Introduction: Summary and Analysis
Sula Peace: a little girl who grows into a woman in the Bottom
Inhabitants of the Bottom: black people who live in the hills and are dissatisfied with their lots
Inhabitants of the valley: white people who live in the valley
Slave owner: man who gives his slave a chore with the promise of both freedom and a parcel of land upon successful completion; talks the slave into taking hill land instead; says that the hill land is the bottom of Heaven
Slave: performs the chores given to him and accepts the Bottom parcel of land
The Medallion City Golf Course and the suburbs were replacing beeches, blossoming pear trees with children in their branches, the Time and a Half Pool Hall, Irene’s Palace of Cosmetology, Reba’s Grill, and the old neighborhood.
The white people lived in the rich valley because of a slave owner’s trickery. The slave owner promised his slave a parcel of land and freedom if he performed some difficult tasks. The slave accomplished the tasks. The owner gave the slave his freedom, but the owner was reluctant to give him a parcel of land. Instead, the owner tried to outwit the worker by telling him that the hills were the bottom of Heaven. The ex-slave innocently asked for the Bottom, and the owner gave him the land. Since that time the ex-slave and, later, his descendants, had to work hard on hilly land. Plowing was difficult. Soil and seeds washed away. The wind blew.
Later, the white people in the valley decided that they liked the hills, the view, and the sounds of laughter, banjos, and song they heard coming from the Bottom. A visitor to the hills might see a woman dancing to the music from a mouth organ and the watchers laughing. Such a stranger might question if the slave owner had been right in his verbal appraisal of the hills. A hunter might wonder if the Bottom were not better than the valley. Even though the residents of the Bottom had little time to consider it, they would quickly respond that the valley was better.
The theme of discontent with one’s lot in life is obvious throughout the chapter. The hilly land becomes the reward for the ex-slave; the worker trustingly accepts the word of the farmer that the hills are superior to the valley. The hill residents soon become disillusioned with the acreage that they have accepted and envy the land of the valley residents. On the other hand, the inhabitants of the low lands often view with envy the neighborhood that they can see and hear above them.
Pronounced change is assaulting Medallion. The Bottom in particular, the narrator tells us, is changing quite rapidly. The Medallion City Golf Course and the suburbs are replacing the woods and the buildings in the old neighborhood. The residents of the Bottom, however, remain innocent and totally unaware of the value of what they possess. Even the threat of losing what they own does not bring an awareness to the hill residents. The result of the change is lost on the innocent hill residents.
It is evident that the setting is integral to the plot; it also serves to illuminate the characters and clarify the conflict. The setting suggests the idea of Heaven and Hell. The Bottom does indeed resemble Heaven, the residents look down on the white people below, and the innocence of the people suggests their goodness. The inhabitants of the Bottom, however, often ignore the beauty and their good fortune to be there.
Innocence is a major theme in this chapter. The slave trustingly accepts the story of his owner about the Bottom. The slave owner takes advantage of the naiveté of the slave and uses the slave’s trusting nature to his own advantage. He has deliberately used deceit. The residents of the Bottom are also innocent in that they do not realize the value of their land and their culture.
It is at this point that Sula departs from the stories one usually reads. There are no rewards for the goodness and innocence of the slave; there is no punishment evident for the evil acts of
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