Pages 110-31

Point of View

This chapter alternates between two points of view or "voices":

  1. The omniscient author describes Pauline's life, thoughts, and feelings and interprets their significance. The omniscience narrator's passages are presented in regular text and are right and left justified. A close reading of these passages reveals that the point of view cannot be Pauline's. For example, we're told that the wound in her foot "saved Pauline Williams from total anonymity" (p. 110). Or, we're told that Pauline "missed--without know what she missed--paints and crayons" (p. 110). Pauline is incapable of making these statements or of having these insights; it is the omniscient author who sees and expresses these things.

  2. Morrison goes into Pauline's mind and articulates Pauline's thoughts, feelings, and view of her life. In other words, the author quotes Pauline; this is why Pauline's statements are in quotation marks. Morrison presents Pauline's point of view in italicized text which is left justified.

By giving Pauline a "voice," Morrison enables us to hear Pauline and to see through her eyes and with her perceptions. Why does Morrison do this? Do we have a greater understanding of Pauline and a greater sympathy or even more compassion for Pauline? Does she become alive and more complex for us, or does she remain only a Bad Mother and Wife? As I discussed in yesterday's lesson, Morrison regrets not having given Maureen Peal a voice; if she had, we could experience from Maureen's point of view, to see her from the inside, not just the outside. Would the novel be improved, weakened, or not changed if Morrison omitted Pauline's point of view?

The Movies, Romantic Love, and Physical Beauty

Before marriage, Pauline lacks any distinguishing or individualizing characteristics, except for her foot. Around the age of fifteen, Pauline develops romantic fantasies about love. Her fantasies and feelings are conventional; she dreams of a Stranger who will transform her life and lead her to happiness- -forever. Her dreams of the unknown lover who will redeem her become mixed with the songs she hears in church about Christ. Can you see how she could associate or blend Christ in the hymn "Precious Lord take my hand" with the stranger-lover of her fantasies (p. 114)?

Cholly is the free man who "came with his own music" (p. 114). Later Morrison will say of Cholly that only a musician could make sense of the fragments of Cholly's life. However, Cholly is never able to make sense of or find coherence in his own life; he lacks the skills to achieve that end. Pauline too is unfulfilled. She has artistic leanings which find no outlet or encouragement, as indicated by her not knowing she missed paints and crayons. She is intensely responsive to color and visual images--the yellow lemonade with seeds floating in it, the streak of green made by the june bugs, the purple of berries, and the rainbow after sex.

Pauline's loss of a tooth is a determining event in her life. Morrison describes the process of the tooth decaying and makes the comment, "But even before the little brown speck, there must have been the conditions, the setting that would allow it to exist in the first place" (p. 116). Is Morrison talking about more than just the tooth? Is she also referring to the conditions which contributed to the failure of her marriage and her life?

Initially Pauline and Cholly "loved each other" (p. 115), but their marriage fails. Why? Do the following problems cause its failure?

  • She is lonely being alone in a small apartment while Cholly works all day. How does Cholly respond to her wanting him to fill her loneliness? Does her dependency threaten his freedom?
  • She is unable to make women friends. Why? Cholly, on the other hand, has no trouble making friends or finding drinking buddies. How is this a problem in their marriage?
  • Pauline tries to be accepted by other women by buying clothes and make-up. How does Cholly respond to her demands for money?
  • How does her working cause the marriage to deteriorate further?

In her loneliness during her pregnancy, Pauline turns to the movies for entertainment, escape, and consolation. The movies have a devastating effect on Pauline by teaching her about romantic love and the importance of physical beauty. Morrison calls the ideas of romantic love and of physical beauty

Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion. In equating physical beauty with virtue, she stripped her mind, bound it, and collected self-contempt by the heap. She forgot lust and simple caring for. She regarded love as possessive mating, and romance as the goal of the spirit. It would be for her a well-spring from which she would draw the most destructive emotions, deceiving the lover and seeking to imprison the beloved, curtailing freedom in every way.
          She was never able, after her education in the movies, to look at a face and not assign it some category in the scale of absolute beauty, and the scale was one she absorbed in full from the silver screen. . .
          It was really a simple pleasure, but she learned all there was to love and all there was to hate. (p. 122)
Ironically, the movie theater, where Pauline learns the values which contribute to the ruination of her life and Pecola's, seems the only place she is happy. The (false, idealized) picture of white women's homes and their romantic relationships increases her unhappiness at home.

