Study Guide

Sula 1941

By Toni Morrison


  • It's probably no surprise that the people in the Bottom don't mourn Sula's death. In fact, many feel "that either because Sula was dead or just after she was dead a brighter day was dawning" (1941.2).
  • They hear that Black workers will be hired to work on a new tunnel, and Eva is moved from Beechnut to a new senior's home. People take this as "a clear sign of the mystery of God's ways" (1941.3), and they begin to feel hopeful again now that Sula is gone.
  • But then a harsh winter sets in, and everything turns to ice. Crops are destroyed, animals die, the residents of the Bottom get sick from the cold, and no one can earn any money since they can't get to their jobs. Soon everyone in the Bottom starts to suffer from "a restless irritability" (1941.8) that has to do with Sula's absence.
  • When Sula was alive, there was something they could all rally against, someone they could compare themselves to and try to be better than. But after Sula's death, "The tension was gone and so was the reason for the effort they had made" (1941.8). So they stop trying to be good mothers and daughters, stop doting on their husbands and wives, since they no longer need to protect themselves from what they considered Sula's evil ways.
  • This general sense of irritability continues through the end of the year, but then January third comes around, National Suicide Day, and the sun emerges, along with Shadrack.
  • Shadrack doesn't really want to march through the town this year. He has actually started to desire the company of his neighbors, and he recalls the only visitor he ever had in his home: a young Sula, who came to his house the day of Chicken Little's death.
  • She lost her belt that day, and Shadrack has kept it nailed to the wall ever since as a reminder of the little girl who had "a tadpole over her eye" (1941.12). He remembers that "that was how he knew she was a friend – she had the mark of the fish he loved" (1941.12).
  • He recalls saying "always" to her "to convince her, assure her, of permanency" (1941.12), and in his memory this cheered her up. He wants to stay home and think about his only visitor, but he marches into town the next day, as he does every year.
  • But this Suicide Day is like no other. Normally no one ever joins Shadrack on his march through town, but this year—perhaps because the sun has finally come out—nearly all of the Bottom comes out to walk with him. The crowd gets larger and larger as it marches toward the tunnel that had promised them work.
  • The crowd starts to destroy the supplies and tools near the tunnel, and "they killed, as best they could, the tunnel they were forbidden to build" (1941.27).
  • As their anger reaches a fever pitch, they enter the tunnel, but the ground isn't stable. Rocks start to fall around them. A few people escape, but most die in the tunnel. All Shadrack can do is watch, and "Having forgotten his song and his rope, he just stood there up on the bank ringing, ringing his bell" (1941.30).