|Publication date||November 1973|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||192 pp (hardback edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-394-48044-9 (hardback edition)|
|LC Classification||PZ4.M883 Su PS3563.O8749|
Plot summary 
The Bottom is a mostly black neighborhood in Ohio, situated in the hills above the mostly white, wealthier community in the town of Medallion. The Bottom first became a community when a master gave it to his former slave. This "gift" was in fact a trick: the master gave the former slave a poor stretch of hilly land, convincing the slave the land was worthwhile by claiming that because it was hilly, it was closer to heaven. The trick, though, led to the growth of a vibrant community. Now the community faces a new threat; wealthy whites have taken a liking to the land, and would like to destroy much of the town in order to build a golf course.
Shadrack, a resident of the Bottom, fought in World War I. He returns a shattered man, unable to accept the complexities of the world; he lives on the outskirts of town, attempting to create order in his life. One of his methods involves compartmentalizing his fear of death in a ritual he invents and names National Suicide Day. The town is at first wary of him and his ritual, then, over time, unthinkingly accepts him.
Meanwhile, the families of the children Nel and Sula are contrasted. Nel is the product of a family that believes deeply in social conventions; hers is a stable home, though some might characterize it as rigid. Nel is uncertain of the conventional life her mother, Helene, wants for her; these doubts are hammered home when she meets Rochelle, her grandmother and a former prostitute, the only unconventional woman in her family line. Sula's family is very different: she lives with her grandmother, Eva, and her mother, Hannah, both of whom are seen by the town as eccentric and loose. Their house also serves as a home for three informally adopted boys and a steady stream of boarders.
Despite their differences, Sula and Nel become fiercely attached to each other during adolescence. However, a traumatic accident changes everything. One day, Sula playfully swings a neighborhood boy, Chicken Little, around by his hands. When she loses her grip, the boy falls into a nearby river and drowns. They never tell anyone about the accident even though they did not intend to harm the boy. The two girls begin to grow apart. One day Sula's mother's dress catches fire and she dies of the burns. Eva, her mother, sees her from the window and jumps out into the garden.
After high school, Nel chooses to marry and settles into the conventional role of wife and mother. Sula follows a wildly divergent path and lives a life of fierce independence and total disregard for social conventions. Shortly after Nel's wedding, Sula leaves the Bottom for a period of 10 years. She has many affairs, some, it is rumored, with white men. However, she finds people following the same boring routines elsewhere, so she returns to the Bottom and to Nel.
Upon her return, the town regards Sula as the very personification of evil for her blatant disregard of social conventions. Their hatred in part rests upon Sula's interracial relationships, but is crystallized when Sula has an affair with Nel's husband, Jude, who subsequently abandons Nel. Ironically, the community's labeling of Sula as evil actually improves their own lives. Her presence in the community gives them the impetus to live harmoniously with one another. Nel breaks off her friendship with Sula. Just before Sula dies in 1940, they achieve a half-hearted reconciliation. With Sula's death, the harmony that had reigned in the town quickly dissolves.
- Sula Peace: the main protagonist, who affects the whole community of the Bottom with her return.
- Eva Peace: Sula's grandmother, who is missing one leg. Though the circumstances are never fully explained, it is suggested that she purposely put it under a train in order to collect insurance money to support her three young children.
- BoyBoy: Sula's grandfather, who leaves Eva for another woman.
- Hannah Peace: Sula's mother; Eva's eldest daughter. Hannah is a promiscuous and care-free woman who burned to death early on. Her daughter Sula witnessed the fire but did nothing.
- Eva (Pearl) Peace: Sula's aunt; Eva Sr.'s youngest daughter and middle child.
- Ralph (Plum) Peace: Sula's uncle; Eva's son and youngest child. Plum was a WWI veteran and a heroin addict. Eva burns him alive with kerosene because of his mental instability.
- Helene Wright: Nel's strait-laced and clean mother.
- Nel Wright: Sula's best friend (can also be considered a main protagonist) who doesn't want to be like her mother because she will never be reduced to "custard" and she will not be humiliated by other people as her mother is.
- Shadrack: A paranoid shell-shocked WWI veteran, who returns to Sula and Nel's hometown, Medallion. He invents National Suicide Day.
- Jude Greene: Nel's husband, who leaves Nel due to a love affair with Sula.
- Ajax (Albert Jacks): Sula's confidant and lover.
- Tar Baby (Pretty Johnnie): A quiet, cowardly, and reserved partially or possibly fully white man who rents out one of the rooms in the Peace household. It is believed that Tar Baby has come up to the bottom to drink himself to death.
- The deweys: three boys, each about one year apart from one another in age, who were each nicknamed "Dewey" by Eva. Their real names are never written in the novel, and after the introduction of these characters, the three were referred as one being, thus Morrison's use of a lowercase "d" in "dewey" for the rest of the novel.
- Chicken Little: The little boy whom Sula accidentally drowns by throwing into the river.
Literary significance and criticism 
- Barbara Smith, 'Toward a Black Feminist Criticism', Women's Studies International Quarterly 2, no. 2, 1979, page 189
- Marilyn R. Farwell, 'Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Subtexts: Toward a Theory of Lesbian Narrative Space', Lesbian Texts and Contexts: Radical Revisions, ed. Karla Jay and Joanne Glasgow, Onlywomen Press Ltd, 1992, page 93
- Sula study guide, themes, quotes, teacher resources