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The Bluest Eye

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The Bluest Eye is a novel written by Toni Morrison

Plot Nine-year-old Claudia and ten-year-old Frieda MacTeer live in Lorain, Ohio, with their parents. It is the end of the Great Depression, and the girls' parents are more concerned with making ends meet than with lavishing attention upon their daughters, but there is an undercurrent of love and stability in their home. The MacTeers take in a boarder, Henry Washington, and also a young girl named Pecola. Pecola's father has tried to burn down his family's house, and Claudia and Frieda feel sorry for her. Pecola loves Shirley Temple, believing that whiteness is beautiful and that she is ugly.


Pecola moves back in with her family, and her life is difficult. Her father drinks, her mother is distant, and the two of them often beat one another. Her brother, Sammy, frequently runs away. Pecola believes that if she had blue eyes, she would be loved and her life would be transformed. Meanwhile, she continually receives confirmation of her own sense of ugliness—the grocer looks right through her when she buys candy, boys make fun of her, and a light-skinned girl, Maureen, who temporarily befriends her makes fun of her too. She is wrongly blamed for killing a boy's cat and is called a “nasty little black bitch” by his mother. We learn that Pecola's parents have both had difficult lives. Pauline, her mother, has a lame foot and has always felt isolated. She loses herself in movies, which reaffirm her belief that she is ugly and that romantic love is reserved for the beautiful. She encourages her husband's violent behavior in order to reinforce her own role as a martyr. She feels most alive when she is at work, cleaning a white woman's home. She loves this home and despises her own. Cholly, Pecola's father, was abandoned by his parents and raised by his great aunt, who died when he was a young teenager. He was humiliated by two white men who found him having sex for the first time and made him continue while they watched. He ran away to find his father but was rebuffed by him. By the time he met Pauline, he was a wild and rootless man. He feels trapped in his marriage and has lost interest in life. Cholly returns home one day and finds Pecola washing dishes. With mixed motives of tenderness and hatred that are fueled by guilt, he rapes her. When Pecola's mother finds her unconscious on the floor, she disbelieves Pecola's story and beats her. Pecola goes to Soaphead Church, a sham mystic, and asks him for blue eyes. Instead of helping her, he uses her to kill a dog he dislikes. Claudia and Frieda find out that Pecola has been impregnated by her father, and unlike the rest of the neighborhood, they want the baby to live. They sacrifice the money they have been saving for a bicycle and plant marigold seeds. They believe that if the flowers live, so will Pecola's baby. The flowers refuse to bloom, and Pecola's baby dies when it is born prematurely. Cholly, who rapes Pecola a second time and then runs away, dies in a workhouse. Pecola goes mad, believing that her cherished wish has been fulfilled and that she has the bluest eyes.

