Sula

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The elderly matriarch of the Peace family, Eva Peace is an impressive, capable, and fiercely devoted mother and grandmother. As a young woman, she marries BoyBoy, but after BoyBoy leaves her, she throws herself into the task of raising her three children, Plum, Pearl, and Hannah. On many occasions, Eva is shown to be willing to sacrifice her own health and happiness to ensure the survival of her children—indeed, it’s suggested that she cuts off her own leg in order to collect an expensive insurance policy, and spends the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Eva is highly admired in the Bottom, and is given the important task of naming babies. In spite of her capacity to help and care for others, Eva is also capable of acts of great cruelty and spite, and some acts that could be interpreted as cruel or spiteful. When her youngest and seemingly favorite child, Plum, returns from World War I with a heroin addiction, Eva burns him alive rather than see him live his life in pain. Later, when she’s nearly 90 years old, Eva is sent to live in a retirement home, where she spends the rest of her days at first remembering, but then slowly forgetting, her own long life.

Eva Peace Quotes in Sula

The Sula quotes below are all either spoken by Eva Peace or refer to Eva Peace . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race and Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage International edition of Sula published in 2004.
1921 Quotes

Slowly each boy came out of whatever cocoon he was in at the time his mother or somebody gave him away, and accepted Eva's view, becoming in fact as well as in name a dewey—joining with the other two to become a trinity with a plural name... inseparable, loving nothing and no one but themselves. When the handle from the icebox fell off, all the deweys got whipped, and in dry-eyed silence watched their own feet as they turned their behinds high up into the air for the stroke.

Related Characters: Eva Peace , The deweys
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage—a good example of Morrison’s style of magical realism—we’re introduced to the deweys, a group of children. When they’re young, the children are all given the same name, Dewey. Over time, the name “Dewey” itself becomes a literal, powerful bond between the boys—they do everything together, simply because of their common name. Even when one of the Dewey children is punished, the other boys accept the punishment, too. Strangest of all, the deweys stop growing—after a certain point, they never get any bigger or taller. Morrison conveys the unity of the children by spelling their common name in the lowercase—“deweys,” not “Dewey.”

There are a couple of key points here. First, note that Morrison never presents the peculiar solidarity of the deweys as magical or supernatural, even though it seems to be—as in many works of “magical realism” (the literary style with which Morrison is often associated), supernatural events are presented as perfectly ordinary. Second, notice that the deweys lack any individual identity. Each dewey child is exactly the same—they’re even punished for the same crimes. Perhaps Morrison intends the deweys to be a symbol for the struggle for individualism in the black community. Persecuted by white America and brought up in poverty and misery, it’s easier for the deweys to be a group than for them to be individuals—they’re so frightened that they can't help losing their identities.

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He opened his eyes and saw what he imagined was the great wing of an eagle pouring a wet lightness over him. Some kind of baptism, some kind of blessing, he thought. Everything is going to be all right, it said. Knowing that it was so he closed his eyes and sank back into the bright hole of sleep. Eva stepped back from the bed and let the crutches rest under her arms. She rolled a bit of newspaper into a tight stick about six inches long, lit it and threw it onto the bed where the kerosene-soaked Plum lay in snug delight. Quickly, as the whoosh of flames engulfed him, she shut the door and made her slow and painful journey back to the top of the house.

Related Characters: Eva Peace , Ralph / Plum Peace
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Ralph “Plum” Peace, the child of Eva Peace, dies. Plum was Eva Peace’s favorite son, and a bright, happy child. But after fighting in the American military, Plum becomes a shadow of his former self—he develops an addiction to heroine, and when he returns to Eva’s house, he spends all his time alone in his room, quiet and depressed. Eva makes the agonizing decision to mercy-kill her beloved child, dousing him with kerosene and then lighting him on fire. Notice the way that Morrison conveys the pain and devastation of the scene. When Morrison describes Eva’s “long, painful” journey back to her room, we’re ironically reminded of Plum’s painful death, and of Eva’s agonizing decision to kill someone she loves—a decision that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Also notice that Morrison describes Plum’s death in language that suggests birth, not death—his death is a “Baptism,” whereby Plum is born again and freed from the pain and trauma of his life. So even as Morrison conveys the pain of the scene, she also suggests that Eva’s decision to kill Plum is (mostly) merciful, not cruel.

1923 Quotes

“There wasn't space for him in my womb. And he was crawlin' back. Being helpless and thinking baby thoughts and dreaming baby dreams and messing up his pants again and smiling all the time. I had room enough in my heart, but not in my womb, not no more. I birthed him once. I couldn't do it again. He was growed, a big old thing. Godhavemercy, I couldn't birth him twice.”

