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.
The Plague of Robins Quotes in Sula
When the word got out about Eva being put in Sunnydale, the people in the Bottom shook their heads and said Sula was a roach. Later, when they saw how she took Jude, then ditched him for others, and heard how he bought a bus ticket to Detroit (where he bought but never mailed birthday cards to his sons), they forgot all about Hannah's easy ways (or their own) and said she was a bitch. Everybody remembered the plague of robins that announced her return, and the tale about her watching Hannah burn was stirred up again…
Their conviction of Sula's evil changed them in accountable yet mysterious ways. Once the source of their personal misfortune was identified, they had leave to protect and love one another. They began to cherish their husbands and wives, protect their children, repair their homes and in general band together against the devil in their midst. In their world, aberrations were as much a part of nature as grace. It was not for them to expel or annihilate it. They would no more run Sula out of town than they would kill the robins that brought her back, for in their secret awareness of Him, He was not the God of three faces they sang about. They knew quite well that He had four, and that the fourth explained Sula.