Summary of the Novel
Claudia MacTeer is a young black girl growing up in the small mill town of Lorain, Ohio. Life for her is difficult because her parents are too busy to show loving compassion. Claudia often finds it necessary to fight for herself, because other children try to put her down while adults are too busy with their own affairs and only notice children when there is work to be done. Claudia finds a lot of her anger and aggression directed towards the little white dolls that she receives as presents. It seems to her that these white dolls are given more love and attention than a flesh-and-blood black child.
The lives of Claudia and her sister Frieda take an interesting turn when Pecola Breedlove is temporarily placed in the MacTeer home by county officials. Pecola’s father burnt down their home, and Pecola needs a place to stay while her father serves his jail sentence. Claudia and Frieda like Pecola because she is quiet and shy and responds to their offers of graham crackers and milk. The milk is brought in a Shirley Temple mug. Pecola and Frieda both love Shirley Temple and soon become involved in a discussion about her. Claudia finds it hard to relate to this topic, but nevertheless they enjoy each other’s company.
The Breedlove family soon comes together again and finds a different home in an ugly house on the corner of a forgotten street. We learn that the entire Breedlove family has serious problems with self-esteem. The Breedloves go through life believing in their ugliness. Pauline, or Mrs. Breedlove, devotes her time to fighting with her husband, Cholly, and taking care of a white family. Cholly, when he is not fighting his wife, spends his days drinking. Their children are either abused or neglected, and each child has coped with this abuse or neglect in a special manner. Sammy has already run away from home many times, while Pecola spends her time trying to be invisible. Pecola prays for blue eyes because she believes that if she were a beautiful girl, everyone in town would treat her nicely.
Pecola, however, is abused by almost everybody in the town. One day, she is brutally teased by a group of boys when she is unexpectedly saved by Frieda, Claudia, and a new girl named Maureen Peal. Maureen Peal is a beautiful, light-skinned girl that becomes friendly towards Pecola for a while. However, Maureen soon turns on the other girls, using her own beauty as a weapon against them. Pecola is also the victim of a cruel prank by a light-skinned boy named Louis Junior, who is resentful towards dark-skinned blacks.
The reader is shown how Pecola’s parents met each other. Pauline Williams’ dreams are dashed at an early age when she steps on a nail and develops a crippled foot. It is only when she meets Cholly Breedlove that she begins to feel the magic of life. However, when the newly married couple move to Lorain, they begin to drift apart from each other. Pauline takes solace in the movies, watching the pretty actresses and emulating their hairstyles, but she becomes uglier and uglier. Once she has two children, she begins to spend most of her days taking care of a white family so that she can at least keep the illusion of being beautiful.
Cholly also had a difficult childhood, having been abandoned by both parents. The only person who takes care of him is his Aunt Jimmy, but she dies while Cholly is still a young boy. At Aunt Jimmy’s funeral, Cholly meets another girl and they go off into a nearby field. Their kissing is interrupted by two white hunters, who order Cholly to make love to the girl while they watch. Cholly, shamed and humiliated, transfers this anger to the girl rather than the hunters. Soon after this incident, Cholly travels to Macon, Georgia, in search of his natural father. Cholly finds his father but is too afraid to introduce himself and runs away. Without his parents, Cholly lives a life of total freedom but is confused once he has children with Pauline. He is unable to understand how to love his children and deals with this confusion by drinking. One drunken night, he comes home and finds Pecola washing the dishes. When Pecola scratches her leg with her foot, it causes Cholly to remember when he first met this wife. The memory of tickling his wife’s foot, as well as his drunken state, are factors which lead him to rape Pecola.
After the rape, Pecola decides to go to Soaphead Church, the “spiritual advisor” of the town. Pecola asks him for blue eyes, and the man is moved. He decides to help the girl and deceives her into poisoning a dog that he hates, telling her that it would be a sign that God has heard her prayers. Once Pecola leaves, Soaphead Church writes a letter to God, telling Him that he has granted this girl her wish because God has obviously not been listening to her prayers.
Pecola’s pregnancy at the hands of her father causes a terrible scandal, and Pecola is thrown out of school. The town condemns Cholly but feels that Pecola must share some of the blame for not fighting back. When Claudia and Frieda hear about their friend, they decide to pray for her and sacrifice some flower seeds that they were going to use to make money. However, the seeds that the girls planted refuse to grow, and Pecola’s baby dies. Claudia and Frieda avoid Pecola afterwards, thinking that they had failed their friend. Pecola is left to wander the streets. She has been driven insane by the abuse and spends her time looking in a mirror and talking with her imaginary friend about her blue eyes. Claudia, now grown up, looks back at that time and understands that it was not her fault that Pecola had become insane, and it is now too late to help Pecola recover.
The Life and Work of Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931. Her birthplace was Lorain, Ohio, which also serves as the setting for The Bluest Eye. Her parents both moved to Lorain from the South in search of better living conditions. Young Chloe was influenced greatly by her parents and their never-ending quest to improve the lives of their children. The small community was also very supportive of others, and although she was a shy girl, she remembers fondly the support she received as a youngster.
