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SECTION SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The novel begins with a short section on the history of the setting, a small valley called Medallion in Ohio. The region in which most of the central ch8aracters live is called The Bottom. At the start of the novel, the land known as The Bottom is being leveled. However, the narrative reveals that The Bottom was once a lively community with luscious trees, a pool hall, a beauty parlor, a church, a restaurant, and many black inhabitants. There were music and familiarity among the inhabitants, and laughter could be heard as far away as the nearby valley.
According to legend, The Bottom got its name from a cruel joke played on a slave. A white farmer once promised his slave freedom and rich bottomland in exchange for some very difficult work. On completion of the work, the farmer did give the slave his freedom, but instead of fertile bottomland, he gave him a hilly parcel of land worn away by erosion. The farmer told the slave the hilly land was indeed bottomland, for it was at "the bottom of heaven." The slave did not know any better so he accepted the land. Before long, the unfortunate slave found out the truth. He had been tricked by his master and given a piece of land that was worthless for farming.
For a long time, The Bottom remained inhabited by the black people in the area; the white people stayed on the rich valley floor. At the start of the novel, however, the white inhabitants have discovered the beauty of The Bottom and have bought up the land, forcing the Blacks to move out. The Bottom, with all its rich history and comfortable familiarity, is being leveled for a wealthy golf course.
In this short introduction, Morrison sets the tone and backdrop for her story. She describes The Bottom, the black section of Medallion, Ohio, in detail, and explains how an area set on a hill gets the name of Bottom. The black community was apparently established in the last half of the previous century, for slavery ended in the 1860s. To paint an appropriate picture of her setting, Morrison uses sharp language and visually acute details to describe the lively community, leading up to the year of 1919, when the story actually begins. The Bottom is characterized as a close-knit community of colorful people who live in harmony and good- natured peace.
The general description of The Bottom ends with a brief note about two characters, Shadrack and Sula. At this point, both are simply noted to be curiously interesting inhabitants of the town, inhabitants whom everyone else is wondering about. The expectation is that both Sula and Shadrack will be important characters in the plot.
It is worth noting that Morrison uses the word "black" to describe African-Americans. In the 1970s, "black" was the preferred term to describe an American of African descent.