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Free Study Guide: Sula by Toni Morrison: Chapter Summary

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People in The Bottom rejoice at the news that Sula has died and find many good signs to associate with her passing. The new tunnel contractors begin to hire Negro workers, and there is a new old folks’ home being built where Eva will go to live. The joy and relief, however, are short-lived. Fall brings a terrible freeze. Everyone is stuck inside, and many are unable to go to work. As a result, poverty increases. People begin to grow sick, and not many workers are hired for the tunnel after all. The townspeople begin to fight with one another. Teapot's mother begins to beat him again. No one cares for his or her grandparents any longer. As usual, on January 3, Shadrack appears for his annual Suicide Day celebration.

The narrative turns to Shadrack, who has been extremely lonely. The voices no longer keep him company, and he no longer needs alcohol to forget things. He remembers a bird that once came into his shack. He actually waited for it to return, but it never did. He also remembers a human being in his shack, a little girl. He could tell she had wanted something from him, for she was very frightened; however, he had not known what to say or do. He had tried to comfort her, by telling her "always." The word seemed to frighten the girl more, and she ran away. Since she was his only visitor, he considered her his friend. He would occasionally see the girl around town. He could recognize her by the birthmark above her eye. He knows that she has recently died. For the first time, he does not really want to head National Suicide Day; but he gathers his things and marches into town for his holiday parade; he no longer cares, however, whether his efforts help people or not.

The town is so disheartened by the rough winter that several of them actually join Shadrack in his parade. Soon the small parade becomes a large procession, with nearly everyone from The Bottom joining in. Something happens and the procession turns toward the white part of town, down the River Road toward the tunnel. The angry, frustrated mob begins to riot; they smash things and break things and tear the construction site apart. Then they make their way into the tunnel. Loose rock begins to fall, water gushes in, and masses of people from The Bottom are killed, including Tar Baby, the Deweys, and a few of Ajax's brothers. Shadrack stands above the tunnel, ringing his bell and watching the tragedy of death unfold below.


Even though neither Sula nor Nel is present, this section brings The Bottom to a climax. The emphasis is on Shadrack; for the first time, Morrison describes him and his thinking in detail. His life is filled with loneliness, for the only human visitor to ever come in his shack was Sula, on the day that Chicken Little died. He could tell the child was frightened and tried to comfort her by saying the word “always.” Even though she runs away from him before he can help her, he always thinks of the girl as a friend. It is ironic that someone really did love Sula, though she never actually knew it. It is also touching that Shadrack is so affected by Sula’s death that he has no real interest in his National Suicide Day. He goes to the parade mechanically and out of obligation. Ironically, this National Suicide Day attracts a lot of attention. People are tired of the miserable weather and bad fortune they have experienced; as a result, some of them join in the parade. Before long, it is a large procession.

There is an emotional high tide in The Bottom that carries the people off to the white part of town. They find themselves at the tunnel, where anger takes over. They tear at the tunnel, hoping to destroy the thing that they have not been able to build. They go inside the tunnel to do more damage; ironically, they are the ones who are damaged. It is truly a suicide day, where many Blacks in The Bottom are killed due to their blind anger. It is an anger that is reflective of the emotions of both Nel and Sula.

It is notable that neither Nel, nor her mother, is among those who join the parade; mother and daughter are much too prim and proper to show such emotion. As a result, Nel’s respectability, the thing that Sula has criticized about her friend, has probably saved her from death in the tunnel.

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Sula by Toni Morrison: Free BookNotes Summary

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