Sula by Toni Morrison is a novel set in the town of Medallion, Ohio. Bottom is an area of town up in the hills where the town’s black residents live. White people live down in the valley, closer to the river. There are both practical and symbolic implications of the...
Sula by Toni Morrison is a novel set in the town of Medallion, Ohio. Bottom is an area of town up in the hills where the town’s black residents live. White people live down in the valley, closer to the river. There are both practical and symbolic implications of the location of Bottom.
In practical terms, land in a valley, near the river, is more valuable because it is richer farm land. As a river flows through a valley, it irrigates the land and deposits nutrients that make it desirable for growing crops. As it is the more desirable land to own and farm, it is owned by the white residents, who have more money and power. Bottom, located up on the hill, is not valuable as farm land and because it is cheaper land, it becomes the home of the town’s poor black residents.
By the time the book begins, Bottom has become a suburb. The trees and buildings of Bottom are being torn down to make room for a golf course, a symbol of white wealth. The story of the founding of Bottom is also symbolic of the power white people have over black people in Medallion. Bottom got its name from a farmer who promised “bottom land” and freedom to his slaves in exchange for some particularly hard work. While the slaves took that to mean land down at the bottom of the valley, something of value, the farmer tricked them by naming the undesirable area up in the hills “Bottom,” thereby tricking them into wanting it. This story is told as a joke by both black and white residents but it is symbolic of the power relationships that exist among the black and white communities in Medallion, Ohio.