Sula

Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene Character Analysis

One of the two protagonists of Sula, Nel Wright is an orderly, proper young woman who tries to find peace in the face of jealousy and sexual danger. Like her mother, Helene Wright, Nel believes in the importance of virtue and following the rules. When, as a young child, she befriends Sula Peace, a girl who’s as wild and unpredictable as Nel is proper, Nel secretly fears and resents Sula’s vivaciousness, and even smiles when Sula accidentally kills a young child, Chicken Little. In spite of her love for rules, Nel is capable of great feats of empathy—for instance, she comes to understand Eva Peace when no one else in the Bottom will do so. In the end, however, Nel finds herself alone in the world—she gives up on Sula and Eva, and tries unsuccessfully to find a new husband. Only when it’s too late does she realize that she should have ignored her instinct to remarry, and instead stayed close with Sula, her oldest and best friend.

Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene Quotes in Sula

The Sula quotes below are all either spoken by Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene or refer to Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage International edition of Sula published in 2004.
1920 Quotes

He was a seaman (or rather a lakeman, for he was a ship's cook on one of the Great Lakes lines), in port only three days out of every sixteen. He took his bride to his home in Medallion and put her in a lovely house with a brick porch and real lace curtains at the window. His long absences were quite bearable for Helene Wright, especially when, after some nine years of marriage, her daughter was born. Her daughter was more comfort and purpose than she had ever hoped to find in this life.

Related Characters: Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene, Helene Sabat Wright, Wiley Wright
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

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It was on that train, shuffling toward Cincinnati, that she resolved to be on guard—always. She wanted to make certain that no man ever looked at her that way. That no midnight eyes or marbled flesh would ever accost her and turn her into jelly.

Related Characters: Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene, Helene Sabat Wright
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

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1922 Quotes

He was smiling, a great smile, heavy with lust and time to come. He nodded his head as though answering a question, and said, in a pleasant conversational tone, a tone of cooled butter, "Always." Sula fled down the steps, and shot through the greenness and the baking sun back to Nel and the dark closed place in the water. There she collapsed in tears. Nel quieted her. "Sh, sh. Don't, don't. You didn't mean it. It ain't your fault. Sh. Sh. Come on, le's go, Sula. Come on, now. Was he there? Did he see? Where's the belt to your dress?"

Related Characters: Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene (speaker), Shadrack (speaker), Sula Peace, Chicken Little
Page Number: 62-63
Explanation and Analysis:

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1927 Quotes

She was not only a little drunk, she was weary and had been for weeks. Her only child's wedding—the culmination of all she had been, thought or done in this world—had dragged from her energy and stamina even she did not know she possessed. Her house had to be thoroughly cleaned, chickens had to be plucked, cakes and pies made, and for weeks she, her friends and her daughter had been sewing. Now it was all happening and it took only a little cane juice to snap the cords of fatigue and damn the white curtains that she had pinned on the stretcher only the morning before.

Related Characters: Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene, Helene Sabat Wright
Page Number: 79-80
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

1937 Quotes

"But Jude," she would say, "you knew me. All those days and years, Jude, you knew me. My ways and my hands and how my stomach folded and how we tried to get Mickey to nurse and how about that time when the landlord said... but you said... and I cried, Jude. You knew me and had listened to the things I said in the night, and heard me in the bathroom and laughed at my raggedy girdle and I laughed too because I knew you too, Jude. So how could you leave me when you knew me?"

Related Characters: Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene (speaker), Jude Greene
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

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"The real hell of Hell is that it is forever." Sula said that. She said doing anything forever and ever was hell. Nel didn't understand it then, but now in the bathroom, trying to feel, she thought, "If I could be sure that I could stay here in this small white room with the dirty tile and water gurgling in the pipes and my head on the cool rim of this bathtub and never have to go out the door, I would be happy. If I could be certain that I never had to get up and flush the toilet, go in the kitchen, watch my children grow up and die, see my food chewed on my plate... Sula was wrong. Hell ain't things lasting forever. Hell is change."