Toni was an excellent student, with a particular fondness for literature. She graduated from Howard University in 1953 with a bachelor’s degree in English and received a master’s degree from Cornell University two years later. At Howard, she changed her name to Toni and was an active participant in their drama club. She continued to love literature, however, and after receiving her master’s degree, she taught literature at Texas Southern University briefly before returning to Howard.
It was at Howard University that she met Harold Morrison, an architect, whom she later married. The Morrisons had two sons together but divorced in 1965. Morrison then relocated to Syracuse, where she became an editor for Random House. By 1967, she was a senior editor but still desired some sort of release for her creative energy.
She was active in writers’ support groups while at Howard but still had not published any works. In Syracuse, she decided to rewrite a short story she had written at Howard about “a girl who wanted blue eyes.” She was encouraged by a fellow editor, Alan Rancler, to turn this story into a full-length novel. The Bluest Eye was turned down by a few publishing companies before being printed by Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston in 1970. The book was given favorable reviews and established her as a talented new writer with a gift for language. A second novel, Sula, was published in 1973 and received a nomination for the National Book Award.
It was her third novel, Song of Solomon, that catapulted her to national prominence. Published in 1977, this novel also won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her most famous novel is undoubtedly 1987’s Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize. The Bluest Eye, as well as Morrison’s other novels, have been studied in schools around the country. In addition to writing, Morrison has produced a play, taught and lectured at Yale, Berkeley, and Princeton, and edited anthologies and critical studies of African-American literature. In 1993, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first African-American woman to do so.
The Bluest Eye is set in a steel mill town in the 1940s. During the Great Depression many people migrated in search of jobs, and the characters of the novel, much like Toni Morrison’s family, come to Lorain in search of better lives and better jobs. However, economic recovery did not come to America until the start of World War II and life in these towns was wracked with poverty and squalor.
A prominent theme in the novel is the idea of beauty and its standards. One of the most famous child actresses at the time was Shirley Temple, whose movies in the 1930s and 40s were immensely popular. Most of her films were family pictures, slight in plot and optimistic in tone, made with the intention of uplifting the spirits of those who were suffering through the Depression (one of her films was entitled The Little Princess). Other actresses mentioned are Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, and Hedy Lamarr, all white women who epitomized the standards of beauty at the time.
Black actors and actresses in movies of this era usually portrayed waiters or maids and were chiefly employed as comic relief. Although their choices of roles were limited, a few black actors and actresses managed to gain fame and stardom. Hattie McDaniel won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind, becoming the first black person to do so. As these actors gained prominence, they attempted to protest the lack of quality roles for blacks but could do practically nothing to change the rigid stereotyping of Hollywood. Some independent production companies, such as Toddy Pictures, managed to release a few films featuring all-black casts that were designed for black audiences. These films were usually inexpensive to make, because of the lack of financing available, and designed to provide light entertainment rather than commentary on social issues. During an era when Franklin Roosevelt integrated the armed forces and government offices, the film industry definitely was not progressive in terms of civil rights.
Master List of Characters
Claudia MacTeer—a young black girl who lives in an old house in Lorain; fiercely independent and resents the adults who give her orders; has an uncontrollable hatred for the white dolls that she receives for Christmas
Frieda MacTeer—Claudia’s older sister; protective of Claudia but is more good-natured; considers herself to be wiser than Claudia but still acts like a little girl in many situations
Mr. and Mrs. MacTeer—Claudia and Frieda’s parents; they are harsh to their children at times but are fiercely protective of them
Pecola Breedlove—an ugly twelve-year-old girl who wants blue eyes more than anything else in the world; constantly teased by children at school and abused by her parents; believes that the world will treat her differently once she is beautiful
Cholly Breedlove—Pecola’s father; a man who is constantly drunk and fighting with his wife, Pauline
Pauline (Mrs.) Breedlove—Pecola’s mother; a woman who is a live-in maid with a white family and seems more concerned with her employer’s family growth and progress than the health of her own family; stays with Cholly in order to chastise him for his drinking
Sammy Breedlove—Pecola’s older brother; a boy who either is running away from home or fighting with others
Poland China and Miss Marie (the Maginot Line)—three prostitutes who occupy the apartment above the Breedloves’ place; Pecola visits them often, and they treat her well
Mr. Yacobowski—owner of a local grocery store
Mr. Henry Washington—a middle-aged man who rents a room from the MacTeers for a brief period of time; kicked out of the house by Mr. MacTeer after he molests Frieda
Maureen Peal—a light-skinned black girl who quickly becomes the most popular girl in school; the other students want to be her friend because they think she is beautiful; she befriends Pecola for a short time before turning on her
Geraldine—a light-skinned lady who devotes herself to removing all the passion from her life in exchange for security in marriage; harbors a bitter resentment towards dark-skinned blacks and forces her son to stay away from other black boys
