Sula Chapter 3: 1921 Summary and Analysis
by Toni Morrison

Start Your Free Trial

Download Sula Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Chapter 3: 1921 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
BoyBoy: Eva’s husband and Sula’s grandfather

Pearl: Eva’s daughter; real name is Eva; younger than Hannah; aunt of Sula; married at 14 and moved to Flint, Michigan

Plum: Eva’s son; real name is Ralph

Suggs family: gave food to Eva and her children; gave castor oil to Eva when Plum was constipated; poured water on Hannah when fire consumed her

Mr. and Mrs. Jackson: gave milk to Eva and her children

Eva’s adopted children: all three named dewey; one with red hair and freckles, one half-Mexican, one deeply black; no individuality of mind

Rekus: husband of Hannah; father of Sula; died when Sula was three

Tar Baby: along with the deweys, first to follow Shadrack; came in 1920; had some—or all—white blood; mountain boy; alcoholic

Mrs. Reed: teacher; gave all three deweys the last name of King and the same age

Buckland Reed: husband of the teacher, Mrs. Reed; takes numbers from the residents of the Bottom; makes a comment about Eva’s leg being worth $10,000

Sula Peace lived in a house built to the specifications of her grandmother, Eva Peace. Eva was the African-American owner who added to the house over a five-year period. Her whims and requirements changed during this time. Some rooms had three doors; others, only one. Some rooms opened onto porches; some had no entrances from the inside.

Eva’s husband was BoyBoy. They had three children: Hannah, Eva (also known as Pearl), and Ralph (also called Plum). BoyBoy did what he liked: womanize, abuse Eva, and drink. He left Eva after five years of marriage; she had only five eggs, $1.65, three children, and three beets.

Eva depended on neighbors like the Suggs family and the Jacksons for food and milk. One night after helping Plum end a bout of severe constipation, Eva left the children with the Suggs family “for a day.” Eighteen months later she came back with one leg, two crutches, a new pocketbook, and fanciful tales about the loss of her leg. Eva gave Mrs. Suggs $10.00 and began building a house near the cabin where she and BoyBoy had lived. She rented the cabin which now had an outhouse, although it did not have one for the first year she and BoyBoy had occupied it.

BoyBoy returned to visit when Plum was three. Uncertain of her emotions, Eva served BoyBoy lemonade. They talked politely for a while until he, with his smell of money and new clothes, returned to his city woman who waited for him under the pear tree. Eva now felt toward BoyBoy only one emotion: hate. She began to retreat to her room and left only once after the year 1910. On that occasion Eva started a fire, the smell of which remained in her hair for months.

In 1921, Eva took in three children she saw from the balcony. She named all three dewey. The three deweys were inseparable. She also took in a man she called Tar Baby. He was interested only in drink. He and the three deweys eventually became the first to join Shadrack in the celebration of National Suicide Day.

Like their mother, the Peace women loved men. Pearl married at 14 and moved to Flint, Michigan. Hannah married Rekus, who fathered Sula. Rekus died when Sula was three. Sula is aware of the fact that her mother begins to entertain men in their home; she sees her mother enter the pantry with men. From Hannah, Sula learns that sex is pleasant, frequent, and unremarkable.

Eva’s last child was Ralph, or Plum. Plum went to war in 1917. When he returned in 1919, he did not come directly home. He spoke little, slept a lot, stole from his family, and became very thin. Hannah found a bent spoon which was black from cooking (a sign of drug abuse).

One night, Eva went to Plum’s room, gathered Plum in her arms, and rocked him. She got some items from the kitchen and returned to his room. She doused him with kerosene and set him on fire.

Conflict is the distinguishing feature of this chapter. It is the desire for resolution of conflict in the plot that keeps the reader attentive to Sula. There are many types of conflict in “1921.”

(The entire section is 2,004 words.)