Pages 132-163

The Primer

What is the relationship between the excerpt from the primer and the content of this chapter? This chapter includes Cholly's father, Cholly's father figure Blue, the father with the watermelon, Cholly himself, and Soaphead Church's father. How do they relate to the father portrayed in the excerpt from the primer?

Cholly's Youth

Cholly's mother abandons him in a junk heap, in "the rim of a tire under a soft black Georgia sky" (p. 133). This quotation reflects the mixed nature of Morrison's vision. She describes terrible, vicious actions and cruel people with a full knowledge of the horror, and at the same time she presents these actions and people with compassion, without condemning and without condoning (condone means to pardon or overlook). Beauty and humanity can occur anywhere, in Morrison's view. Thus, the tire in a junk heap co-exists with the beauty of nature; potential infanticide happens on a "soft Georgia" night.

At the picnic, Cholly looks at the father with the watermelon blotting out the sun. He compares this powerful figure to God, then rejects that connection because God is white. What does Cholly decide the father must be, since the father is black? Does this decision have any larger implications? What kind of role model is Blue?

In what ways does Morrison give us a sense of a cohesive, intact community in this chapter? What makes M'Dear qualify as one of Morrison's ancestor figures? M'Deer seems to use her hickory stick to communicate; Cholly dreams that his penis turns into a hickory stick which M'Deer caresses. The sexual symbolism of stick as penis is obvious, but does the dream also have another meaning? Does the adult Cholly use his penis to communicate, to express, and to assert himself?

Cholly's Quest for a Father

The sexual experience with Darlene and the white hunters is a turning point in Cholly's life. How does it affect him? He projects his hatred onto Darlene; he subconsciously knows that hating the white hunters "would have destroyed him. . . . hating them would have consumed him, burned him up like a piece of soft coal, leaving only flakes of ash and a question mark of smoke" (pp. 150-51). Why does he hate Darlene instead of the white men? Is he using her as a scapegoat for his anger at the white men and his own powerlessness in this situation? Why would feeling his hatred for the white men be dangerous for him? Could a black boy in the Deep South express his anger toward two armed white men safely at this point in time?

One consequence of this experience is the compulsion to find his father. Why does he want to find his father?

On the trip to Macon, how is he treated by whites (the ticket clerk) and by blacks (inquiries about his being alone and the woman on the bus)?

Being rejected by his father is the most traumatic event in Cholly's life and the determining event in evolving Cholly's identity. His loss of control, of hope, of connection is reflected in his losing control of his bowels; by the river, he reverts to the helplessness of an infant, paralyzed in a fetal position. He is cut off from other people, from the community, from love, and from responsibility. Immersion in water is often used symbolically--to indicate the start of a new life (think of Christian baptism). Cholly assumes a new identity out of his collapse. His life becomes a succession of episodes, fragments, which only a musician could make coherent. Why would music have this ability?

He thinks of Aunt Jimmy's love "With a longing that almost split him open" (p. 158). His longing belongs to the split world images which run through this novel; they reflect the splits in this novel: black vs. white, community vs. outsider, beauty vs. ugliness, intact family vs. fragmented family. Splits or divisions take many other forms in this novel. The lives of black women are split between contradictions and opposites:

When white men beat their men, they cleaned up the blood and went home to receive abuse from the victim. They beat their children with one hand and stole for them with the other. The hands that felled trees also cut umbilical cords; the hands that wrung the necks of chickens and butchered hogs also nudged African violets into bloom; the arms that loaded sheaves, bales, and sacks rocked babies into sleep. They patted biscuits into flaky ovals of innocence--and shrouded the dead. They plowed all day and came home to nestle like plums under the limbs of their men. The legs that straddled a mule's back were the same ones that straddled their men's hips. (139)
As old women, they are freed from these constraints, yet the split nature of their experience can be seen in their eyes, as "a purée of tragedy and humor, wickedness and serenity, truth and fantasy" (p. 139). Other split images in this chapter are the father "getting ready to split open the world" (p. 134), the watermelon which the father breaks open, and the biscuit gashed with bacon which the woman on the bus gives him. The splitting image also reflects the fragmentation of the lives of Cholly, Pauline (aka Polly), and Pecola at the end.


