Chapter 10: 1941 Summary

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Sula’s death was considered fantastic news by the Bottom community; many attended her funeral, but their reasons varied. Some wished to see a witch buried, while others wanted to ensure that her last rites were conducted with dignity and gentleness. After Sula's death, many believed that a brighter future lay ahead for the Bottom—the announcement of a new tunnel and the construction of a new home for the elderly were seen as signs of this. 

The construction of the tunnel was seen as a chance to provide work for the black population. Although the River Road was built with only white labor, the government appeared to be open to the idea of hiring black workers, which further added to the hope and optimism in the Bottom. The refurbishment of the senior citizen's home was received with joy in the Bottom because it would allow black people to live there. 

The residents of Medallion and the Bottom faced a harsh winter; cold temperatures made life difficult in their poorly insulated homes and inadequate clothing. Work came to a halt, and they had limited means to purchase necessities. Thanksgiving brought poor-quality food, which led to illness among the young and old. To make matters worse, violence and death were upon them, a pattern that started when Betty beat Teapot for refusing to eat the food she offered. Betty’s actions caused mothers to no longer feel the need to protect their children, daughters to resent their mothers, wives to stop coddling their partners, and negroes from Canada to again assert superiority over those born in the South.

These harsh conditions worsened the residents' moods. Despite the fact that four black men were given the opportunity to interview for jobs at the tunnel construction site, the community's negative attitude persisted. However, there were signs of hope. The temperature rose to 61 degrees on January 1, and patches of grass could be seen in the pastures on January 2. On January 3, Shadrack arrived with his bell and rope and repeated his yearly request.

This year’s celebration was different, as Shadrack found himself mourning Sula, the young girl who, many years earlier, to whom he had spoken a single word, “Always.”. To keep his promise, he celebrates National Suicide Day, but he lacks his usual excitement. For the first time, residents met his ritual with laughter rather than judgment, and his march seemed to provide a sense of hope and joy that had long been missing in the Bottom.

Helene, however, observed the parade with her characteristic disdain. A few of those who participated started to abandon the parade as they approached the white neighborhood. Nevertheless, the majority carried on their procession down Main Street, by Woolworth's, and beyond the old house for poultry. The participants then took a right turn and headed towards New River Road.

At the tunnel, the marchers became silent. Enraged by their exclusion from the jobs created by the tunnel’s construction, they continued forward, entered the half-construction tunnel, and raided the site for materials. As they did so, the tunnel spontaneously caved in, the walls crumbling beneath a slew of ice, water, and mud. Many of the marchers were crushed beneath the rubble, and others drowned in the rapid flooding. Outside of the tunnel, Shadrack continued to ring his bell but realized midway through that he had forgotten the tune he played for so many years.

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Chapter 9: 1940 Summary


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