The Bluest Eye Summary – Prologue
The Bluest Eye begins with two untitled, one-page prologues. The first paragraph of the first section reads like a 1940s first grade children’s reader. In simple sentences, it describes the house and family of a girl from a typical white, middle-class family. The second paragraph repeats the first, but this time without any punctuation. The third paragraph repeats the same text, but this time there is not only no punctuation, there are no spaces between the letters, so the words do not make any sense.
The second one-page prologue is italicized. Claudia MacTeer recalls the fall of 1941 when she was a childhood friend of Pecola Breedlove. Pecola was carrying her father’s baby. During that fall of 1941, no marigolds grew. Claudia and her friends thought at the time this was because of the incest. The childhood girlfriends were preoccupied with Pecola’s pregnancy and engaged in superstitious activities to ensure the baby’s safe delivery. However, the baby died and the girls felt guilty. Claudia informs the reader that the girls lost their innocence and their faith that fall. The reader will never know why the incest occurred, Claudia informs us in this first narrative; however, she promises to tell us what happened.
In the first one-page narrative, the ideal scene suggests a false picture, such as that presented in children’s books of the 1940s and 1950s. In these decades, people preferred their children to read about the ideal nuclear family, as if no other kind of family existed. The tone conveys innocence, but at the expense of reality. The contrast between the tone of this first grade reader and what really happens in life-incest, for example-makes it even more shocking.
The first-person narrative of Claudia MacTeer in the italicized one-page narrative makes the story seem immediate and real. As readers, we know that Claudia was there as a child. She was a witness, so we trust her telling of the story. The reader knows why Claudia needs to tell the story-to understand it herself, from an adult’s perspective.
These two narratives pave the way for the story that follows. The Bluest Eye is a novel about a lonely black girl, Pecola Breedlove, living in Ohio in the 1940s. Morrison shows the power and effect of white middle class perceptions of beauty and value, through Pecola’s obsession with having the bluest eyes. Throughout the novel, the reader comes to know what it is like to be a young black girl in a culture defined by white, middle-class values. In the end, the reader can surmise that Pecola’s obsession is a likely result of a black girl’s immersion in a value system that idealizes white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes as the only form of beauty.
The novel is not told in chronological order or from a single perspective. Part of it is told in retrospect from the memory of Claudia MacTeer, a childhood friend of Pecola’s. Other parts are told by an omniscient narrator in sections that are introduced by run-on, unpunctuated fragments from the first-grade reader introduced in the prologue.
The Bluest Eye Summary – Autumn
This is the first of the four main sections of the novel, and is set in the Autumn of 1940. The first part is told by Claudia. She begins with an incident involving the girls’ neighbor, Rosemary, who is white. She is sitting in her car eating bread and butter, and rolls the window down just to let the other girls know they cannot come in her car. Claudia reacts angrily because she and her sister, Frieda, want the good food that Rosemary can afford to eat; but more than that, Claudia is angry because of Rosemary’s superior attitude. She and Frieda plan to beat her up. They know, since they have obviously done this before, she will cry and ask if they want her to pull her pants down. Frieda and Claudia do not know why Rosemary says this, but they say no.
That fall, the MacTeers accept a boarder, a single man named Mr. Henry, who has been living with an old woman who is no longer competent to take care of him. The girls overhear some of the talk about him before he arrives. It is said that he is a steady, quiet worker, and when he arrives Claudia and Frieda think he is wonderful because he talks to them in a friendly way and plays with them.
Soon after, a girl named Pecola Breedlove is placed in the MacTeer home by social services because Mr. Breedlove burned down their house. When Pecola arrives, Claudia and Frieda stop fighting each other and try to make Pecola feel at home. Pecola loves drinking milk out of the blue and white Shirley Temple cup the girls bring her, but Claudia hates Shirley Temple. She also recalls how she hated the big, blue-eyed baby doll she was given for Christmas. She starts to hate little white girls, too.
