Pages 61-80

Isn't the MacTeer family a functioning traditional family? The mother stays home and takes care of the children; the father is breadwinner and protector, "a wolf killer turned hawk fighter" (p. 61). Does the imagery Claudia uses to describe him in the first paragraph stress the gentle, soft aspects of nature or its harshness? Why does Morrison describe him in the winter section, rather than summer or spring? Is there love in his concern about his children's well being, which is expressed in his advice about heating and teaching them to control the fire? He protects Frieda when Mr. Henry sexually molests her; the novel contrasts Mr. MacTeer's protectiveness with Cholly Breedlove's treatment of Pecola and with the apathy of Junior's father.

Maureen Peal is a "dream child" (p. 62); she embodies the ideals by which the other girls are judged and found lacking. She fits the standard of beauty and dress which the black adults in this novel admire in little white girls. She is admired by everyone except Frieda and Claudia. The other girls feel and become inferior when compared to her. Claudia and Frieda take refuge in anger and contempt, making up names about her, to maintain some sense of their self-worth; they refuse to bow down to her superiority.

Almost every woman has known a Maureen Peal, whose perfections eclipse all the other girls and who is held up as the standard for them by adults and classmates. For example, my Maureen Peal was a blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty named Shirley Elias who suddenly appeared in the sixth grade and instantly, it seemed to me, became the most popular girl in our grade. I still remember my feelings of inferiority, jealousy, and resentment.

Morrison doesn't like Maureen or the Maureens of the world either. In an interview with Gloria Naylor, Morrison explains that love for her characters is unmistakable in her writing except for Maureen Peal.

I mean we all know who she is. And everybody has one of those in his or her life, but I was unfair to her. I did not in that book look at anything from her point of view inside. I only showed the facade. . . . And I never got in her because I didn't want to go there. I didn't like her. I never have done that since. I've always regretted the speed with which I executed that girl. She worked well structurally for the girls and this and that, but if I were doing that book now, I would write her section or talk about her that way plus from inside.
Naylor comments, "Because a Maureen Peal suffered as much as a Pecola Breedlove in this society." Morrison fails to show the humanity of Maureen by giving her a voice in the novel, so that we can see how she feels and what pains she has experienced.

It is "a false spring day, which, like Maureen, had pierced the shell of a deadening winter" (p. 64). Is there a suggestion that Maureen is in some way false? Morrison describes Maureen's braids as looking like "two lynch ropes" (p. 62). Why is this image ironic as a description of a little black girl, however light-skinned? Her skin is a "high yellow," meaning that she is light-skinned. One form which the internalization of white values took in the black community is to judge light skin as more desirable than dark skin. The boys taunt Pecola by calling her "black"-- another irony, since they too are black. In a further ironic twist, they put her down in this way because of their scorn for their own blackness, "It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth" (p. 65).

Would it be appropriate to call Pecola a scapegoat in this scene? A scapegoat is a person who bears the blame for the sins, crimes, mistakes, or misfortunes of other people. Or a scapegoat may be someone who suffers in the place of others. The term comes from the Bible; in a ceremony on the Day of Atonement, the high priest symbolically laid the sins of the Jews on the head of a goat; the goat was freed afterward.

Morrison clearly identifies the self-hatred that motivates the attack on Pecola

They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds--cooled--and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path.  (p. 65)
They circle Pecola, "whom, for their own sake, they were prepared to sacrifice to the flaming pit" (p. 65). How does sacrificing her help to save the boys? This way of treating Pecola is a key idea in The Bluest Eye. As you read, watch for ways in which others use Pecola.

Morrison uses a striking simile, to describe the boys dancing around Pecola; they are "like a necklace of semiprecious stones" (p. 65). They have inherent value but a limited value ("semiprecious") because of their harassment of Pecola and their contempt for themselves.

Frieda and then Claudia defy the boys. The fact that Frieda's eyes have their mother's expression suggests that their mother serves as a role model and is a source of strength for the sisters. The sisters also have a close relationship and support each other as allies, however often they may quarrel. Contrast Pecola's relationship with her mother and her brother. Does Pecola have any source of strength in or support from her family?

Not to look bad in Maureen's eyes, the boys leave. Initially the sisters think Maureen is befriending Pecola and is going to treat them to ice cream cones and are revising their estimate of her. Actually, Maureen wants to know more about Pecola's seeing her father naked. The sisters have seen their father naked without any sexual implications, because of their relationship with their father. He is their protector, the man who loves his children. They find his naked presence "friendly-like" (p. 72). The process of losing innocence can be seen in their shame "brought on by the absence of shame" (p. 71). In other words, they felt no shame during the experience; it is society that expects them to feel shame; they are ashamed because of their knowledge of what they should be feeling and aren't. Sociologists call this process of accepting and internalizing society's values socialization.

The girls have a falling out, with Maureen asserting that she is cute and that they are ugly; she varies the boys' chant, "Black and ugly black e mos," to assert her own cuteness. Nature images graphically describe their falling out; Maureen's green knee socks look "like wild dandelion stems" as she runs away, and the angry sisters have faces "knotted like dark cauliflowers" (p. 73).

Pecola collapses inward. Her reaction angers Claudia, who "wanted to open her up, crisp her edges, ram a stick down the hunched and curving spine, force her to stand erect and spit the misery out on the streets" (pp. 73-4). The difference in the girls is clear: Frieda and Claudia can assert themselves, express anger, and fight back. Pecola can't.

