Sula Chapter 8: 1939 Summary and Analysis
by Toni Morrison

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Chapter 8: 1939 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Teapot: five-year-old son of Betty

Betty: often called Teapot’s Mama because mothering was her major failure in life; reforms and becomes a good mother for a while; relapses

Mr. Finley: was sucking on a chicken bone when he saw Sula and choked

Dessie: Big Daughter Elk; saw Shadrack tip his imaginary hat to Sula and developed a sty on her eye afterward

Ivy and Cora: Dessie’s friends

Ajax’s mother: the only thing Ajax had ever loved besides airplanes

The people of the Bottom talked about Sula. They were angry with her for taking Eva to Sunnydale and for leaving with Jude. Sula soon ditched Jude and he went to Detroit. Sula returned to the Bottom. Residents of the Bottom forgot their own easy ways and called Sula a bitch.

The people of the Bottom had the same venom toward integration as the white people. The men in the Bottom gave Sula the final label—the label which would remain with her for life; the conclusive fingerprint, the black men of the Bottom said, was that Sula would sleep with white men. There was nothing filthier in the eyes of the blacks than this integration. The people of the Bottom insisted that any union between a white man and a black woman was rape. For a black woman to agree to such a union was unthinkable.

The rumor may not have been true, but it could have been. After this label, the women pursed their lips, the children looked away with shame, and the young men fantasized torture for Sula whenever she came in sight.

The people did not try to harm her. They merely looked at evil and let it exist. They did sprinkle salt on their steps and lay broomsticks across their doors at night. They watched her carefully and things began to happen.

First, Teapot, the five-year-old of a negligent mother named Betty, came to ask for bottles from Sula. He slipped and fell. Betty was coming home drunk and saw Teapot on the ground. She told everyone that Sula pushed Teapot. Betty took Teapot to the county hospital. For two dollars she found out that Teapot had a fracture resulting in part from his soft bones, a result of inadequate nutrition. Betty became a devoted mother. She became clean and sober. She began to prepare breakfast instead of
sending Teapot to get a breakfast of candy and pop.

Second, Mr. Finley was on his porch sucking on a chicken bone when Sula passed by. He looked at her, choked, and died.

Sula continued to antagonize the people of the Bottom. She came to church suppers with no underwear and did not praise the food the people prepared. Sula used the husbands. She took the men once and then cast them aside; her rejection disturbed the wives. The wives had to comfort their husbands and to justify their own choice of their husbands to themselves and others.

Sula did not look her age. She was near 30 and yet she had lost no teeth. She had no ring of fat at her waist and no bruises on her body. The rumor was that she had had no childhood disease. She had no scar on her body except for a deformed finger and a birthmark. The men reported that no gnats or mosquitoes came near Sula in the summer. When the people of the Bottom looked at the mark over Sula’s eye, they decided the mark looked like Hannah’s ashes.

The people of the Bottom had other rumors to report about Sula. Patsy reported that even when Sula drank beer she did not burp. Dessie saw Shadrack tip his imaginary hat to Sula and afterward Dessie developed a sty for the first time in her life. Dessie identified Sula as the source of her misfortune.

The people of the Bottom, as a result of Sula, began to protect and love each other again. They repaired their homes against the devil and loved each other against the evil one. They did not try to kill or destroy the devil, however. They considered such actions both unnatural and undignified things to do. They believed that they had to be provoked to kill on impulse; otherwise evil was, to the people of the Bottom, something they had to recognize, deal with, survive, outwit, and triumph over...

(The entire section is 2,600 words.)