One Saturday afternoon, Claudia and Frieda are bored and try to think up something interesting to do. Before they can decide anything, Pecola interrupts them with a little scream. They look at her and see she is bleeding between her legs. Pecola asks whether he is going to die, and Frieda tells her that all the blood means is that now she is able to have a baby. Pecola is menstruating for the first time. Claudia gets some water to wash the steps, while Frieda takes Pecola to the side of the house where the bushes are thick. Frieda attaches a cotton pad to Pecola’s dress. Rosemary, the neighbor, comes to watch. Claudia scratches Rosemary’s nose, and Rosemary calls for the girls’ mother and complains that the girls are playing “nasty.” Mrs. MacTeer comes out the back door and whips Claudia with a switch across her legs, but when the girls explain what is happening to Pecola, she softens and helps to clean Pecola up.
In the next short section, the second narrator describes in detail the apartment that the Breedloves move into when Cholly is released from jail. It used to be a store. There is nothing remarkable about the furnishings, which are all old. There are two sofas, a piano, and an artificial Christmas tree that has been there for two years. There are three beds, one for Pecola, another for Sammy, her older brother, and a double bed for Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove. There is also a coal stove.
The Breedloves live in the storefront because, as the narrator puts it, they are poor and black, and also because they believe they are ugly. Their ugliness comes not so much from their actual physical appearance as from their belief that they are ugly.
The incident the narrator now relates took place on a Saturday morning in October. Cholly has come home drunk the previous evening. When Mrs. Breedlove gets up in the morning, she is angry with him and demands that he go outside and get some coal. Cholly refuses. It is clear that a physical fight between them is brewing. This is a frequent occurrence in their house, and is of course deeply painful to Pecola. Every time it happens she wishes she could die. Mrs. Breedlove throws a dishpan of cold water over Cholly. He tackles her and knocks her down. She hits him with the pan and he strikes her in the face. Sammy joins in and beats his father about the head with his fists. Mrs. Breedlove then hits her husband with a stove lid, knocking him out.
Pecola feels nauseous and begs God to allow her to disappear. She has come to believe that if her eyes were different she would be different and would not have to endure being ugly. Each night she prays for blue eyes.
She walks down to a grocery store to buy some candy. Mr. Yacobowski, the store owner, seems barely to see her. As with all white people, in Pecola’s experience, there is “a vacuum edged with distaste” in his eyes when he looks in her direction. She points at some Mary Janes but has difficulty in communicating to Mr. Yacobowski what she wants. Eventually she succeeds in buying three Mary Janes.
On her way home she visits China, Poland and Miss Marie, the three prostitutes who live in the apartment above the Breedloves’ apartment. Pecola loves these women and often visits them and runs errands for them. They talk in a friendly way to Pecola about the men Pecola calls their “boyfriends.” In truth, the three prostitutes hate all men and enjoy cheating them out of their money whenever they get the opportunity. Pecola wonders what love is, and how people behave when they love each other. A picture comes into her mind of her parents making love, in which her father makes noises that sound as if he is in pain, and her mother is silent. Pecola thinks that maybe that is love.
This section conveys a lot more than it says on the surface. Using understatement, Morrison reveals the relationship between white and black children. The white children lord it over the black ones, pointing to the privileges they enjoy. The black children hate the white children because they have more, and their attitude is superior.
When Rosemary tries to appease Claudia and Frieda by asking them if they want her to pull her pants down, the reader knows what this detail signifies: Rosemary offers to do this because someone has asked her to do it before. This suggestion of sexual abuse is a stark contrast to the idealized picture of family life depicted in the prologue, and a foreshadowing of what will happen to Pecola.
This section conveys the helplessness with which these children of nine and ten years old experience the world. The adults do not talk to them but only give instructions. They speak roughly to the children, who regard them as unpredictable because their words cannot be fully understood. The children learn to read the adults’ emotions by watching their body language and listening to the tone of their voices. They are additionally helpless because they are black girls growing up poor in a white-dominated world. One of the great fears of black people is presented as a fear of homelessness, of ending up “outdoors.” This is the worst thing that can happen, and of course, Cholly, who puts his entire family “outdoors” by burning down his own house, is despised because of it.
