Study Guide

Sula 1923

By Toni Morrison


  • This chapter features a series of "strange things." Hannah goes into Eva's room and asks, "Mamma, did you ever love us?" (1923. 1).
  • Eva thinks for a moment and replies, "No. I don't reckon I did. Not the way you thinkin'" (1923.4). Hannah seems willing to move on, but the question infuriates Eva. Feeling that she has to explain herself, she reminds Hannah that she fed and clothed the kids, watching over them to make sure they didn't get tuberculosis, and that people were dying all around them back in 1895 when they were still kids.
  • But this is not the love Hannah is really asking about. She wants to know if Eva ever played with them, if they ever shared any tender and happy family moments. Eva gets more and more angry as she remembers how hard her life was and how sick her kids were: "What you talkin' 'bout did I love you girl I stayed alive for you" (1923.25).
  • Then Hannah finally asks Eva about Plum's death, and we learn that Eva did in fact kill him. Hannah wants to know why, and Eva's explanation is a little hard to follow. She tells Hannah how difficult his birth was, that it seemed like he didn't want to come out.
  • When he came home from the war, Eva had the feeling that "he want[ed] to crawl back in [her] womb" (1923.31). She tells Hannah that she just couldn't imagine giving birth to him again, no matter how badly he wanted to return to the womb. So she killed him so "he [could] die like a man not all scrunched up in [her] womb, but like a man" (1923.31).
  • Eva starts to cry as she relates all this to Hannah, and she makes sure to tell Hannah that she "held him close first. Real close. Sweet Plum. My baby boy" (1923.32).
  • A few days later, Hannah tells Eva about a dream she had "of [a] wedding in [a] red dress" (1923.37). Both women know that this means the number will be 522 (they play the numbers in the Bottom). Then they forget about the dream when Sula starts "acting up" (1923.37).
  • The birthmark on her face is "getting darker and looked more and more like a stem and rose" (1923.37). She starts bothering the Deweys and taking food from the newlyweds who live in the house.
  • The next strange event happens when Eva tries to find her comb. As she's looking for it, she sees "Hannah bending to light the yard fire" (1923.41). She can't find her comb anywhere, which is strange because, "Nobody moved stuff in Eva's room except to clean and then they put everything right back" (1923.41).
  • When she finally finds it, she looks outside and sees that Hannah has caught on fire. In a split second, Eva decides to jump out of her top floor window (it would take her too long to get downstairs with her one good leg) and throw herself on her daughter to put the fire out.
  • Eva tries to land on Hannah, but she misses her and "[comes] crashing down some twelve feet from Hannah's smoke" (1923.41). Hannah is in so much pain that she doesn't see Eva next to her and she runs to the neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Suggs, for help. When they see her, they throw her in a tub of water filled with tomatoes, and while the fire does die out, the water turns to steam and "sear[s] to sealing all that was left of the beautiful Hannah Peace" (1923.42).
  • The townspeople come out to see what has happened, and someone finally goes to check on Eva, who is still alive. The ambulance comes and takes both women away. Hannah dies in the ambulance, but Eva survives. As she's recovering in the hospital, she recalls Hannah's dream and realizes that "she should have known" (1923.46) that something horrible was going to happen. She "recalled that weddings always meant death. And the red gown, well that was fire" (1923.46).
  • Eva remembers one more thing about that day that she can't get out of her head. She recalls seeing "Sula standing on the back porch just looking" while her mom was on fire. Her friends offer the likely explanation that Sula "was probably struck dumb, as anybody would be who saw her mamma burn up" (1923.46).
  • But Eva thinks it's something different, and far more disturbing. She thinks "that Sula had watched Hannah burn not because she was paralyzed, but because she was interested" (1923.46). She thinks that Sula wanted to see her mother die.