Chapter 7: 1937 Summary and Analysis
John L. and Shirley: a couple Sula and Nel remember from their youth
Laura: the helper who had been living with Eva, Sula, the deweys, and Tar Baby
Mrs. Rayford: the next-door neighbor to Nel and Jude
Accompanied by a plague of robins, Sula returned to the Bottom ten years after the wedding of Nel and Jude. The people of the Bottom did nothing to rid themselves of the plague. Their attitude was that one must learn to withstand evil.
Eva reprimanded Sula for staying away for ten years and suggested that Sula had only contacted her when she needed something. The argument escalated and Sula stated that Eva put her leg under a train to collect the insurance money; Eva denied the story and reminded Sula to honor her father and mother. Sula said that her mother must not have honored her parents because her days were short; to this, Eva responded, “‘Pus mouth! God’s going to strike you!’” Sula asked if Eva were referring to the same god that had watched Eva burn her son. The argument became even more intense. Eva admitted seeing Sula watch Hannah burn. In the heat of the argument Sula threatened to burn Eva.
Eva locked herself in her room, but the lock did not prevent Sula’s inevitable destruction of the older woman. Men came with a stretcher, strapped Eva in, and took her to a home near Beechnut.
Nel looked at the return of Sula with joy. She believed that Sula had brought magic to her life. Sula and Nel discussed and laughed about past times. They laughed about how they had scrambled trying to do “it” and not to do “it” at the same time when they were young. They laughed about John L. and Shirley and how the two had tried to do “it.”
Sula told of asking Laura to leave their home—even though Laura was working without pay. Sula explained to Nel that she had completed college in Nashville during part of the ten years that she was away from the Bottom. Sula said that she had had Eva committed to the home because Sula feared that Eva might burn her, as she had Plum. Sula said that she had witnessed Eva
torching Plum. She asked Nel to help her with cashing Eva’s checks.
Sula was still in Nel’s house when Jude returned from work. Jude told of some insults at work, but before Nel could commiserate, Sula began to explain that whites respected black men in many ways. Jude commented that he could do without respect that resulted in the loss of his privates. Jude’s thoughts were that Sula could not stimulate a man’s body, but she might stimulate his mind.
In the bedroom, Nel caught Sula and Jude kissing without their clothes and on their hands and knees. Jude left with Sula. Nel was devastated—yet she could not cry. Sula had said that Hell was
forever, but Nel found her Hell was change. To cope on a day-to-day basis, Nel found it necessary to avoid the furry, gray ball of string that was in her life.
The setting is an integral part of “1937.” When Sula returns home to her neighborhood in the Bottom, she meets primarily the stares—not the welcomes—of the neighbors. Sula’s reaction to the hills and its residents is that she has managed not to strangle anyone yet. When Nel asks if anyone in the Bottom needs killing, Sula responds that half the town needs killing and the rest of the town is a disease. These reactions to the neighbors foreshadow events to come.
Although the chapter title—like many of the other sections of Sula—seems to suggest a chronological treatment of the material, the reader finds that the arrangement is not sequential. The conversations of Sula and Nel use flashbacks as they recall an earlier time in the same place. Morrison uses foreshadowing which hints of future events through the interpretation of the birthmark over Sula’s eye.
The birthmark begins to change its form in the eye of the beholder. There is symbolism in this mark and its interpretation by others. In the beginning of the chapter, the birthmark looks like a darker rose to Nel; the mark gets...
(The entire section is 1,764 words.)