Chapter 4: 1922 Summary and Analysis
Ajax: 21-year-old man with sinister beauty; a frequenter of the pool halls; calls Sula “Pig meat” when he sees her; Sula’s lover
Chicken Little: a little boy whom Sula swings around; drowns when he slips from Sula’s hands and goes into the lake
Patsy and Valentine: Hannah’s two friends who are visiting with her the day Chicken Little drowned
Four white, Irish boys: newly arrived residents of the Bottom; taunted the girls
Bargeman: the one who found Chicken Little’s body
The men in the community of the Bottom had a frequent haunt to watch girls and women pass. They squatted on Carpenter’s Road, the four blocks of business in the neighborhood. The old men were now kind and remembered the days past; they often tipped their hats. The young men opened and closed their thighs. All stared at the girls and women as they passed.
Ajax was one of the young men who frequented the area and hurled epithets. Often the words he used were harmless, but his way of saying them gave him a reputation of having a foul mouth. When Nel and Sula deliberately pass these boys and men on the excuse of wanting to get ice cream—which it was really too cool to enjoy—Ajax called out the words, “Pig meat.” The two 12-year-olds were delighted.
Four Irish boys often followed the girls from school and even tried to pass them from hand to hand, tear their clothes, and do anything else they were able to do to harass them. Sula, with her birthmark that looked like a long-stemmed rose, and Nel, with her developing body, usually avoided the path the boys might take. One day, however, Sula persuaded Nel to take the shortest way home with her. When the boys began to follow them, Sula cut off the tip of her finger in order to show the boys her lack of fear and what she could do to them.
Nel’s mother wanted her daughter to be attractive. Each Saturday she had Nel use the hot comb. Each night she sent Nel to bed with a clothespin on her nose. Nel began to slip the pin under the cover each night after she met Sula.
One hot summer day the girls decided to follow the boys to the lake. Sula slipped back into her house to use the bathroom and heard her mother say that she did not like her daughter even though she loved her. Sula was very upset, but she did not tell Nel what she heard.
When the girls arrived at the lake, they dug two holes and put in glass, rocks, leaves, and other debris. They climbed a tree with Chicken Little. Sula took him by his arms and swung him around; Chicken Little slipped from her arms, flew into the lake, and drowned.
Sula was afraid that someone had seen. She ran to see if Shadrack could have observed what happened. She found Shadrack’s cabin. When he surprised her, she turned to ask him a question. He, however, answered a question she had never asked. His answer was, “Always.”
Nel assured Sula that she had not meant to drown Chicken. Nel said that it was not Sula’s fault. Nel was also very concerned because Sula had lost her belt.
Because of the unimportance the white men placed on the child’s dead body and his family’s feelings, it was three days before the family received Chicken’s body. At the funeral, the girls appeared deeply moved. The women acknowledged that the only way to escape the hand of God was to get in it. The girls held each other’s hands tightly. Gradually their hand clasp loosened, and they appeared like any other young girls.
Morrison makes use of many stylistic devices in this chapter. When Sula enters Shadrack’s cabin, Morrison uses personification: “…heard the hinges weep.” She uses imagery, for instance, when she describes Nel and Sula as “wishbone thin.” Dialect is evident as Chicken says “I’m a tell my brovver.” She uses alliteration when she writes “the neatness, the order startled her, but more surprising was the restfulness.” A metaphor is evident when the writer describes Nel and Sula walking through a “valley of eyes.” Morrison uses contrasts to...
(The entire section is 1,739 words.)