Sula

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The New River Road Symbol Icon

In the 1930s, a new “public works” project is proposed in Medallion, Ohio: a road that will connect the black neighborhood of the Bottom with some of the surrounding white communities. While it’s not explicitly stated, Morrison implies that this project is a product of Roosevelt’s New Deal, implying an agreement between the federal government and more overtly racist government agencies of the state of Ohio. It’s not until the end of Sula that the “New River Road” is shown for what it really is. More than a decade after the road was proposed, it’s still not finished. Whenever the local authorities deny healthcare to the blacks in the Bottom, or charge extra rent, the stated reason is always the same: it’s a sacrifice, necessary for the completion of the road, which will benefit everyone—including the black people in the Bottom—equally. But when the residents of the Bottom march to the New River Road, they see the reality of it: a dirty pile of bricks that will never be finished. In all, the road is a tragic symbol of the deception and manipulation that American authorities have used to prolong black suffering.

The New River Road Quotes in Sula

The Sula quotes below all refer to the symbol of The New River Road. 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.
1927 Quotes

"I built that road," he could say. How much better sundown would be than the end of a day in the restaurant, where a good day's work was marked by the number of dirty plates and the weight of the garbage bin. "I built that road." People would walk over his sweat for years. Perhaps a sledge hammer would come crashing down on his foot, and when people asked him how come he limped, he could say, "Got that building the New Road."

Related Characters: Jude Greene (speaker)
Related Symbols: The New River Road
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jude—the new husband of Nel Wright—fantasizes about his future. Jude’s greatest aspiration is to build a road—specifically, the New River Road that is to link the Bottom to the surrounding community. For Jude, getting work building the New River Road is more than just a job—it’s a way of giving meaning and dignity to his life. Jude plans to measure every stage of his life—his youth, his middle-age, and even his painful old age, in which he can barely walk—in relationship to the road and his work.

Unbeknownst to Jude, however, the New River Road is a sham—a lie, designed by the white establishment to inspire false hope in young, ambitious black people like Jude. Jude is ambitious, but he’s too eager to define success in the terms the white community gives him. Because of such a flaw in his personality, Jude is ultimately a tragic character—a strong young man who becomes more cynical and more hopeless with each passing year.

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1941 Quotes

It dazzled them, at first, and they were suddenly quiet. Their hooded eyes swept over the place where their hope had lain since 1927. There was the promise: leaf-dead. The teeth unrepaired, the coal credit cut off, the chest pains unattended, the school shoes unbought, the rush-stuffed mattresses, the broken toilets, the leaning porches, the slurred remarks and the staggering childish malevolence of their employers. All there in blazing sunlit ice rapidly becoming water.

Related Symbols: The New River Road
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the people of the Bottom arrive at all that exists of the New River Road. For decades, black people in the area have thought of the New River Road with a deep optimism. The Road will connect their community to the rest of the world, and for some, like Jude, it will provide steady employment for years to come, and a sense of accomplishment at having built something lasting.

And yet all the people's optimism has been in vain. As everyone can now see, the Road was never meant to be completed--it was an elaborate scheme, designed to keep the black community poor and uneducated. Whenever the white establishment in the area chose to deny the Bottom money or resources (school funding, new roads, etc.), it could offer a simple excuse: the money is going to pay for the Road. It's clear, now, that the people with power in the area have been lying all along: the people of the Bottom have been suffering for years, for nothing.

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The New River Road Symbol Timeline in Sula

The timeline below shows where the symbol The New River Road appears in Sula. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1927
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...money to take a wife), but it was announced that a new road, the “ New River Road ” would be built, and Jude thought that he could get work there. (The narrator... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...describe Jude Greene. Jude longs for a challenging physical job—he wants to work on the New River Road . He also craves the camaraderie of working alongside people who are like him. He... (full context)
1941
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...it’s the best news the town has heard since the announcement of work on the New River Road . A polite funeral is held for her, but secretly the townspeople are relieved that... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
At the same time that Sula dies, it’s announced that the builders of the New River Road —a project that which has been deadlocked for years—will finally accept black labor. This is... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...his parade through the city down Main Street, toward what has been built of the New River Road , the road tunnel that will one day lead across the river. Together, he and... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
One by one, the people of the Bottom react to the sight of the New River Road in the same way. They pick up rocks and bricks, walk to the cliff where... (full context)