Chapter 8: 1939 Summary

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The residents of the Bottom spoke poorly about Sula, expressing their anger towards her for taking Eva to Sunnydale and leaving with Jude. However, Sula soon left Jude, who went to Detroit, and returned to the Bottom. The people of the Bottom abandoned their usual friendly demeanor and began to refer to Sula as a "bitch."

The residents of the Bottom shared the same hostile attitude towards integration as the white people. The men in the Bottom gave Sula a permanent label, a mark that stayed with her for the rest of her life. To them, her most defining characteristic was her willingness to sleep with white men, and they abhorred her for it. To the Black men of the Bottom, integration was vile, relationships between white men and black women were akin to rape, and Black women were not permitted to willingly engage in such relationships. 

While the rumor of Sula’s dalliances with white men was not confirmed, the label led to her ostracization. Women pursed their lips at her in disapproval, children looked away in embarrassment, and young men dreamed of inflicting pain upon her. Despite their distaste, the people of the Bottom did not actively try to harm Sula. However, they did take precautionary measures, such as sprinkling salt on their doorstep and placing broomsticks across their doors at night. They kept a close eye on her, and strange things began to occur.

Teapot, a five-year-old boy raised by his neglectful mother, Betty, visited Sula and asked for bottles to recycle. While visiting, he slipped and fell; Betty accused Sula of pushing him, then took him to the county hospital, where she discovered that Teapot had a fracture, which was partially caused by malnutrition. Following this revelation, Betty turned over a new leaf, giving up alcohol and drugs, and started making breakfast for Teapot instead of letting him go out for junk food. In another instance, Mr. Finley was sitting on his porch gnawing on a chicken bone when Sula walked by. Upon seeing her, he choked on the bone and passed away.

Sula continued to provoke the residents of the Bottom. She attended church suppers without any underwear and did not express appreciation for the food they served. She had short-lived affairs with many women’s husbands and caused much distress to these wives who had to balance their feelings with their husband’s anguish at Sula’s rejection. 

Sula appeared younger than she was; at close to thirty, she was unmarred by time. Rumor had it that she never suffered childhood diseases or injury and that the birthmark above her eye was the manifestation of Hannah’s ashes. The residents of the Bottom continued to spread ridiculous gossip about Sula. Patsy claimed that even when Sula consumed beer, she never burped. Dessie witnessed Shadrack tipping an imaginary hat towards Sula, and soon after, she developed a sty for the first time in her life and attributed it to Sula's influence.

As the people of the Bottom closed ranks against Sula, they began to nurture and cherish each other; they fortified their homes against evil and focused on building relationships that she could not ruin. Like the robins Sula brought with her, however, they did not attempt to shoo away the evil plaguing them. Just as before, the residents of the Bottom believed that evil was something they needed to acknowledge and overcome.

Most of the claims against Sula were baseless, but the Bottom’s perspective toward her was not entirely incorrect. She was often selfish and had no motivation to make others happy unless it pleased her too. She was...

(This entire section contains 1157 words.)

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as open to experiencing pain as she was to inflicting it, and her life was an exploration of boundaries and borders, keeping herself entertained by testing the limits of herself and others. Sula only felt a sense of obligation once, after Chicken Little's death, but Nel helped her overcome it. Generally, Sula was unable to depend on herself or others; she had Eva's pride and Hannah's self-absorption.

It becomes obvious that Sula did not intend to cause harm to Nel. She saw most relationships as transient and unimportant, failing to realize that her old friend did not see things the same way. During her travels throughout the U.S., Sula determined that nearly all people were alike and longed for a true friend. She explains that she felt like an artist without a medium and missed the friendship of her youth. Despite her callous nature and unique outlook, Sula found it difficult to lie.

Hannah’s promiscuity left an indelible mark on Sula. She saw sex as a wicked joke and rejected the idea that sex could be beautiful or positive. Despite her negative view of sex, she felt drawn to it, feeling a sense of strength and power in the misery and sadness sex evoked in her. During sex, she experienced an overpowering sense of loneliness and disassociation and would often cry. Even though sex evoked these strange feelings, she sought it time and again because she enjoyed the powerful emotional wave that it brought roaring over her. 

At twenty-nine, Sula invited Ajax—now a twenty-one-year-old man—into the pantry that Hannah had once brought men to. For some time, Ajax visited Sula regularly, bearing gifts like berries, fried fish, ice, cleaner, and other small trinkets. Ajax was a troubled man who often acted erratically and violently, a trait he attributed to his mother. She was a wicked practitioner of magic and a mother of seven who made a decent living through her practice. Growing up with her led Ajax to treat women poorly, as he felt they could never measure up to his mother. 

However, Sula enjoyed her time with Ajax, as they were able to have engaging conversations. He had high expectations of her intellect and she lived up to them. Several factors attracted Sula to Ajax: he made her feel comfortable and freely shared his knowledge of the plants and "fixes” his mother taught him. He did not overly pamper her and, despite his occasional aggression, was known for his generosity. Sula found herself unexpectedly drawn to Ajax, and her desire for him to view her favorably was a novel sensation. 

One day, Ajax visited Sula and told her that Tar Baby had wobbled into the street, drunk, and been hit by a car driven by the mayor’s niece. Rather than being taken to a hospital, the police arrested the innocent man, then beat and imprisoned him. Ajax fought for Tar Baby’s freedom, and a court date was set for Thursday. 

Feeling guilty for Tar Baby’s injuries—with Eva gone, there was no one to look out for him—Sula searches for more information about the man. In a drawer, she finds his driver’s license and learns his full name, Albert Jacks, for the first time. 


Chapter 7: 1937 Summary


Chapter 9: 1940 Summary