each other. When Teapot’s mother decides to sue Sula, she even becomes a better mother, treating Teapot with more care and consideration. Therefore, some good comes out of Sula’s return to The Bottom.


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