Chapter 10: 1941 Summary and Analysis
Mr. Hodges: man who hires Shadrack to rake leaves; Shadrack becomes aware of Sula’s death when he sees her on a table at Hodges’ home
L.P., Paul Freeman and his brother Jake, Mrs. Scott’s twins: examples of the beautiful boys of 1921
The “best news” that the Bottom had had since the tunnel work was the death of Sula. Some came to the funeral to see a witch buried; others came to observe the burial of Sula. Some came to see that nothing inappropriate happened at the funeral; these people wanted to make sure that a gentleness of spirit abided at the last rites. Because Sula was dead or after Sula was dead, most believed a brighter future lay ahead. The two signs of this new day were the announcement of the tunnel to connect with the River Road and the construction of a new home for the aged.
Both signs brought hope to the Bottom. The blacks felt that they may have a chance for employment to help construct the tunnel. It was true the River Road was the result of only white labor, but the government seemed to view favorably the hiring of black workers.
The construction—actually renovation—of the old people’s home was good news to the Bottom because black people could reside there. Many viewed the transfer of Eva from a dark, dismal place to the shiny, new facility as the working of God.
Cold weather came to Medallion and the Bottom. The residents of the hills suffered in their poorly insulated homes and shabby clothes. Work was at a standstill, and they could purchase few things. Thanksgiving brought tough poultry, stringy potatoes, and disease for the young and old.
Worse still, the violence and death that Shadrack feared seemed upon them. The violence began when Betty beat Teapot for the worst insult a child can give its mother: refusing the food she offers. In this case, Teapot refused the oleomargarine his mother had failed to mix with the yellow powder before spreading his bread and adding the sugar. Mothers who had once had to defend their roles from Sula’s scorn and their children from Sula’s rumored harm now had no cause to protect their offspring. Daughters who had cared for their mothers because of Sula’s poor example now again felt resentment toward their elders. Wives no longer coddled their mates and Negroes from Canada began again to claim superiority over those born in the South.
Hunger, disease, and cold weather increased the bad temper in the Bottom. Even the fact that four black men received interviews for employment at the tunnel site did not relieve this mean-spiritedness. Hope seemed imminent, however. On January 1 the temperature rose to 61 degrees. On January 2 one could see some patches of grass in the pastures. On January 3 Shadrack brought his bell and his rope and recited his annual request.
Shadrack had changed. He drank less frequently, but his stupors were deeper. He had improved. In fact, as he improved, he even began to feel the emotion of loneliness. His habits of cleanliness, learned in the military, deteriorated. A bird flew into his shack and stayed for an hour before it flew out again. Shadrack grieved for the bird.
Shadrack focused on the purple-and-white belt left by a young girl many years before. He remembered the visit from this girl and his word of “Always” to her. He meant this word as a reassurance to her about death and a promise of permanency for her even after death.
Shadrack saw Sula on a table in Mr. Hodges’ home. He learned his visitor, his guest, his friend had died. For the first time since his return from France, he did not want to celebrate National Suicide Day.
The next morning, however, he began his ritual walk down Carpenter’s Road with very little enthusiasm. For the first time his walk met with laughter. Dessie started the laughter. Ivy picked up the derision. Soon all the people standing on the road to watch the march were laughing. Dessie fell in line behind him first; others joined the parade. The parade seemed to give them hope...
(The entire section is 1,867 words.)