Sula returns to the Bottom after spending time at college and living the big-city life. Her unconventional behavior makes her an object of suspicion in the neighborhood. Rumors abound as to what Sula got up to in the big city. Some have even alleged that she committed the cardinal sin of sleeping with white men.
Sula, however, is unconcerned by local gossip. She demonstrates this by having an affair with Jude, Nel's husband. When Nel catches Sula and Jude in the act, she's furious and distraught in equal measure; she cannot believe that someone who's supposed to be her friend would do this to her. After Jude packs up and leaves for Detroit, Nel takes up a new job as chambermaid in the Hotel Medallion, throwing herself into her work. Sula is surprised and disappointed at this; it shows that Nel is a conformist, "one of them." Nel was one of the reasons why Sula returned home. But now, Sula, blithely indifferent to the emotional suffering she's caused, feels that Nel is lost to her. Nel belongs to the town.