Claudia is fortunate in that at least her mother, for all her impatience and harsh words, loves her. Claudia is aware of the presence of love in their home, which she experiences as “love, thick and dark as Alaga syrup.” This is a love that is denied to Pecola, who internalizes her parents’ image of themselves as ugly, inferior and undeserving of love.
This section also shows how the dominant white culture serves to undermine the black girls’ belief in their own beauty and worth. All the images of beauty they are presented with in popular culture are white. Shirley Temple looks at them from the side of a teacup, and the smiling faces on the Mary Janes candy Pecola buys are all white, with blond hair and blue eyes. No wonder Pecola develops a longing for blue eyes. She is very young and cannot be expected to have the maturity to develop her own standards of beauty in a way that might include herself. This is shown quite clearly in the incident in which Pecola, on the way to the candy store, observes some dandelions. She thinks they look pretty, but she knows that adults refer to them as weeds and wonders why this should be so. After her humiliating experience in the candy store, in which the owner seems to look right through her, she regards the dandelions quite differently. “They are ugly,” she says. “They are weeds.” She is allowing her perceptions and her ideas to be shaped by cultural norms rather than what she herself thinks. She is too weak to rely on her own judgments, although as a poor and abused young girl she can hardly be blamed for that.
The Bluest Eye Summary – Winter
In Winter, Claudia’s narrative continues. She recounts the hard times in her own family where her father had to work day and night to keep them from starving. Claudia also relates the appearance of a new girl at their school, Maureen Peal. Maureen is a light-skinned black girl; she is rich, cute and held in high esteem by the teachers and other students. Claudia and Frieda are both irritated and fascinated by Maureen; Claudia often imagines hurting Maureen. She and Frieda are jealous of her. Maureen’s locker is near Claudia’s, and one day Maureen starts a conversation with Claudia. They walk out of the school together and see Pecola surrounded by a group of taunting black boys in the schoolyard. Frieda rescues Pecola and they all leave the schoolyard together.
Maureen is friendly towards Pecola and buys her an ice cream cone at Isaley’s. The girls walk home together talking about the movies. Maureen starts talking about boys and asks Pecola whether she has ever seen a man naked. Claudia thinks of the time when she and her sister saw their own father naked.
Soon the conversation turns into a quarrel. Then Frieda throws a punch at Maureen, and Maureen runs away. The three black girls are on one side of the street and Maureen is on the other side. Maureen yells back at the girls that she is cute, but they are black and ugly. After this insult, Frieda and Claudia scream at Maureen while Pecola stands there showing her emotional pain, sad and withdrawn.
Claudia and Frieda go home and see Mr. Henry, the boarder, who gives them money for candy. They go to the store and when they return they watch Mr. Henry from outside the house by the bushes. He is playing with the prostitutes. They wait until the women leave to go inside. They promise him they won’t tell their mother.
The next section, told by the omniscient narrator, describes educated blacks who arrive in Lorain from cities like Mobile, Aiken and Newport News. They live in beautiful homes and take extreme care of their appearance, trying to look lighter and act like white people. They think of themselves as “colored people” and view themselves as superior to other blacks, whom they refer to as “niggers.” One of these is Geraldine and her son, Junior, who is described as growing up in an overly clean, but emotionally cold environment where he does not receive nurturing from his parents and is not allowed to play with other black children. Living near the park, Junior often bullies other children.
One day Junior stops Pecola in the park and invites her to his house. He lures her into his home, promising to show her kittens. He throws his big black cat into her face. The cat scratches her and she cries. Junior locks her in the room with the cat. When Pecola notices its beautiful blue eyes, she takes refuge in petting it. When Junior doesn’t hear her cries he emerges from the other room and grabs the cat away from her and swings it by its leg over his head. He throws it against the window where it falls behind the radiator. His mother, Geraldine, arrives home and is surprised to see the girl. Junior tells his mother that Pecola killed the cat. Geraldine makes Pecola leave, calling her a “nasty little black bitch,” automatically believing that she had indeed killed the cat.