Jean Harlow and William Powell in Libeled Lady

How realistic is her desire to look like Jean Harlow? When her tooth falls out, she realizes that she will never be beautiful, like Jean Harlow. She gives up not only her efforts to look like Harlow but also any possibility of being beautiful and "settled down to just being ugly" (p. 123). The quarreling and bitterness of her marriage escalate.

She deliberately gets pregnant with Pecola. Throughout her pregnancy she has a loving relationship with her baby, reassuring it as she stretches hanging clothes and talking to it during her daily routine. She promises to "love it no matter what it looked like" (p. 124). Though the new-born Pecola is "a right smart baby," Pauline makes a judgment about Pecola that will determine Pecola's identity and the course of her life, "But I knowed she was ugly. Head full of pretty hair, but Lord she was ugly" (p. 126). Pauline judges Pecola using the standards she learned at the movies and thereby condemns Pecola to seeing herself as ugly and to being perceived as ugly. Pauline's judgment of Pecola also cuts her off from her love for her baby and a nurturing mother-child relationship.

Pauline and Identity

Pauline is seeking an identity. She lacked a sense of identity before her marriage; after her tooth falls out, she gives up her efforts to be beautiful; with the responsibility of two children, she feels a need to make sense of her life and to be an adult. And so she finds an identity. She becomes the breadwinner, a good Christian woman, and an ideal servant.

What kind of Christian does she become? What does Morrison mean when she says, "Holding Cholly as a model of sin and failure, she bore him like a crown of thorns, and her children like a cross" (pp. 126-27)?

Working at the Fisher home "filled practically all of her needs" (p. 127). It fills her need for beauty, for order, for acceptance, for luxury, and for a sense of power. It also gives her an identity: she is the perfect servant, and she finally has a nickname. Having found fulfillment in her work, she neglects her own home and forces her children

toward respectability, and in so doing taught them fear: fear of being clumsy, fear of being like their father, fear of not being loved by God, fear of madness like Cholly's mother's. Into her son she beat a loud desire to run away, and into her daughter she beat a fear of growing up, fear of other people, fear of life. (p. 128)
She has some awareness of having lost something. Morrison comments, "It was only sometimes, sometimes, and then rarely, that she thought about the old days, or what her life had turned to" (p. 129); Pauline herself thinks, "Only thing I miss sometimes is that rainbow" (p. 131). What has she lost?

Why does Pauline want Cholly to have an orgasm before she has hers? She explains,

I know he wants me to come first. But I can't. Not until he does. Not until I feel him loving me. Just me. Sinking into me. Not until I know that he couldn't stop if he had to. That he would die rather than take his thing out of me. Of me. Not until he has let go of all he has, and give it to me. To me. To me. When he does, I feel a power. I be strong, I be pretty, I be young. And then I wait. He shivers and tosses his head. Now I be strong enough, pretty enough, and young enough to let him make me come. (pp. 130- 31)

White Folks

What is Pauline's experience with white people? How does she feel about living in the North? How do white people treat her? Think of the employer who urges her to leave Cholly, the obstetrician with his residents who compares her to a horse, and the Fishers. What is Morrison showing about the black-white relationship?

Morrison Syllabus

Morrison, The Bluest Eye, pp. 3-58
      Morrison, Online overview

The Bluest Eye, pp. 61-109

The Bluest Eye, pp. 110-131

The Bluest Eye, pp. 132-183

The Bluest Eye, pp. 184-206
"Afterward," pp. 209-216
      The Other in The Bluest Eye

Core Studies 6 Page || Syllabus