Pages 187-192

The sections on winter, spring, and summer begin with Claudia's associations with the seasons, all of them negative. Winter is harsh, as reflected in her father's face (p. 61). Spring connotes beatings with new green switches (p. 97), and summer connotes storms (p. 187). The bleakness and pain of the characters' lives seem as inevitable as the seasons and even determine the way Claudia experiences the seasons.

This novel opens with Pecola's beginning to menstruate, the transition biologically from childhood to womanhood. Menstruation carries the possibility of creating new life. The novel ends with summer, which is the fulfillment of the year. Thus Pecola's life and the novel end ironically, for Pecola's creativity ends in the death of her baby, the fulfillment of her life is her madness, and no marigolds grow that year.

Pecola's pregnancy reveals the cruelty and irresponsibility of the black community. The community feels no compassion for Pecola and offers her no help. Pecola is forced to leave school because of her pregnancy and is isolated from other children; moreover, she is the subject of titillating gossip for and judgmentalness by the adults. Claudia and Frieda listen for any adult to express compassion or sorrow for Pecola,

They were disgusted, amused, shocked, outraged, or even excited by the story. But we listened for the one who would say, "Poor little girl," or, "Poor baby," but there was only head-wagging where those words should have been. We looked for eyes creased with concern, but saw only veils. (p. 190)

The destructive side of the community is expressed in its response to Pecola; it continues to treat Pecola as the outsider and the Other, as it applies a standard of beauty that condemns her to irredeemable ugliness. It is not the white community that has directly destroyed Pecola, but the black community and her parents. They should have insulated her from the white community's values and have protected her. Claudia, who has not yet internalized the white standard of beauty, wants Pecola's black baby to be loved and to be appreciated for its beauty. She imagines the black baby clearly, in images which capture its beautiful blackness and which contrast with the artificial, unattractive white-baby-doll standard of beauty,

It was in a dark, wet place, its head covered with great O's of wool, the black face holding, like nickels, two clean black eyes, the flared nose, kissing-thick lips, and the living, breathing silk of black skin. No synthetic yellow bangs suspended over marble-blue eyes, no pinched nose and bowline mouth. More strongly than my fondness for Pecola, I felt a need for someone to want the black baby to live--just to counteract the universal love of white baby dolls, Shirley Temples, and Maureen Peals. (p. 190)
The white baby dolls of course represent not only the white standard of beauty but also the white domination of society and the black community. The values and spirit of the black community have been corrupted by the dominating white society. Nevertheless the blacks still form a cohesive community which is a source of strength, support, and pleasure for those who are part of the community. The community is intact, as are individual families. But some of the intactness of the community and of individuals is at the expense of Pecola and, by extension, others like her, as Claudia makes clear in the last three pages of the novel.

In their innocence, an innocence which they will lose, Claudia and Frieda decide to help Pecola. They are unaware of their powerlessness, "Our limitations were not known to us--not then" (p. 191). They have developed strategies to deal with and defend themselves against the adult world, "we had become headstrong, devious and arrogant. Nobody paid us any attention, so we paid very good attention to ourselves" (p. 191). They are also unaware that in helping Pecola and preserving her baby they are asserting their own value and their own beauty.

To help Pecola and her baby, they agree to sacrifice something important to them, so they plant the money they collected and the marigold seeds, thereby giving up their hopes of getting a bicycle. They also create a ritual and say "magic words" (p. 192). At one level, their planting seeds and saying magic words show their childishness; at another level, their efforts parallel primitive people's using magic to affect their environments and produce desired results. Their efforts also are in keeping with the black community's belief in magic and the supernatural; their strategy is not so different from M'Deer's advice to bury Aunt Jimmy's chamber pot as part of her cure and is in keeping with the community's acceptance of Soaphead Church as a spiritualist.

Pages 193-206

Pecola and her Friend

The ironic connection of the primer quotation that heads this chapter with the schizophrenic conversation of Pecola with herself is obvious. The split or fragmentation of Pecola's psyche continues the theme of splitting, which is also expressed in the imagery of splitting that runs through this novel.

This chapter is told by the omniscient author, who enters Pecola's mind and reports Pecola's mental conversation. Pecola is no longer capable of reporting her own life or of connecting to the world outside herself. Claudia's description of Pecola's behavior in the junkyard indicates that Pecola does not speak aloud, for only her gestures are reported, "walking up and down, her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so distant only she could hear. Elbows bent, hands on shoulders, she flailed her arms like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely futile effort to fly" (p. 205).

Pecola is pushed into madness by the rejections of her mother (who beats her for reporting Cholly's rape), of her brother (who runs away), and of the community and by Soaphead's acceptance of her wish for blue eyes. Her imaginary friend expresses Pecola's subconscious desire for acceptance, love, and friendship. Her friend reassures Pecola that she does indeed have blue eyes and that they are bluer than other girls'. However, because the imaginary friend expresses the subconscious or hidden, it also expresses Pecola's unacknowledged doubts and fears. Thus at times it verges on hostility and threatens to reveal unacceptable truths. Much to Pecola's distress, it refers to the second time Cholly raped her. It tells Pecola, "You didn't need me before" (p. 196), a truth so threatening and painful to Pecola and so close to the psychological reality that it immediately adds, "I were so unhappy before. I guess you didn't notice me before" (p. 196). [Note: Pecola's friend is female, but I refer to the friend as "it" rather than "she," to avoid any confusion over whether I mean the imaginary friend or Pecola.]