Maureen, the light-skinned black girl, is considered by everyone at her school to be one of the most attractive girls there. She is also wealthier. This creates a link between degrees of blackness of skin and economic class; the lighter the skin, the greater the chance of prosperity. This is reinforced in the section about the middle-class, educated blacks who move into Lorain. They are also lighter-skinned.
The self-hatred felt by the poor blacks is apparent. When the black boys taunt Pecola they insult her with a chant of “Black e mo.” They do not seem to notice that such a chant is insulting to them as well. They are full of a learned self-hatred; they feel contempt for black people, even if that includes themselves.
However, Claudia and Frieda have not yet learned this self-hatred. Unlike the taunting boys, Claudia says, “we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our own skins.” They have not yet imbibed the idea that they are worthless because their skins are not the “right” color. But the first hint of the change that will come is present in their encounter with Maureen. They figure that if Maureen is cute, as she claims to be, then they cannot be. Her cuteness makes them less cute, because they are not like her. Maureen has something that makes her beautiful but which they do not have, although they have not yet figured out what this might be. The reader can guess that this realization will not be long in coming, since as in the previous section, there are continual reminders to the girls in popular culture that white is beautiful (in the mention of the movie stars Betty Grable and Heddy Lamarr for example).
This section also reveals the personalities of the three main characters: Pecola, Claudia and Frieda. Pecola is the perpetual victim, always passively enduring what befalls her. She is already withdrawn, which foreshadows her ultimate fate of isolation. Claudia and Frieda, on the other hand, are more aggressive and in touch with their emotions. Frieda rescues Pecola from the taunting boys; then in the scene where they are walking home from Isaley’s, while Pecola just absorbs Maureen’s insults, Frieda defends Pecola aggressively, and Claudia throws a punch at the offending girl. The author shows clearly the difference between a black girl who does not fight back against the degrading racist culture and the girls who access their rage and inner power to assert their worth.
The Bluest Eye Summary – Spring
In the section called Spring, Claudia resumes her narrative. She begins by telling about the whippings they received and how the green twigs stung more than the strap or hairbrush with which they were beaten in winter.
Frieda is crying and Claudia asks her why. Frieda tells her about Mr. Henry who was caught fondling her breasts. She’s crying because her father beat Mr. Henry, and because her mother’s friend, Miss Dunion, said she was ruined. They discuss the fat Maginot Line, one of the prostitutes who live above Pecola’s apartment, because they know she is ruined. They guess that the reason why the other prostitutes aren’t fat is because they drink whiskey. They decide to go to Pecola’s to get whiskey to drink, so Frieda can avoid being ruined like Maginot Line. When they get to Pecola’s she is gone but they see Maginot Line who invites them upstairs to wait for Pecola. When they tell her they cannot come upstairs Maginot Line laughs and throws the root beer bottle down at them.
They go to Pecola’s mother’s workplace and discover her on the back porch stoop, smiling. They are surprised to see her smile. Mrs. Breedlove tells them to wait inside while she finishes her work. A white child comes into the kitchen and sees them. She is afraid of them. When she asks, “Where is Polly?” the girls are disgusted that she addresses Mrs. Breedlove by her first name, so informally, when her own daughter, Pecola, and the others must address her formally as Mrs. Breedlove.
The girls see a berry cobbler, and as they move closer to inspect it, it crashes to the floor splattering berries everywhere. Mrs. Breedlove enters the room and smacks Pecola and scolds her and Frieda for knocking the cobbler off the counter. The white girl comes in crying, so Mrs. Breedlove comforts her and assures her that she will make another cobbler for her. Mrs. Breedlove shouts over her shoulder for Pecola and Frieda to take out the laundry and get out of the house.
