What is the relationship between the excerpt from the primer
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 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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
In what way is Cholly free? How does his freedom differ
from that of the old women, whose younger lives were filled with
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
What mixed emotions does Cholly feel as he watches Pecola
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
Morrison's attitude toward the rape?
What is the relationship between the excerpt from the primer
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'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
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,
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
of child abuse and molestation?