Sula

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Ralph / Plum Peace Character Analysis

The youngest and seemingly best loved of Eva Peace’s three children, Plum Peace goes off to fight in World War I, and, like Shadrack, comes back a broken man. He spends a year traveling through the biggest American cities, and, it’s implied, develops a heroin habit in the process. Eva Peace, overcome with grief at her favorite child’s pain and misery, decides to “mercifully” kill Plum by burning him alive—one of the central events of the novel.

Ralph / Plum Peace Quotes in Sula

The Sula quotes below are all either spoken by Ralph / Plum Peace or refer to Ralph / Plum 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

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.

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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.

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Ralph / Plum Peace Character Timeline in Sula

The timeline below shows where the character Ralph / Plum Peace appears in Sula. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1921
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...a man named BoyBoy, and had three children: Hannah, Eva, nicknamed Pearl, and Ralph, nicknamed Plum. BoyBoy was an abusive husband—he drank too much, and took out his anger on his... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...own happiness and health for her children, giving her last bites of food to Ralph (Plum), who was only a baby at the time. Eva then left her children with the... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
The narrator briefly describes Eva’s youngest child, Plum. Plum fought in the war in 1917, and returned to the U.S. in 1919. He... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...early 1921, Eva walks downstairs to see her son in his room. When Eva enters Plum’s room, she finds him lying in bed. Near him there is a glass of what... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
That night, Plum, still sitting in bed, feels a strange, “warm light” pouring all over his body. As... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...and “some child” coming from outside her room. Hannah rushes to Eva’s door, screaming that Plum is burning. Eva replies, “Is? My baby? Burning?” The two women—mother and daughter—looked at one... (full context)
1923
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
...beans. Now, she takes the bowl and asks Eva one more question, “What’d you kill Plum for, Mamma?” Eva is quiet. She remembers long ago, when Plum was only a baby,... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...question. She says, “He give me such a time. Such a time.” Eva explains that Plum never had much desire to be alive—when he was a baby, he almost died, and... (full context)
1937
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...truth: she got rid of Eva because she was afraid. She explains that Eva burned Plum to death, and claims that she witnessed this. Nel isn’t sure what to think—Sula has... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
Sula continues telling Nel about Eva’s family situation. After Plum and Hannah died, Eva collected large amounts of life insurance, some of which paid for... (full context)
1965
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...says, “What’s the difference? You was there.” Eva tells Nel that she’s been talking to Plum, who tells her things about the living and dead. Disturbed, Nel walks out of the... (full context)