Related Characters: Eva Peace (speaker), Hannah Peace , Ralph / Plum Peace
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Eva Peace tries to explain to Hannah why she killed Plum, her favorite son. Eva insists that she continued to feel responsible for Plum, even after Plum became an adult. She felt that after the war, Plum was regressing as a human being—addicted to heroine, he was becoming a child once again. As a mother, Eva felt a strange instinct to treat him like a child again—in a way, to “give birth” to him again. And yet, of course, Eva couldn’t do this—so instead, she burned him to death, giving him the symbolic, fiery “birth” of ascending to Heaven.

It’s possible to consider Eva’s explanation deeply sympathetic and yet wholly unconvincing. Eva is clearly a loving mother, and considers Plum her most beloved child. And yet perhaps she’s too overbearing in her relationship with Plum—her emotional connection with Plum is so intense that she can’t bear the slightest tragedies in his life, let alone the tragedy of his heroine addiction and depression. In short, Eva loves Ralph too much, and in a way, burning Ralph is a suicide, not a murder—Eva is killing a huge part of herself, and she never recovers emotionally.

1939 Quotes

When the word got out about Eva being put in Sunnydale, the people in the Bottom shook their heads and said Sula was a roach. Later, when they saw how she took Jude, then ditched him for others, and heard how he bought a bus ticket to Detroit (where he bought but never mailed birthday cards to his sons), they forgot all about Hannah's easy ways (or their own) and said she was a bitch. Everybody remembered the plague of robins that announced her return, and the tale about her watching Hannah burn was stirred up again…

Related Characters: Sula Peace , Eva Peace , Hannah Peace , Jude Greene
Related Symbols: The Plague of Robins
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, as in other passages of the novel, the people of the Bottom become like a single, unitary character. Over the years, Sula acquires a reputation for being a “bitch” and an untrustworthy, devious woman. She sends Eva Peace, her own grandmother, into a nursing home, despite the fact that Eva has been a caretaker to hundreds of children. The townspeople also condemn Sula for sleeping with Jude, Nel’s husband.

Notice the sexism of the townspeople’s comments, however. They condemn Sula for “breaking up the marriage,” but seem not to dislike Jude for cheating on his wife. By the same token, the townspeople seem more interested in attacking women’s reputations than in consistency—they criticize Hannah for being "easy," then criticize Sula for watching her death. Perhaps most tellingly, the townspeople re-interpret an ambiguous sign (the "plague of robins") to rationalize their ideas about Sula. Where before the robins seemed innocent to many, they’re now retroactively made to foreshadow Sula’s wickedness. The point isn’t that Sula is a heroin and the townspeople are wicked; the point is that the townspeople, whether or not they’re right to condemn Sula, traffic in self-righteous stereotypes about women—sexism disguised as morality.

1965 Quotes

What did old Eva mean by “you watched?” How could she help seeing it? She was right there. But Eva didn't say, “see,” she said “watched.”
"I did not watch it. I just saw it." But it was there anyway, as it had always been, the old feeling and the old question. The good feeling she had had when Chicken's hands slipped. She hadn't wondered about that in years. "Why didn't I feel bad when it happened? How come it felt so good to see him fall?"

Related Characters: Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene (speaker), Eva Peace (speaker), Sula Peace , Chicken Little
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Nel takes her leave of Eva Peace, now a bitter old woman. Eva tells Nel that she knows everything about Chicken Little's death--an event that happened years and years ago, when Nel and Sula were just children. Eva accuses Nel of watching as Sula's hands slipped and Chicken Little fell into the water.

Everything in the passage hinges on the difference between seeing and watching. Seeing is passive--we have eyes, so we can't help but see things around us. Watching is entirely different: to watch something is to choose to pay attention to it, and even be entertained by it, yet not act. As Eva suspects, Nel did not see Chicken Little's death; she watched it. Eva has always been a little afraid and a little jealous of Sula's sense of freedom and liberation--as a result, she got an unwilling thrill of satisfaction when she saw Sula make a mistake and drop Chicken Little into the water. For years, Nel has been denying the truth to herself: she was pleased to watch Chicken Little's death because she wanted Sula to fail.

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Eva Peace Character Timeline in Sula