Because of the near-universal adoration of Maureen, which confirms that Maureen is cute, Claudia wonders what makes her and her sister inferior. Thus, the sisters perceive society's view of Maureen and accept society's judgment and values. Claudia muses,

We were lesser, nicer, brighter, but still lesser. Dolls we could destroy, but we could not destroy the honey voices of parents and aunts, the obedience in the eyes of our peers, the slippery light in the eyes of our teachers when they encountered the Maureen Peals of the world. What was the secret? What did we lack? Why was it important? And so what? (p. 74)
This passage shows the importance of seeing/perceiving in the development of a sense of identity or the essential self. To emphasize the references to eyes, I have added italics to the above quotation.

Society's values are destructive; when the children internalize those values, their sense of self-worth is damaged and their sense of identity diminished,

Guileless and without vanity, we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our skins, enjoyed the news that our senses released to us, admired our dirt, cultivated our scars, and could not comprehend this unworthiness. . . . And all the time we knew that Maureen Peal was not the Enemy and not worthy of such intense hatred. The Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us. (p. 74)
The impact of the white culture and its values appears in the numerous references to the movies and to beautiful white movie stars. Pecola summarizes the plot of Imitation of Life, in which "this mulatto girl hates her mother cause she is black and ugly" (p. 67). They pass the Dreamland Theater (is this an appropriate name?) and discuss their "love" of Betty Grable and Hedy Lamarr. Maureen tells the story of Audrey, who asked the beautician to fix her hair "like Hedy Lamarr's" (p. 70). Mr. Henry greets the sisters as Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers.

Is there the suggestion of sexuality in Mr. Henry's hiding the coin and having the children pat his body to find it? If so, would this help to prepare for his later action in molesting Frieda?

Pages 81-93

The plain brown girls from Mobile, etc. have totally accepted white values, white lifestyles, and identify with white interests. They look down on blacks who lead a freer life or have obviously black features; Geraldine, for instance, distinguishes between colored people and niggers:

Colored people were neat and quiet; niggers were dirty and loud.... The line between colored and nigger was not always clear; subtle and telltale signs threatened to erode it, and the watch had to be constant (p. 87).
The plain brown girls reject funk, which Stephanie Demetrakopoulos defines as "spontaneity, sensuality, sexuality, and passion." Lacking these, they are not capable of loving other human beings. The black yearning to own a home reaches obsessive proportions with these women. Because of their sense of place, Morrison identifies them with their home towns--Mobile, etc.

Geraldine forces her son into gentility and inhibition. His resentment against his mother and his anger at being controlled come out in sadism and in bullying girls, "It was easy making them scream and run. How he laughed when they fell down and their bloomers showed. When they got up, their faces red and crinkled, it made him feel good" (p. 87).

Morrison starts this chapter with an excerpt from the primer; the children play happily with the cat. In Pecola's life, the cat of the primer becomes the cat that Junior throws at her and that he kills. Is his blaming Pecola for killing the cat scapegoating her?

Geraldine sees Pecola as a type, not as an individual, not as a needy, innocent child. For her, Pecola represents poverty, slovenliness, wordless suffering, and hopelessness, "The end of the world lay in their eyes, and the beginning, and all the waste in between" (p. 92). Is she scapegoating Pecola?

What is the irony in Geraldine's ordering Pecola out of the house and Pecola's seeing a picture of "Jesus looking down at her with sad and unsurprised eyes" (p. 92)? What are the implications of "unsurprised"?

Nature imagery: Geraldine associates girls like Pecola with grass not growing around their homes and flowers dying. This image is ironic, because of the marigolds which did not grow anywhere in Loraine, Ohio, in 1941. Pecola's psychological state is reflected in the snowflakes "dying on the pavement" (p. 93). She too is dying emotionally.

The chapter is narrated by the omniscient author. Morrison uses the alignment of the margins to indicate the shift in narrator. Printers call the alignment of text at the margin justification. Except for the introduction and last few pages of the conclusion, Claudia's text is only left justified; this means that the left margin is even and that the right margin is not. The omniscient author's sections have full justification; this means that both the right and the left margins are even.


Claudia sees friendliness and naturalness in the Maginot Line (aka Miss Marie), qualities expressed in a nature image, "Those rain-soaked eyes lit up, and her smile was full, not like the pinched and holding-back smile of other grown-ups" (p. 103). Frieda, however, being older and terrified of being "ruined," expresses the values of her mother and society; they aren't allowed in the whores' house. Why does the Maginot Line laugh and throw the pop bottle at the children?

The affluence and order of the white section of town contrast with the poverty of the black neighborhood. Claudia and Frieda know not to linger by the park which blacks are not allowed to enter and to go to the back door of the house where Mrs. Breedlove works.

When Pecola tips the pie and gets burned, all Mrs. Breedlove's concern and reassurances are focused on the little yellow haired child, to whom she speaks in words of honey; to Pecola, she spits out words "like rotten pieces of apple" (p. 109). (Note the nature images.) The little white girl is connected to Maureen Peel, Shirley Temple, and white baby dolls, as a type; the connection is reflected in adults speaking to the Maureen Peels of the world in "honey voices" (p. 74) and in the little white girl's not having a name. Though Maureen is black (a light-skinned black, of course), she conforms to white standards of appearance and behavior. Pecola, the black child who does not fit white standards, is rejected by her own mother for a white child; her mother ignores the pain her burns cause her, just as everyone except Claudia and Frieda ignores her emotional pain.

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