Chapter 4: 1922 Summary

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Every day, the male residents of the Bottom gathered on a four-block stretch of Carpenter’s Road to observe girls and women walk by. The older men were polite and reminisced about the past, often tipping their hats. However, the younger men would make suggestive gestures and catcall women as they passed. Regardless of how they speak to the women passing by, all the men stare longingly.

One such man, Ajax, was known for his crude language and was often seen hanging out on Carpenter’s Road. Though some of the words he used were not particularly offensive, his manner of speaking gave him a reputation for being vulgar. One day, when Nel and Sula walked past, pretending to be on their way to buy ice cream, Ajax called out "Pig meat." This made the two twelve-year-old girls very happy, as they felt that his catcalling meant that they were attractive and therefore valuable. 

Four Irish boys often hung out on Carpenter’s Road; they were known for tormenting school-aged girls by trying to grab them, tear their clothes, and harass them in any number of demeaning ways. Sula and Nel usually avoided these boys by taking different, longer routes home. However, one day Sula convinced Nel to take the shortest route with her. Inevitably, the boys began following them. However, to demonstrate her fearlessness and warn them of what she was capable of doing to them, Sula sliced off the tip of her finger. Scared by the demonstration, the boys fled.

Helene desperately desires for her daughter to be pretty. Every Saturday, she made Nel use a hot comb to straighten her hair. Every night, she sent Nel to bed with a clothespin on her nose in hopes of making it narrower. Helene’s view of beauty is restrictive and limited, and Nel slowly begins to rebel. After a conversation with Sula, Nel started to hide the pin beneath the covers each night.

On a hot summer day, Sula and Nel decided to follow some boys to a lake. When Sula went back to her house for a bathroom break, she overheard her mother saying that while she loved her daughter, she did not like her. This comment hurt Sula deeply, but she kept it to herself and didn't tell Nel.

Once arriving at the lake, the girls built two pits filled with glass, rocks, leaves, and other objects. They climbed a tree with a local boy named Chicken Little and while playing, Sula swung him around and lost her grip, causing Chicken Little to fall into the lake and drown.

Sula worried that someone may have witnessed the accident at the lake. She went to check if Shadrack might have seen what had happened. She came upon his cabin and, when he caught her off guard, she turned to ask him a question, but instead, he answered the question she never posed with the word "Always." Nel comforted Sula, assuring her that the drowning of Chicken Little was not her fault.

The white men of Medallion did not see Chicken Little’s death or his family's sorrow as important, so it took three days for his body to be returned to his family. At the funeral, the girls appeared deeply affected by the loss.

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Chapter 3: 1921 Summary


Chapter 5: 1923 Summary