Last Updated on March 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 373
Sula opens as the Bottom—a dilapidated black neighborhood above the predominantly white and entirely made-up city of Medallion, Ohio—undergoes a series of rapid transformations. Part of the neighborhood was carved out for construction, and the Medallion City Golf Course and its accompanying suburbs encroach on the old neighborhood and its recognizable features, such as the flowering pear trees, the Time and a Half Pool Hall, Irene's Palace of Cosmetology, and Reba's Grill.
The Bottom is located atop a hill and looks down on a wealthy valley occupied exclusively by white residents; in short, the town’s Black residents look down on the white ones, although their land hilltop land is less valuable. The town grew this way as the result of a slave owner’s unfair deception: he promised to give his slave his freedom and a plot of land if he completed a collection of challenging tasks, but when the slave successfully accomplished these tasks and asked for his reward, the slave owner regretted the deal. To avoid giving the slave his rightful dues, the slave owner convinced him that land in the hills is superior to land in the valley, as it is closer to heaven.
With this in mind, the now ex-slave chose the land in the hills, which proved difficult to cultivate and plow, as the terrain was difficult and exposed to harsh elements. The slave owner remained in the valley, where crops grew easily and plentiful. However, over time, the white residents of the valley grew covetous of the hills, appreciating their scenic views and the sounds of laughter, banjo playing, and singing that emanated from them.
A traveler visiting the hills might see a woman dancing to the music from a harmonica while onlookers laugh and question the accuracy of the slave owner's negative assessment of the hills. The traveler might even ponder if the Bottom is, in fact, superior to the valley. However, despite the beauty of the hills and the community that has grown atop it, the residents of the Bottom would affirm that the valley is the better place. Medallion, Ohio, is in many ways a divided town, and the details of its historic foundation predict many of the events that follow.