The children's Primer, Pages 3-4
The excerpts from the children's primer progress into unreadability or
that is, the text breaks down. As you read the novel, keep in mind the
what breakdowns occur in the children's lives, in the black community,
The primer presents an idealized picture of childhood, family
and home. What values (e.g., middle class or poor) and whose values
white or black) are represented in this idealization? How does this
relate to the children's experience in the black community?
Some chapters are headed by sentences from the primer. What
if any, do those sentences have to events in that chapter?
Italicized Introduction, Pages 5- 6
The Bluest Eye is told from several points of view. The point of view of
introduction is first person; the speaker is the adult Claudia MacTeer
and reflecting upon one year in her childhood.
Morrison explains what effects she wanted to achieve with the
sentence of the introduction:
of the first sentence, "Quiet as it's kept," had several attractions
me. First, it was a familiar phrase, familiar to me as a child
to adults; to black women conversing with one another, telling a story,
an anecdote, gossip about some one or event within the circle, the
neighborhood. The words are conspiratorial. "Shh, don't tell anyone
and "No one is allowed to know this." It is a secret between us and a
that is being kept from us. The conspiracy is both held and withheld,
and sustained. In some sense it was precisely what the act of writing
the book was: the public exposure of a private confidence....
Do you think she achieves the effects she intended?
"Quiet as it's kept" is
also a figure of speech that is written, in this instance, but clearly
for how speakerly it is, how it speaks and bespeaks a particular world
its ambience. Further, in addition to its "back fence" connotation, its
suggestion of illicit gossip, of thrilling revelation, there is also,
in the "whisper," the assumption (on the part of the reader) that the
is on the inside and knows something others do not, and is going to be
with this privileged information. The intimacy I was aiming for, the
between the reader and the page, could start up immediately because the
secret is being shared, at best, and eavesdropped upon, at the least. ("Afterword," pp. 211-21)
Does the year 1941 have any significance in American history?
any major event happen that year? (In Europe, the same major event
in 1939.) Also, what ongoing economic trauma had America, as well as
rest of the world, been experiencing since 1929?
The nature imagery begins with the symbol of the marigold
seeds. Is it realistic that no marigolds grew in this community in
1941? The marigold
seeds that Claudia and her sister plant are real (read this statement
however, the seeds that Pecola's father plants and his "plot of black
are symbolic (p. 6). If we interpet his "seed" as semen, would his
of dirt" be his daughter, Pecola? If so, what is the effect of calling
a "plot of black dirt"?
The themes of innocence, love, and loss are introduced. Where?
One organizing device in this novel is the cycle of the year. The novel
begins with autumn and ends with spring.
The cyclical organization of seasons has a second major function: it is
another expression of the nature imagery.
- What are the connotations
autumn? Do they fit with Pecola's beginning her menstrual cycle, which
carries the possibility of pregnancy and new life? Is there irony here?
However, Claudia, in the introductory section, informs us that Pecola's
- What are the connotations
of spring? Based on those connotations, what kind of ending would you
expect? However, Claudia, in the introductory section, informs us that
which she and Frieda plant "shriveled and died" (p. 6), just as
baby did. Is there irony here?
Incongruity continues in the two oxymorons
in the first sentence on page 9:
Nuns go by quiet as lust, and drunken
men and sober eyes sing in the lobby of the Greek hotel.
Why are the words which I italicized
What are the MacTeer house and household like? How do they
to the image presented in the primer? Is there love in the MacTeer
Is there a sense of community in the women's conversation, or
the conversation suggest fragmentation and alienation? Do the women
to be enjoying their conversations or not?
How are the children treated by the adults? How do the
children view the adults? For example, Claudia tells us she and her
Mr. Henry. He acknowledges them, teases them, and plays with them when
they are introduced. The children, however, expected
him to say nothing. Just to nod, as he had done at
clothes closet, acknowledging our existence. To our surprise, he spoke
to us (p. 16).
What does the sisters' expectation reveal about the way adults usually
treat children? Is there a suggestion of some trouble later even with
the kindly Mr. Henry, who seems to acknowledge children as human
Even after what came later, there was no bitterness
our memory of him (p. 16).
For the black community, the terror of life is being homeless
or on the street ("being outdoors," p. 17). Its members yearn to own
homes. How do their yearning and their terror relate to the primer?
What does this situation reveal about security and stability in the
black community? Does the Breedloves' homelessness indicate anything
about the kind of man
The images of Shirley Temple and of white baby dolls are
central to the meaning of this novel. What standard of beauty do they
represent? Is it a standard that black children can meet? How do Frieda
regard Shirley Temple? How does Claudia's view initially differ from
theirs? What is the process whereby Claudia develops the same attitude
and Pecola? What is the attitude of adults to Shirley Temple/white baby
dolls? Why do the adults have that attitude? What is the effect of
attitude on the children?
Shirley Temple dancing with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in The
Claudia hates Shirley Temple "because she danced with
who "was my friend, my uncle, my daddy" and
he "was enjoying, sharing, giving a lovely dance thing with one of
little white girls whose socks never slid down under their heels" (p.
19). Why is Claudia upset at this displacement? Does it have a larger
than to just Claudia?
The popularity of Shirley Temple during the Depression and the
she had for Americans are hard to overestimate. President Franklin
Roosevelt, speaking in 1935, praised Shirley:
During this Depression, when the spirit of the
is lower than at any other time, it is a splendid thing that for just
cents, an American can go to a movie, look at the smiling face of a
and forget his troubles.
