Sula Book Summary - Sula Book explained in key points
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Sula summary

Toni Morrison

A Novel

3.9 (74 ratings)
23 mins

Brief summary

Sula by Toni Morrison is a powerful novel that explores the complex friendship between two African American women. Set in the 1920s and 1930s, it delves into themes of race, identity, and the consequences of defying societal norms.

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    Part 1

    Our story begins in the Bottom, a neighborhood overlooking the town of Medallion, Ohio. The community is undergoing a transformation – and things don’t look good. Old buildings that used to make up the heart of this African American community are in the process of being leveled. Why? To make room for a golf course – one that will primarily cater to Medallion's white residents. 

    The Bottom is a community that was itself born out of racism – its name stems from a deceptive promise made by a white farmer to his black slave: if the slave worked hard, the master would give him fertile “bottom land” in the valley below. But instead, the slave received a plot in the hills – a very tricky place to farm.

    With all of this as a backdrop, we meet Helene Wright. She was married off by her grandmother Cecile at the young age of 16, and the suitor was none other than Cecile’s great-nephew, Wiley Wright. The life they build together in the Bottom could be called respectable, and, after nine years of marriage, Helene gives birth to a daughter, Nel. Fast forward to 1920, and Helene receives word that her grandmother is gravely ill. She packs her bags and arranges for a train journey to New Orleans with Nel.

    Shortly after boarding the train, however, the reality of racial prejudice in the segregated South rears its ugly head – a white conductor rudely questions their presence in a whites-only carriage. The whole thing happens quickly, with Helene trying to appease the conductor and avoid conflict. But the incident affects Nel deeply – it etches a profound understanding of the lived reality of institutional racism into her young mind. 

    Tragically, they do not make it to New Orleans in time – upon arrival, they learn that Cecile has already passed away. We also meet Helene’s mother Rochelle, who, with her bright yellow dress and intense perfume, strikes Nel as extremely different from her own mother. This unexpected encounter is Nel’s first meeting with her grandmother.

    After the funeral, Nel and Helene return to the Bottom. It’s after this that Nel meets Sula, a girl with a striking birthmark over one of her eyes. Although they’ve never met before, both girls are sure they’ve known of each other’s existence from dreams. They quickly develop a deep friendship.


    We’ve entered a world in which appearances are deceptive – the true value of things, be they land or relationships, is always obscured by social conventions or personal traumas. This manifests in the transformation of the Bottom from a vibrant community into a homogeneous golf course – it encapsulates an extended metaphor for loss of identity that continues throughout the novel. After all, it’s not just land that’s being lost – it’s also culture, history, and a way of life that can't simply be replaced, along with all the trauma this connotes. This ties in with Helene and Nel’s encounter with racial prejudice and the complications of family – these also link in with intergenerational trauma, as well as questions of identity. All of these characters begin to paint a picture of the complex community that is the Bottom – and the stage is now set for the unfolding friendship of young Nel and Sula.

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    What is Sula about?

    Sula (1973) invites you into the lives of Sula Peace and Nel Wright, childhood friends whose lives take sharply different paths. Their story explores friendship, betrayal, and identity, as well as examining life in a quiet African American town in the 1920s.

    Sula Review

    Sula (1973) by Toni Morrison is a thought-provoking novel that explores the complexities of friendship, identity, and the consequences of individual choices. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • With its richly developed characters and intricate relationships, it offers a profound examination of human emotions and motivations.
    • The book delves into themes of race, gender, and societal expectations, making it a relevant and compelling read that sparks conversations and self-reflection.
    • Through its vivid and evocative language, Sula transports readers into a world of raw truths and moral dilemmas, ensuring that its pages are never dull or predictable.

    Who should read Sula?

    • Avid readers of literary masterpieces
    • Anyone interested in themes of race, gender, or identity
    • Enthusiasts of African American history and culture

    About the Author

    Toni Morrison was an American novelist, essayist, and teacher, known for her complex narratives about the African American experience. Among her celebrated works are Beloved and The Bluest Eye, both of which delve into themes of identity, community, and historical legacy. Morrison’s influential career culminated with her winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.

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    Sula FAQs 

    What is the main message of Sula?

    The main message of Sula is that life is complex and often filled with contradictions.

    How long does it take to read Sula?

    The reading time for Sula varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Sula a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Sula is a thought-provoking read that explores themes of identity, friendship, and societal norms. It's definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of Sula?

    Sula is a novel written by Toni Morrison.

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