Isn't the MacTeer family a functioning traditional family? The
mother stays home and takes care of the children; the father is
and protector, "a wolf killer turned hawk fighter" (p. 61). Does the
Claudia uses to describe him in the first paragraph stress the gentle,
aspects of nature or its harshness? Why does Morrison describe him in
winter section, rather than summer or spring? Is there love in his
about his children's well being, which is expressed in his advice about
and teaching them to control the fire? He protects Frieda when Mr.
sexually molests her; the novel contrasts Mr. MacTeer's protectiveness
Cholly Breedlove's treatment of Pecola and with the apathy of Junior's
Maureen Peal is a "dream child" (p. 62); she embodies the
ideals by which the other girls are judged and found lacking. She fits
of beauty and dress which the black adults in this novel admire in
white girls. She is admired by everyone except Frieda and Claudia. The
girls feel and become inferior when compared to her. Claudia and Frieda
take refuge in anger and contempt, making up names about her, to
some sense of their self-worth; they refuse to bow down to her
Almost every woman has known a Maureen Peal, whose perfections
all the other girls and who is held up as the standard for them by
and classmates. For example, my Maureen Peal was a blond-haired,
beauty named Shirley Elias who suddenly appeared in the sixth grade and
it seemed to me, became the most popular girl in our grade. I still
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
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
look at anything from her point of view inside. I only showed the
. . . And I never got in her because I didn't want to go there. I
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
and this and that, but if I were doing that book now, I would write her
or talk about her that way plus from inside.
Naylor comments, "Because a Maureen Peal suffered as much as a Pecola
in this society." Morrison fails to show the humanity of Maureen by
her a voice in the novel, so that we can see how she feels and what
she has experienced.
It is "a false spring day, which, like Maureen, had pierced
of a deadening winter" (p. 64). Is there a suggestion that Maureen is
some way false? Morrison describes Maureen's braids as looking like
lynch ropes" (p. 62). Why is this image ironic as a description of a little
girl, however light-skinned? Her skin is a "high yellow," meaning that
is light-skinned. One form which the internalization of white values
in the black community is to judge light skin as more desirable than
skin. The boys taunt Pecola by calling her "black"-- another irony,
they too are black. In a further ironic twist, they put her down in
way because of their scorn for their own blackness, "It was their
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
mistakes, or misfortunes of other people. Or a scapegoat may be
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
of the Jews on the head of a goat; the goat was freed afterward.
Morrison clearly identifies the self-hatred that motivates the
They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly
ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately
hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had
for ages in the hollows of their minds--cooled--and spilled over lips
consuming whatever was in its path. (p. 65)
They circle Pecola, "whom, for their own sake, they were prepared to
to the flaming pit" (p. 65). How does sacrificing her help to save the
This way of treating Pecola is a key idea in The Bluest Eye. As
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
semiprecious stones" (p. 65). They have inherent value but a limited
("semiprecious") because of their harassment of Pecola and their
Frieda and then Claudia defy the boys. The fact that Frieda's
have their mother's expression suggests that their mother serves as a
model and is a source of strength for the sisters. The sisters also
a close relationship and support each other as allies, however often
they may quarrel. Contrast
relationship with her mother and her brother. Does Pecola have any
of strength in or support from her family?
Not to look bad in Maureen's eyes, the boys leave. Initially
sisters think Maureen is befriending Pecola and is going to treat them
ice cream cones and are revising their estimate of her. Actually,
wants to know more about Pecola's seeing her father naked. The sisters
seen their father naked without any sexual implications, because of
their relationship with their father. He is their protector, the man
his children. They find his naked presence "friendly-like" (p. 72). The
of losing innocence can be seen in their shame "brought on by the
of shame" (p. 71). In other words, they felt no shame during the
it is society that expects them to feel shame; they are ashamed because
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
cute and that they are ugly; she varies the boys' chant, "Black and
black e mos," to assert her own cuteness. Nature images graphically
their falling out; Maureen's green knee socks look "like wild dandelion
as she runs away, and the angry sisters have faces "knotted like dark
Pecola collapses inward. Her reaction angers Claudia, who
to open her up, crisp her edges, ram a stick down the hunched and
spine, force her to stand erect and spit the misery out on the streets"
73-4). The difference in the girls is clear: Frieda and Claudia can
themselves, express anger, and fight back. Pecola can't.