How does Mrs. MacTeer treat the children? Does she make an
to find out why the children do what they do, or does she just assume
worst about their behavior? Consider her response to Pecola's drinking
the milk or her response to Rosemary's revengeful accusation that
Frieda, and Pecola are playing sexually.
What is the effect of her behavior on them? Once she learns
Pecola is menstruating, how does she treat Pecola? Is there only
and disapproval or is there some other feeling or feelings? Is Mrs.
a good mother, a bad mother, a good-enough mother, etc.? (Good-enough
mother is a term that some psyschologists are using in evaluating
its meaning is clear enough, though exactly what qualities and behavior
constitute "good enough" will vary.) Is Mrs. MacTeer a loving or caring
Music is important in Morrison's novels and in the Black
community. The blues are an outlet for feelings about hard times and a
source of comfort. What is the effect of her mother's singing on
Claudia? As Mrs. MacTeer washes
Pecola, the sisters hear "the music" of her laughter (p. 32); is this a
or a negative image?
Pecola's quest to find love is introduced by her question,
you get somebody to love you?" (p. 32). What is the effect on the
of a child's asking such a question? Are other children an adequate
of information? Claudia turns to blues songs for information about
life to try to answer Pecola's question.
It would involve, I supposed, "my man," who, before
me, would love me. But there weren't any babies in the songs my mother
sang. Maybe that's why the women were sad: the men left before they
make a baby. (p. 32)
What view of life or what expectations of life are the songs giving
Claudia? Are the values and attitudes implicit in the songs and stories
as children part of our socialization? Consider Claudia's reflecting on
her mother singing about
hard times, bad times, and
times. But her voice was so sweet and her singing-eyes so melty I found
myself longing for those hard times, yearning to be grown without "a
di-i-ime to my name." I looked forward to the delicious time when "my
would leave me, when I would "hate to see that evening sun go down..."
then I would know "my man has left this town." Misery colored by the
and blues in my mother's voice took all of the grief out of the words
left me with a conviction that pain was not only endurable, it was
Does this passage suggest any other functions music plays for the
In this section, the point of view changes from Claudia (first
to the omniscient or all- knowing author.
Could Morrison have used Claudia to narrate this section? Could Claudia
know the histories and feelings of Mr. and Mrs. Breedlove or the daily
life and relationships within the Breedlove family?
What kind of a home is the storefront? How does it compare
with the home in the children's primer? Why does Morrison quote the
passage from the reader without punctuation? Why does she repeat,
(p. 33). How would you characterize the family life of the Breedloves?
What does the rip in the couch reveal about the status and
of the family? The ripped couch is one of the many images of splitting
in the novel.
What is the relationship between the quotation from the
primer and the Breedlove family and their home? Are the Breedloves
ugly, or does their ugliness have some other, non-physical, source?
You looked at them and wondered why they were so
ugly. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction.
as though some mysterious, all-knowing master had given each one a
of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question.
master had said, "You are ugly people. They had looked about themselves
and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support for
leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance. "Yes,"
they had said. "You are right." And they took the ugliness in their
hands, threw it was a mantle ovee them, and went about the world with
it. (p. 39)
How do they react to seeing themselves as ugly?
Cholly and Pauline have a symbiotic relationship. (A symbiosis
is a close relationship between two or more living beings which
benefits both.) How do their fights fill their psychological needs? How
does Cholly's drunken, no-account life support Pauline's Christian view
herself? Why doesn't she want him to reform? What need does their
relationship fill for Cholly?
How do Pecola and her brother Sammy react to the fights?
Why won't Pecola's eyes disappear? What makes eyes so
important to Pecola? Think about whether any of the ideas in my online
discussion of "Seeing and Perception"
to this question. Why does Morrison insert the quotation about blue
from the primer into Pecola's fantasy about how having blue eyes would
her life (p. 46)? Though the point of view is still the omniscient
the author is giving us Pecola's thoughts and feelings. What meaning do
blue eyes have for Pecola? why are they important to her? Consider the
Thrown, in this way, into the binding conviction
only a miracle could relieve her, she would never know her beauty. She
only see what there was to see: the eyes of other people. (pp.
Why can't she know her own beauty? What does she see in the eyes of
How does Mr. Yacobowski "see" her? Does it affect the way he
her? Is she the Other for him? Is it ironic
he has blue eyes? How does his treatment affect Pecola? How and why
her attitude toward the dandelions (another nature image) change? Is
brief anger a healthy response? Can anger serve positive functions,
protecting against pain, providing a sense of power, or creating
energy? Why can't she stay angry?
How is the Mary Jane candy related to the Shirley Temple/white
doll images? How does having and eating this candy affect Pecola? Why?
There is an ironic transition or movement between the three
which bring Pecola nine orgasms and the three whores in the
which begins a new section (p. 50).
Pecola turns to the three whores for information about love.
Are they an appropriate source of information? What does it say about
life and parents that she turns to the whores for this crucial
appears, in the blues Poland sings. How do the three whores get along
each other? Do they seem bothered by being outcasts in the community or
do they form their own community? What answer does Pecola receive about
love from them?
Pecola thinks about love based on Miss Marie's relationship
Dewey Prince and her observation of her parents:
What did love feel like? she wondered. How do
act when they love each other? Eat fish together? In her eyes came the
of Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove in bed....Maybe that was love. Choking
sounds and silence. (p. 57)
What definition does she arrive at? What understanding of love can she
arrive at with such information? Can it help her to find love?
What is the effect on the reader of watching Pecola search for
and her not seeming to receive any love from her family?