The next section, told by the omniscient narrator, recounts Mrs. Breedlove’s early life and marriage to Cholly. She grew up in a five-room frame house in a town in Kentucky. When she was old enough, she left school and looked after the house for her mother, who had a day job as a cleaner. Pauline also looked after the two youngest children. When they were ten years old, they went out to work. Pauline was fifteen, still keeping house, but dreaming of love and of men. One summer she met Cholly, and they fell in love. They agreed to marry, and he suggested they move north to Lorain, Ohio, where he could get a job in a steel mill.
In Lorain, Pauline was lonely. She didn’t feel comfortable in Lorain because she was a country girl. Although Cholly was still kind to her, they had less to say to each other, and to ease her loneliness and boredom she got a job working in the home of a white family of slender means. Cholly drank more and started to get mean towards her. One day he showed up drunk at her day job. Pauline’s employer saw him and threatened to call the police if he didn’t leave. Therefore, Pauline left with Cholly, to get him away from her employer. As a result, her employer gave her an ultimatum: leave Cholly and keep your job or stay with Cholly and don’t come back to work. Pauline chose Cholly.
Pauline became pregnant and Cholly seemed to be happy and cut back on his drinking. At that time in her life, Pauline started going to movies. She loved the images in the movies of romantic love and physical beauty. Absorbing the white culture’s ideal of beauty, she tried to style her hair like Jean Harlow. She later had another child, Pecola. Her relationship with Cholly deteriorated and she became the sole breadwinner in the family. She went to church and attended prayer meetings. She looked down on Cholly and felt superior to him. She also became self-righteous and rigid in her thinking.
Pauline secured a job with a well-to-do white family who valued her as an excellent servant. She took pride in her attention to detail in serving the white family. Sometimes she dreaded her life with Cholly, and she started to dream of leaving him and having a better life. But in the end she didn’t leave him. Cholly used his masculine body and lovemaking skills to keep her. She enjoyed their sexual life together, and that is why she did not leave him.
In the next section, the omniscient narrator tells about Cholly and his upbringing. Cholly was abandoned by his own mother in infancy and raised by his Great Aunt Jimmy. She was old and seemed superstitious to Cholly. However, Cholly met a man named Blue Jack at the grain store where he worked. He admired Blue Jack and thought of him as a father figure. Cholly especially remembered a Fourth of July event at a church picnic where Blue invited him to eat the heart of the watermelon with him. This was the only nurturing or acceptance from a father figure that Cholly received growing up.
Cholly’s Great Aunt died when he was only thirteen. During the family gathering after the funeral, Cholly had his first sexual experience, with Darlene. It started out mutually inviting and natural; however it degraded into a voyeuristic spectacle when two white men found them and watched them with a flashlight. They laughed at the teenagers and forced Cholly to continue having sex with Darlene even when he no longer had any desire. Darlene covered her face and waited for the white men to leave. Cholly felt ashamed and humiliated. But he did not attribute his situation and feelings to the white men or the white culture. Instead, he hated Darlene because of this incident, not the white men who abused them. He hated the girl who witnessed his impotence, the girl he did not have the power to protect.
Finally, Cholly entertained the notion that Darlene may be pregnant, so he ran away to Macon. He sought out his father because he needed to be understood, and to understand himself. When he arrived in Macon he found his father playing craps, but the man didn’t want anything to do with Cholly. In a panic, Cholly ran away and lost control of his bowels. Afterwards he just lay there in his own feces under a pier on the river where he was hiding. After a while he got up and washed himself and his pants. He thought of his Great Aunt Jimmy and her simple, giving nature. He cried. Later, he walked the streets of Macon and hung out listening to music. He felt the music spoke to him and his turbulent life. After he realized he had no one in the world, he felt free for the first time in his life. He realized that he had been rejected by both his mother and his father. No one cared about him. But because he had lost everything, he felt free. He had no ties, no responsibilities and no reason to lie or act in any specific way. He felt he could be true to himself.