Because of the near-universal adoration of Maureen, which
that Maureen is cute, Claudia wonders what makes her and her sister
inferior. Thus, the sisters perceive society's view of Maureen and
judgment and values. Claudia muses,
We were lesser, nicer, brighter, but still lesser.
we could destroy, but we could not destroy the honey voices of parents
aunts, the obedience in the eyes of our peers, the slippery
the eyes of our teachers when they encountered the Maureen
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
the references to eyes, I have added italics to the above quotation.
Society's values are destructive; when the children
values, their sense of self-worth is damaged and their sense of
Guileless and without vanity, we were still in love
ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our skins, enjoyed the news that
our senses released to us, admired our dirt, cultivated our scars, and
not comprehend this unworthiness. . . . And all the time we knew that
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
The impact of the white culture and its values appears in the numerous
references to the movies and to beautiful white movie stars. Pecola
the plot of Imitation of Life, in which "this mulatto girl
mother cause she is black and ugly" (p. 67). They pass the Dreamland
(is this an appropriate name?) and discuss their "love" of Betty Grable
Hedy Lamarr. Maureen tells the story of Audrey, who asked the
to fix her hair "like Hedy Lamarr's" (p. 70). Mr. Henry greets the
as Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers.
Is there the suggestion of sexuality in Mr. Henry's hiding the
and having the children pat his body to find it? If so, would this help
prepare for his later action in molesting Frieda?
The plain brown girls from Mobile, etc. have totally accepted
values, white lifestyles, and identify with white interests. They look
on blacks who lead a freer life or have obviously black features;
for instance, distinguishes between colored people and niggers:
Colored people were neat and quiet; niggers were
and loud.... The line between colored and nigger was not always clear;
and telltale signs threatened to erode it, and the watch had to be
The plain brown girls reject funk, which Stephanie Demetrakopoulos
as "spontaneity, sensuality, sexuality, and passion." Lacking these,
are not capable of loving other human beings. The black yearning to own
a home reaches obsessive proportions with these women. Because of their
of place, Morrison identifies them with their home towns--Mobile, etc.
Geraldine forces her son into gentility and inhibition. His
against his mother and his anger at being controlled come out in sadism
in bullying girls, "It was easy making them scream and run. How he
when they fell down and their bloomers showed. When they got up, their
red and crinkled, it made him feel good" (p. 87).
Morrison starts this chapter with an excerpt from the primer;
children play happily with the cat. In Pecola's life, the cat of the
becomes the cat that Junior throws at her and that he kills. Is his
Pecola for killing the cat scapegoating her?
Geraldine sees Pecola as a type, not as an individual, not as
innocent child. For her, Pecola represents poverty, slovenliness,
suffering, and hopelessness, "The end of the world lay in their eyes,
the beginning, and all the waste in between" (p. 92). Is she
What is the irony in Geraldine's ordering Pecola out of the
and Pecola's seeing a picture of "Jesus looking down at her with sad
unsurprised eyes" (p. 92)? What are the implications of "unsurprised"?
Nature imagery: Geraldine associates girls like Pecola with
not growing around their homes and flowers dying. This image is
because of the marigolds which did not grow anywhere in Loraine, Ohio,
1941. Pecola's psychological state is reflected in the snowflakes
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
justification; this means that both the right and the left margins are
Claudia sees friendliness and naturalness in the Maginot Line
Miss Marie), qualities expressed in a nature image, "Those rain-soaked
lit up, and her smile was full, not like the pinched and holding-back
of other grown-ups" (p. 103). Frieda, however, being older and
of being "ruined," expresses the values of her mother and society; they
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
the poverty of the black neighborhood. Claudia and Frieda know not to
by the park which blacks are not allowed to enter and to go to the back
of the house where Mrs. Breedlove works.
When Pecola tips the pie and gets burned, all Mrs. Breedlove's
and reassurances are focused on the little yellow haired child, to whom
speaks in words of honey; to Pecola, she spits out words "like rotten
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
to white standards of appearance and behavior. Pecola, the black child
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
except Claudia and Frieda ignores her emotional pain.