Related Characters: Sula Peace (speaker), Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene (speaker)
Page Number: 107-108
Explanation and Analysis:

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1940 Quotes

I know what every colored woman in this country is doing."
"What's that?"
"Dying. Just like me. But the difference is they dying like a stump. Me, I'm going down like one of those redwoods. I sure did live in this world."
"Really? What have you got to show for it?"
"Show? To who? Girl, I got my mind. And what goes on in it. Which is to say, I got me."
"Lonely, ain't it?"
"Yes. But my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else's. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain't that something? A secondhand lonely."

Related Characters: Sula Peace (speaker), Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene (speaker)
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

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She was not breathing because she didn't have to. Her body did not need oxygen. She was dead. Sula felt her face smiling. "Well, I'll be damned," she thought, "it didn't even hurt. Wait'll I tell Nel."

Related Characters: Sula Peace (speaker), Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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"All that time, all that time, I thought I was missing Jude." And the loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. "We was girls together," she said as though explaining something. "O Lord, Sula," she cried, "girl, girl, girlgirlgirl." It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.

Related Characters: Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene (speaker), Sula Peace, Jude Greene
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

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Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene Character Timeline in Sula

The timeline below shows where the character Nel Wright / Nel Wright Greene appears in Sula. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1920
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
After being married to Wiley for nine years, Helene gives birth to a daughter, Nel, whom she adores. Secretly, Helene is happy that Nel is a plain child—she doesn’t want... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...of returning war veterans. Nevertheless, she decides to return to keep her grandmother company, bringing Nel with her. Helene doesn’t tell Wiley that she is going—she only leaves him a note... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
Helene and Nel board a train bound for New Orleans. When they board, they make a mistake by... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
The chapter shifts to Nel’s perspective. On the train to New Orleans, Nel witnesses her mother, Helene, fumbling with her... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
As Nel and Helene travel down to New Orleans, the conditions on the train get worse and... (full context)
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
In New Orleans, Nel and Helene make their ways to Cecile’s house (until this moment, the narrator hadn’t made... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
Rochelle asks Helene if Nel is her only child, and compliments her for being pretty like Helene was. Rochelle speaks... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
Nel and Helene travel back to Medallion from New Orleans. When they return to their house,... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
The narrator says that Nel is about to meet Sula, a girl whom she sees in school but never plays... (full context)
1922
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
It is 1922, and Sula and Nel are walking through the Bottom. They’re going to the local ice cream parlor, Edna Finch’s... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
The narrator jumps back to describe how Nel and Sula meet. They attend Garfield Primary School together. Both are lonely and quiet as... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Sula and Nel become friends very suddenly when they are twelve, for reasons neither of them can describe.... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...four Irish boys come to Garfield to tease the schoolchildren. Sula, who is standing near Nel, pulls a knife out of her coat and points it at the boys. Instead of... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
After scaring away the Irish boys, Sula becomes good friends with Nel. They are adventurous, and love to be distracted by new things—the smell of tar pouring... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
In the summer of 1922, Sula and Nel become conscious that there are “beautiful boys” all around them. They decide to find some... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Nel and Sula walk toward the river. They play with twigs and grass and wait for... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Nel and Sula look nervously at the water. They can’t imagine where Chicken Little could have... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...can finish her question, however, Shadrack says, “Always.” Sula panics and runs outside, back to Nel. Nel tells her “it ain’t your fault,” and asks her where the belt on her... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
A funeral is held for Chicken Little. The choir sings hymns, and Nel and Sula, both in attendance at the funeral, can’t bear to look at each other.... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
Chicken Little is buried in the Bottom’s cemetery, next to his aunt and his grandfather. Nel and Sula watch his burial, holding hands. They sense that they’ll never be able to... (full context)
1927
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...to be drinking. Helene Wright, who now walks with a cane, drinks until she’s tipsy. Nel, her daughter, has just been married, and Helene has invested all her strength and intelligence... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...succeed in getting work on the road, his ambitions compel him to get married to Nel. Jude imagines growing old with Nel—as he tells himself, “The two of them together would... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...for their men. Now that he’s newly married, Jude believes this to be true of Nel—she’s very gentle, and submits to him at all times. Jude notes that when he was... (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
...art of continuing to think like children, and so they still look like children. Meanwhile, Nel and Jude think about making love that night—they’re both ready to go. Nel looks into... (full context)