He also realized that because no one cared about him, he didn’t have to care about himself. He could behave any way he wanted to, without feeling any responsibility. He had nothing to lose because he had nothing.
It was in this state of self-proclaimed freedom that he met Pauline. Pauline was the image of stability and steadfastness. He married her but he didn’t really understand why. Worst of all, he could not understand how to be a parent. When their children were born he reacted to them without any awareness of his own value system or of the normal or natural way to act like a parent.
At the end of this section, the reader learns that years later, Cholly raped his eleven-year-old daughter. It was a Saturday afternoon, and he came home drunk. Pecola was washing dishes in the kitchen. Feeling a strange combination of hatred and tenderness, Cholly gave in to his own selfish desires, not restrained by any sense of the appropriate way to act as a parent, w which was something he had never learned. After raping Pecola, he left her unconscious on the kitchen floor.
The omniscient narrator continues, telling the story of the psychic faith healer, Elihue Micah Whitcomb, known as Soaphead Church. Soaphead is visited by the twelve-year- old Pecola who asks him for blue eyes. He wants to help her and is angry that he is powerless to do so. He tricks her into feeding poisoned meat to his landlady’s dog. If the dog acts strangely, he tells Pecola, it is a sign from God that she will be granted the blue eyes. Pecola gives the meat to the dog, which dies almost immediately. Horrified, Pecola runs away.
Soaphead then writes a letter to God, saying that he has given the girl what God Himself had failed to do-the blue eyes she desperately wanted. No one else will ever see them, but she will. She will believe that she has blue eyes, and will therefore live happily ever after.
After writing the letter, he falls asleep. His landlady emerges from her candy store and finds the dead dog.
In her employer’s house, Mrs. Breedlove wears a white uniform; there is “white porcelain” and “white woodwork” in the house, which is impeccably neat and clean. Mrs. Breedlove’s actions suggest that she has internalized the stereotype that whites are superior to blacks, even though she herself is black. She treats the little white girl with “corn yellow” hair and pink clothes-she is the daughter of her employers-better than she treats her own daughter, comforting her when she is upset and promising to change her stained dress and make another pie to replace the one that Pecola knocked to the floor. Pecola never receives this kind of tenderness from her mother. The incident brings out the way Mrs. Breedlove has come to perceive the world: the black girls bring in disorder and messiness, whereas in the white world, everything is cleanliness and order.
So far the novel has presented a very negative picture of Cholly and Pauline Breedlove. Cholly has behaved irresponsibly by putting his family “outdoors,” and he and his wife are constantly fighting. The reader also has known from the beginning that Cholly raped his daughter. In this section, Spring, however, the reader learns a great deal about how Cholly and Pauline came to be the way they are. To an extent they are themselves victims of their impoverished environment and of white racism. They did the best they could given the situations they found themselves in. It is as if the author is saying: the ways that Pauline and Cholly were raised caused them to ignore and devalue Pecola, just as it caused them to ignore and devalue themselves. Morrison’s technique of allowing Pauline to tell some of her story herself (the italicized portions of the narrative that are written in the first-person voice), contributes to the sympathy with which the reader may start to view her.
However, the reader cannot excuse or forgive Cholly and Pauline’s behavior by a knowledge of their backgrounds. Least of all can Cholly’s bad experiences in life exonerate him for the rape of his own daughter. The author makes it clear that whatever the disadvantages from which they suffered, both Pauline and Cholly made bad choices in their lives, all of which led up to the terrible moment when Pecola was raped.
It appears, then, that there is a contrast in the novel between two different kinds of black family: the MacTeers who do not accept the hateful images of black culture and protect their family; and the Breedloves who do not value black culture and do not protect their family members. As a result, the Breedlove family falls apart, but the MacTeers survive and remain functional.
The Bluest Eye Summary – Summer
Claudia’s narrative continues in the short concluding section, Summer, where she and Frieda heard neighborhood gossip over Pecola’s pregnancy. They learned that Pecola’s own father, Cholly, was the baby’s father. The talk was that given the way Pecola’s mother beat the girl, only a miracle can save the baby. Even if it lived it would certainly be ugly.
