Chapter 9: 1940 Summary and Analysis
Nathan: the school-age child who checks on Sula and who runs errands for her periodically; discovers her lifeless body.
After three years, Nel was at last going to meet with Sula face-to-face. She would say that she had heard Sula was sick and would ask if there was anything she could do for her. She practiced her words and would try to insert no inflection into the statements. Yet there would be resentment and shame in her heart when she spoke. She thought of the black rose that Jude had kissed and of her own almost selfish love of her children. For these children Nel had cleaned houses and worked as a chambermaid in the same hotel where Jude had once worked.
At 7 Carpenter’s Road, Nel saw Sula’s rose, her thin arms, and the bedroom window through which Eva had jumped. Sula asked Nel to pick up a prescription for her as if no time had passed since they last spoke.
The medicine that Sula asked Nel to have filled was a powerful pain-relieving drug. Sula had instructions not to use the medication until the pain was unbearable. Sula gave Nel no money to pay for the medicine; in fact, Nel noticed that the purse holding the prescription was empty except for a watch.
In her errand, Nel walked the street that she and Sula walked years before. She passed the place where she first heard words from Ajax. Sula, meanwhile, wondered why Nel had come.
Upon Nel’s return they first discussed Sula’s staying alone and working. Sula remarked that work was good for Nel but that she herself would not work. Nel remarked that Sula never had to work.
Nel said she could not act like a man. Sula retorted that she was “a woman and colored” and asked if that was not the same as being a man. Nel told Sula that Sula would not think that being a woman and colored was the same as being a man if she had children. Sula remarked that if she had children she really would be like a man; every man she had ever known had left his children.
Nel chastised Sula for knowing everything and for not knowing what Nel had gone through. In response, Sula said that she knew what every colored woman was doing: dying, the same as she was. Sula said, however, that there was a difference: She was like a redwood while other women were like stumps. She likened herself to a redwood because of what was going on in her mind and because of the life that she had lived. Sula concluded by saying that she had herself.
Nel flippantly remarked that it must be lonely for Sula with just herself. Sula said that it was, but that she was responsible for her loneliness; Nel, on the other hand, blamed someone else for her loneliness. Sula called Nel’s feelings a secondhand kind of loneliness. Even though Nel did not know the physical condition of Sula, she decided to go ahead and tell “the truth.” Nel said she was at last able to understand why Sula had been unable to keep a man, but she always knew how she could take a man.
When Sula asked what was she supposed to do (keep a man), Nel responded that men were worth keeping. Sula retorted that men were not worth more than she herself was. Nel said that Sula thought she owned the world and the rest of the people just rented. Nel went on to say that she had not come for “this kind of talk,” but had come to see about Sula; because Sula had opened things up, however, Nel asked why she had done it.
Sula responded that Jude had merely filled a space. Nel, horrified, asked if Sula had taken Jude without even loving him and why Sula had done that to her. Sula, matter-of-factly, said loving someone was like being mean to someone: risky. Sula said she had not taken Jude away; she had merely had intercourse with him. Sula said that if Nel had really loved her as a true friend, Nel would have forgiven her.
Nel reminded Sula that she was in a bed without a friend or any money and she was expecting others to love her. Sula predicted that in time others would love her. Sula said that at some time in the future there would be love...
(The entire section is 2,563 words.)