When Sula Peace returns to the Bottom in 1937, she’s followed by a large flock of birds—Morrison describes it as a “plague of robins.” Morrison is being a little ironic: she knows perfectly well that birds don’t fly in “plagues.” Rather, Morrison is capturing Sula’s return from the perspective of the small-minded townspeople, who distrust Sula because of her energy and livelihood. As Sula spends more and more time in the town, the people think of other ambiguous signs that supposedly “prove” that Sula is wicked. And yet the plague of robins is the most important of these ambiguous signs, because it can so clearly be interpreted positively or negatively. There’s nothing particularly frightening or threatening about a flock of birds—unless you call it a “plague.” In this sense, the plague of robins is a symbol of symbol—that is, it’s a symbol for the way that narrow-minded people can easily misinterpret the world to fit into their biased opinions.
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The timeline below shows where the symbol The Plague of Robins appears in Sula. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...knowledge that Sula slept with Nel’s husband—makes Sula despised in the Bottom. People remember the plague of robins that accompanied Sula’s return to the neighborhood, and conclude that the robins were a bad... (full context)