Sula Summary

Sula is a novel by Toni Morrison in which the friendship between Sula and Nel is repeatedly tested. Their friendship is forever changed when Sula sleeps with Nel's husband.

  • Sula and Nel grow up in an African-American community nestled in a hilly landscape said to be the bottom of heaven. They quickly become best friends.

  • While Sula goes to college, Nel stays home and marries Jude. After Sula returns, she and Jude have an affair. Nel catches them.

  • Sula and Nel become estranged. Years later, Sula falls ill, and Nel visits her. Only then does Nel realize how much she missed her friend.


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Last Updated on February 21, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 502

Summary of the Novel
Sula is a complex novel that spans almost 45 years and revolves around the friendship between two black women, Sula and Nel. Their friendship starts around 1921 and lasts through their high school years and even after Nel marries Jude.

It's almost a decade after Nel's wedding when Sula comes back to the town of Medallion, Ohio, with stories of her college experiences and travels. Upon meeting Sula again, Nel's friendship with her resumes as if there had never been a break in their relationship. However, Nel walks in on Sula and Jude's having an intimate moment, causing them to leave town as a couple but only Sula comes back later. For three more years, Nel has no communication with Sula.

Nel visits Sula when she learns that she is sick. Sula tells Nel that if she truly loved her, she would have granted her forgiveness. However, Nel remains unforgiving and continues to question Sula's actions. Only after Sula passes away and is buried does Nel come to the realization that it is Sula, not Jude, that she has been missing all these years.

Sula is also a tale about a community. The Bottom, a hilly area inhabited by Black residents, and the valley populated by white residents, present stark differences. Both groups appear to be discontent with their circumstances. The valley residents eventually gain control over much of the Bottom, leading to a transformation of the once close-knit neighborhood into one where the people have little interaction with each other. The Bottom's residents even destroy the unfinished tunnel, which would have provided access to job and travel opportunities.

The novel follows the lives of several families and characters, including Nel, Sula, their grandparents, parents, and Nel's family, as well as Shadrack, the adopted Deweys, the Jackson and Suggs families. The story explores their family histories and interweaves their lives with one another. The narrative is a tragedy that is not told in sequential order.

Sula witnesses her mother's death by fire, and her uncle is burned to death by her grandmother. Sula herself passes away at a young age. The effects of World War I haunt Shadrack for the rest of his life. Nel raises her three children as a single parent and grapples with the grief of losing both a husband and a friend. Eva mutilates herself and for insurance money intentionally loses a leg. She then sets fire to her own son and witnesses her daughter's death by fire. In the end, and because her granddaughter sent her there, she must live out her final years in an old age home.

Because Jude has sex with his wife’s best friend he ends up loosing both his wife and three children. Residents in the community begin to separate themselves from one another after once being close. In the end they join together and destroy the tunnel which would have provided them access to the New Road and employment opportunities. During the destruction of the tunnel many people die.

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