But Claudia, hearing these fragments of conversation about a baby that everyone wanted to die, wanted it to live, and she was sure that Frieda felt the same. They wanted the world to acknowledge a black baby as beautiful, just to counteract all the white dolls that were universally loved. It did not bother them that the baby had been fathered by Pecola’s own father.
They decided they must do something to change events and allow the baby to live. They sacrificed the few dollars they made selling seeds and buried the money near Pecola’s house, as an offering. They planted the marigold seeds in their backyard, too, believing that if the marigolds bloomed it would be a sign that the baby would live. This also meant giving up on the new bicycle they had been promised as a reward for selling the seeds.
The narrative then switches to Pecola’s perspective. She is alone now. Claudia and Frieda do not play with her, and she no longer goes to school. It appears that after she started believing that she had blue eyes, she behaved strangely at school, and the school summoned her mother, who took her out of school.
Since Pecola is alone every day she invents an imaginary friend to whom she talks about her eyes, which she believes are now blue. She believes that the reason others look away from her when they see her is because they are jealous of her beautiful eyes. She thinks they are just pretending that they don’t see them. Pecola also confides in her imaginary friend that she was the victim of incest on more than one occasion. She told her mother about the first incident, but her mother did not believe her, so the next time it happened, she did not mention it. Mrs. Breedlove no longer talks to her daughter. It also transpires that Cholly has left their home, so Pecola no longer has to fear his sexual advances.
The final section of the novel is narrated by Claudia in the present. She summarizes what happened to all the characters. After the baby was born prematurely and died, Pecola, as the reader has just seen in her conversation with her imaginary friend, went insane. She spent her time “walking up and down, up and down, her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so distant only she could hear.” Claudia and Frieda were frightened of her and ignored her. They refused even to go near her.
Cholly Breedlove died in a workhouse, and Sammy Breedlove left town. Pauline Breedlove is still employed as a housekeeper for whites, while Claudia, alone, has been trying to understand what really happened to Pecola, who still lives with her mother in a little brown house. She realizes that everyone who knew Pecola used her to boost themselves. Despising what she was, or what they saw her to be, made them feel strong. They made themselves beautiful only by condemning her ugliness. The only ones who loved her were Maginot Line, the prostitute, and, in a way, Cholly. He at least saw Pecola’s beauty and touched her. He loved her in a sense, although it was a fatal love. His love in effect killed her. Claudia now knows that she was wrong to see the lack of marigolds at the time of Pecola’s pregnancy as a sign that the baby had no right to live. But she acknowledges that it is too late for such thoughts now.
In this section the narrator returns for the first time to the events that were sketched in the second, italicized Prologue-the marigold seeds that were planted in the summer of 1941 by Claudia and Frieda. The narrative reveals the innocent good nature of Claudia and Frieda. They are too young to absorb the cynicism and hatred of the adults, and they feel a simple love for the unborn baby, although this is mixed with defiance. They are prepared to make a real sacrifice to enable it to live in order to affirm their own power. They are children pushed around in an adult world, and it is with “pity and pride” that they decide “to change the course of events and alter a human life” (p. 191). They have a nave faith that the seeds will grow and everything will be all right, but Claudia discovers that it is not so easy to change fate. How things turns out rests not only on what individuals want but on the entire culture and the norms and prejudices it possesses.
Nor can the world be different just because one little black girl longs for blue eyes. The fate suffered by Pecola is to be barely seen by her own mother in her own home. This recalls the episode in the candy store when Mr. Yacobowski looked right through her. Pecola, the weakest and most vulnerable character in the book, has finally become almost invisible. She is locked in her own world because she cannot possibly survive in the real world. Like a tender flower blown down in a storm, she has become the most pitiable example of the devastating effects of a racist society in which oppressed black people internalize the values of white culture and sink into self-hatred.