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Free Study Guide: Sula by Toni Morrison: Chapter Summary

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STUDY NOTES / ANALYSIS: SULA BY TONI MORRISON

SECTION TWELVE, 1965

Summary

The final section of the novel takes place twenty years later and begins with the words, Things were so much better in 1965. Or so it seemed. It takes place primarily in the consciousness of Nel, who is now fifty-five years old. Her life has been spent caring for and nurturing her children, who are now grown adults. They seem to have forgotten her, and she is alone again. She reflects on the changing face of the community. Even though many of the black inhabitants of Medallion have taken on jobs once held by whites, some of the life seems to have gone out of them. The community also seems to have lost its spirit, for the whites are planning to build a golf course in The Bottom and the Blacks are moving into the valley that was previously all white. Everyone in Medallion leads separate lives with little concern for their neighbors.

Nel, still interested in doing good, decides to visit Eva in the nursing home. On her way, she remembers the day that Sula took Eva there to live. Nel is still horrified that Sula could treat her grandmother in such a manner and judges it to be wrong; black people are not supposed to dispose of their elderly the way whites do. When Nel arrives, she finds the aged Eva to be very confused. She talks incoherently about the day Chicken Little died and makes wild accusations that cause Nel a moment of uncomfortable panic. Nel tries to convince Eva that the childs death was Sulas fault, not hers. Eva says, Whats the difference? It is like she understands that Nel and Sula are a single entity.

Nel fastens her coat and hurries away, feeling an old panic and a wide-open space in her head. In her mind, she sees the riverbank and Sula swinging Chicken Little around and around. She considers the difference between the words "see" and "watch." She tells herself she just saw the accident; she certainly did not watch it. She thinks about how Sula collapsed in regret and misery after the child drowns, while she was proud of her own calm composure. With thoughts of Chicken Little and Sula in her mind, she passes by the cemetery and sees all the graves for the Peace family: Pearl, Plum, Hannah. There are no first names just the word PEACE, over and over, with dates.

At the cemetery, Nel thinks about Eva. In the past she has thought that Eva was the victim of terrible injustice. Nel now thinks that the townspeople have been wrong to idolize the old woman. She realizes that Eva was full of spite, just like the spite that was common throughout The Bottom. She remembers that Eva, like herself, did not even attend Sulas funeral. Nel suddenly feels terrible that she was not at the cemetery for her friends burial; she also regrets that few people attended Sulas funeral, in stark contrast to the masses present at the funerals of Hannah and Chicken Little.


Feeling very sad, Nel leaves the cemetery. She sees Shadrack on the road walking toward her. He looks at her with muddled recognition, but he does not seem to really know her. He is thinking of fishing and of the people who have died in the river. As Nel and Shadrack pass one another, it is appropriate that both of them are thinking negative thoughts about the past. Nel stops, because her eyes seem irritated. She notices that there is a smell of old green things and a stir of leaves. She sees a grey ball of fur breaking and scattering in the air. Suddenly she realizes that it is Sula that she misses, not Jude. She calls out the name of her old friend and then cries out loud; her wails seem as big as The Bottom.

Notes

The last section of the novel takes the narrative to a point in time immediately preceding the opening section of the novel; it is twenty years after the death of Sula. In this chapter, the golf course is an event being planned. In the opening chapter, it is already being built. The final chapter begins with the sentence, Things were so much better in 1965. Or so it seemed. The latter statement reveals that on the surface all seems improved for Medallion; but in truth, the progress for The Bottom is not really all it appears to be.

Though blacks have begun to work in formerly all-white jobs, the community has lost its vitality. There is no longer a sense of closeness or an excitement about life; even the prostitutes of The Bottom have become dull.

Nel's visit to Eva brings up two important events from the past, knitting the novel together into a whole. The first is Chicken Littles death, which Eva talks about in a confused way. She does, however, point out that Nel is not innocent in the death of the child, for both she and Sula were there; in truth, the two girls are one in the same, two sides of the same coin. Nel is forced to reflect on the fact that she has always blamed Sula for the loss of the boy, judging herself to be totally innocent. Now she remembers how Sula was devastated by the drowning and had tried to seek the help of Shadrack; but she herself had remained calm and composed, which made her feel proud at the time. Nel also remembers how she was the first to pick on Chicken Little that day; she now knows that is was simply fate that Sula had caused his death, not her. Nel finally admits her part in that tragedy, if only to herself.

Eva also forces Nel to analyze the fact that evil was always associated with Sula, the thing she once called Sulas meanness. Nel has always believed in her own basic goodness, feeling she has been victimized by Sula. Nel suddenly realizes that she herself had been the evil one that day at the river. She had been pleased to see Chicken Little drown, while Sula was in anguish. The day shaped both of them forever. Sula lived the rest of her life as though she was a bad person, as though nothing she did could redeem her from the evil she had done to Chicken Little. Nel lived all her life with the appearance of goodness, never even admitting to herself that she, not Sula, had had the evil heart that day.

When Nel comes to grips with the truth about herself, she has a terrible sense of guilt. She feels responsible for the fact that her life and Sulas unfolded in tragic ways. The acknowledgement of the truth brings her an unbearable anguish. She calls out to her dead friend and cries out in agony, realizing that she will never be complete now that Sula is gone. Eva has made her realize that she is only one-half of a coin, and she needs Sula, not Jude, to feel whole.


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