Sula

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
Fire Symbol Icon

Fire figures prominently in Sula—in arguably the two most important scenes in the book, the death of Hannah Peace and the death of Plum Peace, fire “removes” a character from the story. Fire is a powerful destructive force, capable of ending life, and yet it is also undeniably beautiful: Morrison’s descriptions of the flames engulfing Hannah and Plum are among the most gorgeous passages in the novel. Furthermore, fire could even be considered kind. Eva Peace makes the decision to end Plum’s life because Plum seems to be suffering deeply: only fire can bring his life to a clean, merciful end. Fire, in all its ambiguities, could be said to symbolize life itself: life is both cruel and kind, and can’t be simplified to either emotion. And fire could also be said to symbolize Sula Peace—simultaneously the most vicious and the gentlest character in the book.

Fire Quotes in Sula

The Sula quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fire. 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.

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Sula quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Get the entire Sula LitChart as a printable PDF.
Sula.pdf.medium

Fire Symbol Timeline in Sula

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fire 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
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...him, soaking him with kerosene. Then she takes a piece of newspaper, lights it on fire, and throws it onto Plum’s body. Immediately Plum is engulfed in flames. Eva turns and... (full context)
1923
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...that she loses her comb, Eva goes to her window and sees her daughter, Hannah, burning. She is standing outside, and her dress is on fire. Eva immediately rushes, in her... (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
...notes that weddings always mean death to her. The red gown in Hannah’s dream symbolized fire, clearly. Finally, Eva remembers seeing Sula standing near Hannah’s burning body—“just looking.” When Eva tells... (full context)
1937
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...with Sula for bringing this up. Sula hisses that she’ll soak Eva with kerosene and burn her to death one day. The narrator notes that in April, Eva would be carried... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...the 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... (full context)