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The year after Chicken Little's death, Hannah catches on fire in the yard while canning preserves. Eva sees her burning daughter from her second story window and jumps to the ground to try and save her. Eva almost bleeds to death from her injuries, and Hannah dies from her burns. When Eva recovers, she realizes that she saw Sula on the porch the whole time, watching her own mother burn and doing nothing to stop it.
Five years later, Nel is married to Jude, a young boy anxious to prove he is a man. Sula is very active in the wedding arrangements and stands up with Nel at the altar. As the evening wears on, Nel sees Sula walking down the road, away from the marriage celebration. Feeling that she has lost her only friend to Jude, Sula leaves The Bottom. She and Nel do not see each other again for ten years.
When Sula returns to The Bottom after ten years, she seems changed; she is more worldly and harsh. She immediately puts Eva in a nursing home, much to the shock of everyone in town; they believe that is simply not the way one should treat a grandmother. Sula is, however, very glad to see Nel, and for a while they seem to be close friends again. Then Nel catches Sula having sex with Jude. Out of shame, Jude leaves Nel and their three children. Nel is shattered over the loss of her husband and wants to wail and cry like the women did at Chicken Little's funeral. Since her proper upbringing will not allow her to truly display her emotions, her grief takes on its own shape and form, and she feels lost.
Sula becomes the scapegoat for all the evil that happens in The Bottom. When someone chokes, it is because he looked at Sula. When a child falls on her steps, Sula is accused of pushing him. Myths about her begin to circulate; it is said that she never ages, never loses a tooth, and never belches; it is even whispered that she sleeps with white men. The Bottom community becomes bonded in their effort to oppose Sula. In response, she becomes proud and alone. Sula believes that Nel is just like all the rest of the critical community; she calls her old friend small-minded, vicious and inflexible.
A couple of years later, Sula is dying. Nel forces herself to visit her old friend out of a sense of duty and her own "goodness." The visit soon degenerates into an argument when Sula explains her vision of life, and Nel questions it. Nel wants to know why Sula took Jude from her. Sula says that she did not "take" him, that no one is able to "possess" anyone else. She then warns Nel not to be so sure of her own moral superiority. Nel leaves feeling angry, but unable to forget Sula's warning. Shortly after Nel's visit, Sula descends into pain and dies. The townspeople consider her death to be good news; few come to her funeral and those present barely manage to sing at her graveside. Neither Nel nor Eva attends Sula's burial.
The townspeople expect that Sula's death will bring some fortune to their community, but they are wrong. Winter comes early and is very harsh. In the cold and ice, no one is able to work, so there is no money. Without Sula to blame everything on, the once bonded members of the community begin to treat each other as poorly as they had before. Thanksgiving and Christmas are meager, with hardly celebrations at all. By the time Suicide Day comes around, the weather has just started to warm, and people are in strange and crazy mood. For once, they laugh and dance and follow Shadrack in his Suicide Day Parade. The weird parade continues through The Bottom toward the river tunnel. The people are so crazed with pent-up frustration that they riot in front of the tunnel, destroying the work of the white men. They then make their way into the tunnel, and because of the recent thaw, some mud and rocks come loose. A flood of water quickly drowns most of the people. Shadrack stands above them on the bank, sadly ringing his bell.