The timeline below shows where the character Eva Peace appears in Sula. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1920
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...unlike Helene—she never scolds or yells. Sula also lives with her grandmother—a one-legged woman named Eva, whom Nel finds fascinating. (full context)
1921
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...Peace lives in a big house. It was “created” and ruled over by her grandmother, Eva Peace, one of the oldest people in the Bottom. Long ago, Eva had two legs,... (full context)
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Eva commands respect from the people in the neighborhood. Everyone knows that she married a man... (full context)
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Years before, when Eva was first taking care of her three children by herself, she depended upon the kindness... (full context)
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During Eva’s first winter as a single mother, she sacrificed her own happiness and health for her... (full context)
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Some three years after leaving, BoyBoy returned to Medallion, and went to see Eva and his children. Eva prepared lemonade for BoyBoy’s visit, not knowing if she’d scream at... (full context)
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Following BoyBoy’s visit, Eva continued taking care of her family alone. She allowed her cousins to visit her house,... (full context)
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In 1921, Eva’s granddaughter, Sula, is eleven years old. Eva has had three children. By this time, Eva... (full context)
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In 1920, the narrator remembers, Eva had given a name to an adult who was new to the Bottom: Tar Baby.... (full context)
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The narrator gives more information about Eva’s children. Pearl married at age fourteen and moved to Michigan—she had a quiet marriage, full... (full context)
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Eva’s daughter, Hannah, “ripples with sex.” After her husband Rekus dies, she has many admirers. Hannah... (full context)
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The narrator briefly describes Eva’s youngest child, Plum. Plum fought in the war in 1917, and returned to the U.S.... (full context)
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One night in early 1921, Eva walks downstairs to see her son in his room. When Eva enters Plum’s room, she... (full context)
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...strange, “warm light” pouring all over his body. As he enters a state of delirium, Eva stands over him, soaking him with kerosene. Then she takes a piece of newspaper, lights... (full context)
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A short time later, Eva hears the shouts of Hannah and “some child” coming from outside her room. Hannah rushes... (full context)
1923
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...room with an empty bowl and a pile of beans, and asks, quite abruptly, if Eva ever loved her children. Eva has been sitting in her room, yelling at the group... (full context)
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We switch from Eva’s perspective to Hannah’s. Hannah has filled her bowl with beans. Now, she takes the bowl... (full context)
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After a long period of silence, Eva replies to Hannah’s question. She says, “He give me such a time. Such a time.”... (full context)
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...was no rain or lightning, but only wind. On Thursday, the narrator claims, Hannah told Eva that she’d had a dream about a wedding, in which she wore a red bridal... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...the people of the Bottom pick peaches for canning. Another strange thing that happens to Eva at this time is that she loses her comb, and has no way to straighten... (full context)
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Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
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On the day that she loses her comb, Eva goes to her window and sees her daughter, Hannah, burning. She is standing outside, and... (full context)
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Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
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...her to a hospital, Hannah has died from her burns. After the ambulance drives away, Eva, grief-stricken, crawls off toward the trees. She’s bleeding from her fall, so the crowd calls... (full context)
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Eva lies in her hospital bed, trying to understand what has happened. She remembers Hannah’s dream... (full context)
1937
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...sit on their porches and whistle at any woman who passes by. Sula walks to Eva’s house, and finds Eva sitting outside. Eva stares at Sula in more or less the... (full context)
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Eva peppers Sula with questions as soon as she sees her. Eva wants to know when... (full context)
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In May (after Eva has been taken away), the “plague of robins” has flown away. Nel believes that things... (full context)
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Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
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...years—all Nel knows is that Sula was in Nashville for some time (Nel had asked Eva, who gave a largely incoherent answer). Sula turns Nel’s questions back on her—she points out... (full context)
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Sula continues telling Nel about Eva’s family situation. After Plum and Hannah died, Eva collected large amounts of life insurance, some... (full context)
1939
Race and Racism Theme Icon
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Word gets out that Eva is being sent to a nursing home, and people learn that Sula is responsible for... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
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Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...tried to convince the jailers to let Tar Baby change his clothes. Because the jailers—like Eva—regarded Tar Baby as a white man, they refused to let him change, saying that a... (full context)
1940
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Nel stands outside Eva’s old bedroom, staring at Sula. She asks Sula—just as she’s rehearsed many times—if there’s anything... (full context)
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Sula wakes up and finds herself staring at the window—the same window out of which Eva jumped years ago. She then turns her head so that she can’t see the window.... (full context)
1941
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...of news reaches the Bottom: renovation work is being done on the nursing home where Eva now lives. The home is made to be brand-new and up-to-date. (full context)
1965
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Nel thinks of Eva—still confined to a nursing home, thanks to Sula. Nel considers the facts: it’s true that... (full context)
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Nel finds that she can’t stop thinking about Eva, and decides to visit her in her old folk’s home in Beechnut. She arrives at... (full context)
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Inside Eva’s room, Nel finds Eva, looking very different from her former self. She seems to have... (full context)
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Nel tries to explain herself to Eva. She insists that it was Sula who killed Chicken Little, not her. Eva laughs and... (full context)
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...people, but only words. For years, Nel had believed that she, and she alone, understood Eva—even understood why Eva refused to attend Sula’s funeral. Nel believed that Eva had refused because... (full context)
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Nel remembers the day of Sula’s death—she was found in Eva’s house, with her mouth wide open. When the neighborhood found out about Sula’s death, some... (full context)