Characters

  • Pecola Breedlove - The protagonist of the novel, an eleven-year-old black girl who believes that she is ugly and that having blue eyes would make her beautiful. Sensitive and delicate, she passively suffers the abuse of her mother, father, and classmates. She is lonely and imaginative.
  • Claudia MacTeer - The narrator of parts of the novel. An independent and strong-minded nine-year-old, Claudia is a fighter and rebels against adults' tyranny over children and against the black community's idealization of white beauty standards. She has not yet learned the self-hatred that plagues her peers.
  • Cholly Breedlove - Pecola's father, who is impulsive and violent—free, but in a dangerous way. Having suffered early humiliations, he takes out his frustration on the women in his life. He is capable of both tenderness and rage, but as the story unfolds, rage increasingly dominates.
  • Pauline (Polly) Breedlove - Pecola's mother, who believes that she is ugly; this belief has made her lonely and cold. She has a deformed foot and sees herself as the martyr of a terrible marriage. She finds meaning not in her own family but in romantic movies and in her work caring for a well-to-do white family.
  • Frieda MacTeer - Claudia's ten-year-old sister, who shares Claudia's independence and stubbornness. Because she is closer to adolescence, Frieda is more vulnerable to her community's equation of whiteness with beauty. Frieda is more knowledgeable about the adult world and sometimes braver than Claudia.
  • Mrs. MacTeer - Claudia's mother, an authoritarian and sometimes callous woman who nonetheless steadfastly loves and protects her children. She is given to fussing aloud and to singing the blues.
  • Mr. MacTeer - Claudia's father, who works hard to keep the family fed and clothed. He is fiercely protective of his daughters.
  • Henry Washington - The MacTeers' boarder, who has a reputation for being a steady worker and a quiet man. Middle-aged, he has never married and has a lecherous side.
  • Sammy Breedlove - Pecola's fourteen-year-old brother, who copes with his family's problems by running away from home. His active response contrasts with Pecola's passivity.
  • China, Poland, Miss Marie - The local whores, Miss Marie (also known as the Maginot Line) is fat and affectionate, China is skinny and sarcastic, and Poland is quiet. They live above the Breedlove apartment and befriend Pecola.
  • Mr. Yacobowski - The local grocer, a middle-aged white immigrant. He has a gruff manner toward little black girls.
  • Rosemary Villanucci - A white, comparatively wealthy girl who lives next door to the MacTeers. She makes fun of Claudia and Frieda and tries to get them into trouble, and they sometimes beat her up.
  • Maureen Peal - A light-skinned, wealthy black girl who is new at the local school. She accepts everyone else's assumption that she is superior and is capable of both generosity and cruelty.
  • Geraldine - A middle-class black woman who, though she keeps house flawlessly and diligently cares for the physical appearances of herself and her family (including her husband, Louis, and her son, Junior), is essentially cold. She feels real affection only for her cat.
  • Junior - Geraldine's son, who, in the absence of genuine affection from his mother, becomes cruel and sadistic. He tortures the family cat and harasses children who come to the nearby playground.
  • Soaphead Church - Born Elihue Micah Whitcomb, he is a light-skinned West Indian misanthrope and self-declared “Reader, Adviser, and Interpreter of Dreams.” He hates all kinds of human touch, with the exception of the bodies of young girls. He is a religious hypocrite.
  • Aunt Jimmy - The elderly woman who raises Cholly. She is affectionate but physically in decay.
  • Samson Fuller - Cholly's father, who abandoned Cholly's mother when she got pregnant. He lives in Macon, Georgia, and is short, balding, and mean.
  • Blue Jack - A co-worker and friend of Cholly's during his boyhood. He is a kind man and excellent storyteller.
  • M'Dear - A quiet, elderly woman who serves as a doctor in the community where Cholly grows up. She is tall and impressive, and she carries a hickory stick.
  • Darlene - The first girl that Cholly likes. She is pretty, playful and affectionate.

Symbolism

The House

The novel begins with a sentence from a Dick-and-Jane narrative: “Here is the house.” Homes not only indicate socioeconomic status in this novel, but they also symbolize the emotional situations and values of the characters who inhabit them. The Breedlove -apartment is miserable and decrepit, suffering from Mrs. Breedlove's preference for her employer's home over her own and symbolizing the misery of the Breedlove family. The MacTeer house is drafty and dark, but it is carefully tended by Mrs. MacTeer and, according to Claudia, filled with love, symbolizing that family's comparative cohesion.

Bluest Eye

To Pecola, blue eyes symbolize the beauty and happiness that she associates with the white, middle-class world. They also come to symbolize her own blindness, for she gains blue eyes only at the cost of her sanity. The “bluest” eye could also mean the saddest eye. Furthermore, eye puns on I, in the sense that the novel's title uses the singular form of the noun (instead of The luest Eyes) to express many of the characters' sad isolation.

The Marigolds

Claudia and Frieda associate marigolds with the safety and well-being of Pecola's baby. Their ceremonial offering of money and the remaining unsold marigold seeds represents an honest sacrifice on their part. They believe that if the marigolds they have planted grow, then Pecola's baby will be all right. More generally, marigolds represent the constant renewal of nature. In Pecola's case, this cycle of renewal is perverted by her father's rape of her

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