At some level, Pecola knows she does not have blue eyes; hence her need for constant reassurance and her need to have the bluest eyes. Also, her eyes are not producing the expected response, general acceptance and her mother's love; she is still ignored and her mother gives her strange looks. One explanation for this situation could be that her blue eyes are somehow insufficient or defective. If she has the bluest eyes of all (like the queen who wants to be the fairest of them all), then her eyes are perfect and she is unquestionably beautiful.

Claudia and the Conclusion

The final section of the novel is narrated by Claudia as an adult; she judges the past and states the significance of that past. She is unsparing in placing responsibility for Pecola's destruction on the black community. She sees Pecola walking between "the tire rims and the sunflowers, between Coke bottles and milkweed, among all the waste and beauty of the world--which is what she herself was" (p. 205). These images of waste and beauty echo the description of  Cholly's abandonment in a tire rim on a soft Georgia night. Morrison sees life whole and complex, with beauty and ugliness inextricably mixed. But in the case of Pecola, the beauty is inherently hers--her innocence and vulnerability and potential; her waste and ugliness are projected onto her by the black community and her mother, thereby displacing her beauty,

All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us--all who knew her--felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used--to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength (p. 205).
Pecola's outcast position in the community is reflected in her spending her time in the junkyard and in her living "on the edge of town" (p. 205).

Blacks in the community use Pecola to feel better about themselves. By assigning to her their negative feelings about themselves, they are able to feel good about themselves or at least better about themselves. It is Pecola who is ugly, not they; it is Pecola who is worthless, not they. Pecola, who developed passivity as a strategy for survival in her family and whose mother condemned her to ugliness from birth, accepts the view which they have of her. She sees her ugliness in the eyes of others, hears it in their voices, and experiences it in their behavior. So she is the perfect victim and the perfect garbage dump for the self-hatred of the community. In other words, she is sacrificed for the psychological protection and evasions of the community. Claudia includes herself in her assessment of the community's behavior and motives, as indicated by her references to "we" and "our." She and Frieda do finally reject Pecola by avoiding her.

Claudia goes on to condemn the community and herself for their abuse of Pecola, "...we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life" (p. 205). As suggested in the passage about Claudia's movement from hating white baby dolls and little white girls to loving Shirley Temple(s), Claudia has lost her innocence.

Claudia makes a final statement about love and concludes the theme of love. Claudia acknowledges that The Maginot Line and Cholly loved her. Unfortunately for Pecola, Cholly's love is of a mixed nature,

He, at any rate, was the one who loved her enough to touch her, envelop her, give something of himself to her. But his touch was fatal, and the something he gave her filled the matrix of her agony with death (p. 206).
Love, in itself, is not necessarily enough; it is not a universal remedy. It is the false ideal of love, which Morrison calls "romantic love," which gives love the power to transform and make perfect both the beloved and life: the forever-after love of fairy tales, movies, and popular fiction. Moveover, the quality and consequences of love are determined by the character of the lover. Claudia continues with a statement which I regard as a profound truth,
Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly, but the love of a free man is never safe. There is no gift for the beloved. The lover along possesses his gift of love. The loved one is shorn, neutralized, frozen in the glare of the lover's inward eye (p. 206).
She is using the term "free" in the sense of no attachments, as in Cholly's having nothing left to lose. The free man in this sense exists only for himself, for the indulgence of his own needs and impulses; he is unaware of the other person and unconcerned with the effect of his actions on her or him. Because of his disconnection, the free man cannot give or contribute to the beloved. Claudia uses the image of the eye in the last sentence of this quotation; the beloved does not see himself/herself reflected back by the free man and so is depersonalized, i. e., is made an object or reduced to a sense of non-being.

The last paragraph reverts to the failed marigolds of the first paragraph Claudia speaks (p. 5). Initially the sisters, in their innocence and belief in themselves and their power to affect events, blamed themselves for the failure of the marigolds, the death of Pecola's baby, and her descent into madness. But the adult Claudia, no longer innocent and aware of her own complicity and that of the community, now believes the failure "was the fault of the earth, the land, of our town" (p. 206). Clearly the failure of marigolds is symbolic, not literal. What destroys Pecola is the individuals who know Pecola, the racist black community which transfers its self-hatred to her, and the racist white society which holds destructive values and imposes them on the black community. It is not white society alone which is responsible for the destruction within the black community and the destructiveness of the black community; the black community too is responsible, for it has accepted or internalized white values and standards and not cherished or protected all its children. White society is responsible for its racist attitudes and behavior, which damage the black community, as well as individual blacks, and corrupt their values. The marigold seeds which fail are also an example of Morrison's use of magic.

There is the suggestion that nature itself or perhaps even life is hostile to certain black children,

I even think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say that victim had no right to live. (p. 206)

The novel ends on an elegiac note [an elegy is a poem for someone who has died; elegiac, therefore, means sad, melancholy, sorrowful, thoughtful]. The concluding sentences express a profound sense of loss and despair, "It's too late. At least on the edge of my town, among the garbage and the sunflowers of my town, it's much, much, much too late" (p. 206). Yet even into this hopelessness, Morrison interjects the intermixture of beauty and ugliness and of life and death with the image of "the garbage and the sunflowers."

It may be too late for Pecola and Claudia's community, but the reader is left wondering, did things have to turn out this way? was the community's mistreatment of Pecola inevitable?

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