Two kinds of freedom are presented: that of old black women and that of Cholly.

  • Morrison says the old black women could do as they liked and were safe:
    They were through with lust and lactation, beyond tears and terror. They alone could walk the roads of Mississippi, the lands of Georgia, the fields of Alabama unmolested. They were old enough to be irritable when and where they chose, tired enough to look forward to death, disinterested enough to accept the idea of pain while ignoring the presence of pain. They were, in fact and at last, free. (p. 139)
    What kind of freedom have they achieved? Why or how has age freed them? Is it that they have fulfilled their obligations?

  • Cholly, on the other hand, is
    Dangerously free. Free to feel whatever he felt--fear, guilt, shame, love, grief, pity. . . . Abandoned in a junk heap by his mother, rejected for a crap game by his father, there was nothing more to lose. He was alone with his own perceptions and appetites, and they alone interested him. (pp. 159-60)
    In what way is Cholly free? How does his freedom differ from that of the old women, whose younger lives were filled with responsibilities?

    Why does Morrison call his state of freedom a "godlike state" (p. 160)? For instance, is he free to "create" a lifestyle out of the chaos that his life has become, as God created the world out of chaos? Could his behavior be "godlike" in his ignoring the rules, the laws and obligations that society imposes? (God is above human rules and laws.) Is the man who is guided only by his momentary desires, impulses, feelings, needs dangerous? Are these a sufficient guide for human behavior?

Marriage and Fatherhood

Why do "The constantness, varietylessness, the sheer weight of sameness" freeze Cholly's imagination and drive him to despair (p. 160)? Think of the parenting models he has had--a mother who abandoned him, a father who rejected him, Aunt Jimmy, and Blue. Would his own experiences explain why fatherhood made him "totally disfunctional" (p. 160)? Do his freedom from rules and responsibility and his non-understanding of fatherhood explain, at least in part, his raping Pecola?

What mixed emotions does Cholly feel as he watches Pecola doing the dishes? Her scratching the back of her leg with her foot reminds him of Pauline when they first met. His confusing "memories of Pauline and the doing of a wild and forbidden thing" lead to the rape (p. 162). Is the rape of Pecola related to Cholly's dangerous freedom, his freedom to act solely on his impulses and desires? Does Cholly know how to be a father or how to express a father's love for his daughter? Why or why not? What is Morrison's attitude toward the rape?

Pages 164-183

The Primer

What is the relationship between the excerpt from the primer and the content of this chapter? How does the dog of the excerpt connect to the dog Bob? Compare Jane's experience with the dog to Pecola's experience with Bob.

Soaphead Church

Soaphead Church's family is proud of its white heritage and light skin and regards itself as superior to darker skinned and less educated blacks. Are the values and behavior of the family superior? Or is the family corrupt? Has the white blood improved or weakened this family? Is the family's desire for racial purity (marrying "up" in skin color) reflected in Soaphead's desire for physical purity (the sexual pursuit of little girls)?

Morrison says she needed someone like Soaphead who would accept the monstrous wish of Pecola as natural and agree to "help" her. Soaphead finds her request for blue eyes "the most fantastic and the most logical petition he had ever received. Here was an ugly little girl asking for beauty" (p. 174). Why does Soaphead accept her wish as natural? Is Soaphead really interested in helping Pecola, does he use her as a tool to fulfill his own needs, or is he motivated by both impulses? Morrison tells us that his outrage "grew and felt like power. For the first time he honestly wished he could work miracles" (p. 174) and "How to hang on to the feeling of power. His eye fell on old Bob sleeping on the porch" (p. 175).

In his granting Pecola's wish and in his letter to God, Soaphead seems to make himself the equal of God or even to see himself as superior to God. Is this an extreme and perverted expression of his family's sense of superiority?

Is there a pattern of abuse of children, both sexual and non-sexual, in this novel, or are there merely some isolated incidents of child abuse and molestation?

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