"Sula" by Toni Morrison, 1940–1965

Nel Wright and Sula Peace are close friends growing up in a town called The Bottom, but tragedy and a terrible secret send their lives in different directions.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Prologue–1920, 1921, 1922–1927, 1937–1939, 1940–1965

Here are links to our lists for other books by Toni Morrison: Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Jazz

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. timbre
    the distinctive property of a complex sound
    It brought her to Number 7 Carpenter’s Road and the door with the blue glass; it helped her to resist scratching the screen as in days gone by; it hid from her the true motives for her charity, and, finally, it gave her voice the timbre she wanted it to have: free of delight or a lip-smacking “I told you so” with which the news of Sula’s illness had been received up in the Bottom—free of the least hint of retribution.
  2. prescription
    written instructions from a doctor to a druggist
    I got a prescription. Nathan usually goes for me but he...school don't let out till three.
  3. medicine
    something that treats or prevents symptoms of disease
    Now Nel was going back there alone and Sula was waiting for the medicine the doctor said not to take until the pain got really bad.
  4. bored
    uninterested because of frequent exposure or indulgence
    She looked bored as she sucked her teeth.
  5. billow
    rise and move, as in waves
    The house billowed around her light then dark, full of presences without sounds.
  6. gloat
    dwell on with satisfaction
    She wondered for an instant what Nellie wanted; why she had come. Did she want to gloat?
  7. finality
    the quality of being definitely settled
    The sealed window soothed her with its sturdy termination, its unassailable finality.
  8. cemetery
    a tract of land used for burials
    Of the few who were not afraid to witness the burial of a witch and who had gone to the cemetery, some had come just to verify her being put away but stayed to sing “Shall We Gather at the River” for politeness’ sake, quite unaware of the bleak promise of their song.
  9. determination
    firmness of purpose
    Others came to see that nothing went awry, that the shallow- minded and small-hearted kept their meanness at bay, and that the entire event be characterized by that abiding gentleness of spirit to which they themselves had arrived by the simple determination not to let anything—anything at all: not failed crops, not rednecks, lost jobs, sick children, rotten potatoes, broken pipes, bug-ridden flour, third-class coal, educated social workers, thieving insurance men, garlic-ridden hunkies, corrupt
  10. abandoned
    forsaken by owner or inhabitants
    The rumor that the tunnel spanning the river would use Negro workers became an announcement. Planned, abandoned and replanned for years, this project had finally begun in 1937.
  11. jug
    a large bottle with a narrow mouth
    Cider turned to ice and split the jugs, forcing the men to drink their cane liquor too soon.
  12. malevolence
    wishing evil to others
    Other mothers who had defended their children from Sula’s malevolence (or who had defended their positions as mothers from Sula’s scorn for the role) now had nothing to rub up against.
  13. scorn
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    Other mothers who had defended their children from Sula’s malevolence (or who had defended their positions as mothers from Sula’s scorn for the role) now had nothing to rub up against.
  14. ruckus
    the act of making a noisy disturbance
    Some of them had a bottle of wine, which they drank at the feet of the glittering Mr. Ritter, making such a ruckus the manager had to put them out.
  15. patch
    a small area of ground covered by specific vegetation
    On January second drab patches of grass could be seen in the fields.
  16. calendar
    a tabular array of the days, usually for one year
    During those days of waiting, he did not make his bed, or sweep, or shake out the little rag-braid rug, and almost forgot to slash with his fish knife the passing day on his calendar.
  17. loneliness
    sadness resulting from being forsaken or abandoned
    His loneliness had dropped down some-where around his ankles.
  18. shield
    protect, hide, or conceal from danger or harm
    Said that Dessie had opened her door first and stood there shielding her eyes from the sun while watching Shadrack coming down the road.
  19. flock
    (often followed by `of') a large number or amount or extent
    Everybody, Dessie, Tar Baby, Patsy, Mr. Buckland Reed, Teapot’s Mamma, Valentine, the deweys, Mrs. Jackson, Irene, the proprietor of the Palace of Cosmetology, Reba, the Herrod brothers and flocks of teengers got into the mood and, laughing, dancing, calling to one another, formed a pied piper’s band behind Shadrack.
  20. timber
    a beam made of wood
    At the mouth of the tunnel excavation, in a fever pitch of excitement and joy, they saw the timber, the bricks, the steel ribs and the tacky wire gate that glittered under ice struck to diamond in the sun.
  21. shift
    move abruptly
    The earth, now warm, shifted; the first forepole slipped; loose rock fell from the face of the tunnel and caused a shield to give way.
  22. register
    a cashbox with an adding machine to add up the bill
    You could go downtown and see colored people working in the dime store behind the counters, even handling money with cash-register keys around their necks.
  23. widow
    a woman whose husband is dead, especially if not remarried
    Even the whores were better then: tough, fat, laughing women with bums on their cheeks and wit married to their mean-ness: or widows couched in small houses in the woods with eight children to feed and no man.
  24. flaccid
    out of condition
    Without her mockery, affection for others sank into flaccid disrepair.
  25. rambunctious
    noisy and lacking in restraint or discipline
    For even when China, the most rambunctious whore in the town, died (whose black son and white son said, when they heard she was dying, “She ain’t dead yet?”), even then everybody stopped what they were doing and turned out in numbers to put the fallen sister away.

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