1937
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
It has been ten years since Sula last saw Nel. Sula has just returned to Medallion, and for some reason, she’s accompanied by a “plague... (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
In May (after Eva has been taken away), the “plague of robins” has flown away. Nel believes that things have gotten better in the Bottom because of Sula’s return after 10... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
Sula reunites with Nel, and makes a point of stopping by to see her in the afternoons. Nel notes... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
Nel asks Sula to tell her about the last decade of her life—Sula hasn’t written or... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
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Sula continues telling Nel about Eva’s family situation. After Plum and Hannah died, Eva collected large amounts of life... (full context)
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Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Before Sula and Nel can say anything more, Jude arrives—he’s home from work—and greets his young children. Jude looks... (full context)
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The narrator jumps ahead, saying “He left his tie.” As the passage begins, Nel is frantically trying to convince Jude to remain married to her. She reminds Jude that... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
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The narrator reveals that Nel has caught Jude having sex with Sula one afternoon. When Nel catches them doing this,... (full context)
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Nel sits alone in her house, having just discovered that her husband was having an affair... (full context)
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In the coming months, Nel grieves for her husband’s sudden absence. Her children—two boys—ask her to sleep with them one... (full context)
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Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
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Nel tries to understand what she’s supposed to do with the rest of her life. In... (full context)
1939
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Signs, Names, and Interpretation Theme Icon
...responsible for sending her grandmother there. This information—along with the knowledge that Sula slept with Nel’s husband—makes Sula despised in the Bottom. People remember the plague of robins that accompanied Sula’s... (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
...faith. Nevertheless, the people of the Bottom gossip about Sula’s evil—she betrayed her closest friend, Nel, ruining her life with lust. (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
...New York, Philadelphia, Macon, and San Diego. She only returns to Medallion because she misses Nel—and because she becomes bored with travel. In the cities where she travels, she finds all... (full context)
1940
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
The year is 1940, and Nel has heard that Sula is sick. She decides to visit Sula (who is still in... (full context)
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Nel thinks about how her life has changed in the last three years. To support herself... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Nel stands outside Eva’s old bedroom, staring at Sula. She asks Sula—just as she’s rehearsed many... (full context)
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Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Without saying anything, Nel walks out the door to pick up Sula’s prescription. As soon as Nel leaves, Sula... (full context)
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Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Sula hears Nel coming back from the drug store. Nel enters Sula’s room and pours her medicine. Nel... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
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Nel, still standing over Sula, angrily brings up Jude. Sula laughs and claims that she never... (full context)
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Nel steps outside Sula’s house. She walks through the neighborhood, noticing that nobody else seems to... (full context)
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...dead. Sula smiles—death “didn’t even hurt.” Her last words (or thoughts) are, “Wait’ll I tell Nel.” (full context)
1965
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...in the community look like the deweys (who died in 1941 in the bridge collapse). Nel, who still lives in Medallion, thinks about all the “beautiful boys” around her in the... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
Nel thinks of Eva—still confined to a nursing home, thanks to Sula. Nel considers the facts:... (full context)
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Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Nel, now fifty-five years old, considers her life. Her three children are fully-grown now, and take... (full context)
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Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
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Nel finds that she can’t stop thinking about Eva, and decides to visit her in her... (full context)
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
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Women, Motherhood, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Inside Eva’s room, Nel finds Eva, looking very different from her former self. She seems to have shrunk, and... (full context)
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Suffering and Community Identity Theme Icon
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Nel tries to explain herself to Eva. She insists that it was Sula who killed Chicken... (full context)
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Outside the nursing home, Nel pictures Sula, swinging Chicken Little and then letting go of him. It occurs to her... (full context)
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Nel walks away from the nursing home toward a nearby cemetery. There, she finds the graves... (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... (full context)
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Nel tears herself away from the Peace graves, and walks back to her home. As she... (full context)
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Nel continues walking, thinking about Shadrack. Suddenly, she stops at the edge of the forest near... (full context)