Louis Junior—Geraldine’s son; hates his mother and the cat that is the object of his mother’s affections; plays a cruel trick on Pecola and attacks the cat in the process
Soaphead Church—a man who analyzes dreams and promises to fix family problems; tricks Pecola into believing she has blue eyes
Rosemary Villanucci—a rich girl who lives next door to Claudia and Frieda; teases the MacTeer girls often from the window of her father’s car
Aunt Jimmy—the aunt of Cholly Breedlove’s mother, who had abandoned Cholly right after he was born; raises Cholly herself rather than return him to his natural mother
Blue Jack—an old man who worked at the feed store with Cholly Breedlove; used to entertain Cholly with stories
M’Dear—a respected midwife who also prescribed home remedies for the ladies of the town in which Cholly Breedlove grew up
O. V.—Aunt Jimmy’s brother
Jake—an older cousin who tries to pick up girls with Cholly Breedlove
Darlene—Cholly Breedlove’s first girlfriend
Samson Fuller—Cholly’s natural father
Bay Boy, Woodrow Cain, Buddy Wilson, and Junie Bug—four boys who tease Pecola in the playground
Ada and Fowler Williams—Pauline Breedlove’s parents
Chicken and Pie Williams—Pauline’s younger twin brothers
Ivy—a singer in Pauline’s childhood church
The Fishers—the white family that hires Mrs. Breedlove as a maid; the father works as a real estate agent
The Fishers’ daughter—Mr. and Mrs. Fisher’s adorable little daughter
Velma—Soaphead Church’s ex-wife
Estimated Reading Time
The 160-page novel is short but rather complex. While it is possible to complete the novel in ten hours, it might be necessary to review and reread the entire novel in order to gain a better understanding of Morrison’s use of structure. Teachers should probably allow extra class time for discussion, since there are some controversial scenes (such as Cholly’s rape of his daughter) that will provoke serious debate among the students.
Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Bluest Eye opens and closes with Claudia MacTeer’s reflection on the meaning and significance of a little girl’s suffering and her community’s responsibility and obligation to her. Using marigold seeds as a metaphor for the affection that might have allowed her abused friend Pecola Breedlove to thrive, Claudia realizes that the failure of her seeds to sprout demonstrates that the soil of her community “is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear.” While Claudia MacTeer withstands that world’s harshness through the strength and love of her family, a fragile child such as Pecola has no chance.
Dark-skinned Claudia values herself more than...
(The entire section is 782 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The events in The Bluest Eye are seen from the point of view of Claudia MacTeer. As the novel begins, Claudia is looking back at the year when she was nine and when her friend Pecola Breedlove, then eleven, became pregnant, having been raped by her own father, Cholly Breedlove. In the summer of 1941, Claudia and her sister, Frieda, planted marigold seeds in the childish belief that if the marigolds survived, so would Pecola’s baby. Even as the novel opens, however, the reader knows that the seeds never germinated and that the baby died. Years later, it is still impossible for Claudia to explain why the events of that year happened, so the novel becomes instead her account of how they happened.
(The entire section is 838 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In the autumn of 1940, Claudia MacTeer, a nine-year-old African American child, begins the school year. The weather cools, and Claudia becomes ill. Her mother takes care of her, but Claudia does not understand that her mother’s harsh words come from worry rather than anger. Claudia later remembers the pain she felt when her mother rubbed ointment on her to heal the illness; she also remembers the touch of soft hands (not connected to a real person) that comforted her in the night. Claudia reveals knowledge about the lives of the people around her family in the community of Lorain, Ohio. She and her older sister Frieda learn about life after hearing adult conversations.
The family is exposed to two boarders at their...
(The entire section is 1037 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Morrison’s first published novel, The Bluest Eye, is marked by much narrative experimentation and a dedication to exploring the struggles with dignity and violence that especially confront blacks. The wide-ranging narrative experimentation is something that, for the most part, her later novels would not continue; the themes with which it deals, however, were to remain important in all of her later works.
The novel begins with a brief sample story such as might be found in a typical child’s reader about “Dick and Jane.” This story is repeated twice, first without any punctuation, and a second time without even any spaces between the words, as if to suggest the unreasoning power that such stories have...
(The entire section is 1090 words.)
Chapter Summary and Analysis
“Dick and Jane” and Preface Summary and Analysis
“Dick and Jane”
The novel begins with a small passage that is similar in style to the “Dick and Jane” readers that were used for young children. Morrison uses this passage to emphasize the ideal of beauty that children are taught at an early age. The family lives in an idyllic “green-and-white” house, and Jane is wearing a “pretty red dress,” which is not the most practical of garments since she “wants to play.” The passage in the section is repeated three times, and the words come closer to each other with each repetition until the passage becomes nonsense. Morrison uses this technique to emphasize how lessons are often “drummed” into children at...
(The entire section is 613 words.)
AUTUMN: Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
Claudia: a nine-year-old girl living in a quiet Southern town
Frieda: Claudia’s older sister who is ten years old
Mr. and Mrs. Mac Teer: Claudia and Frieda’s parents
Mr. Henry Washington: a middle-aged man who rents a room from Claudia and Frieda’s parents
Pecola Breedlove: an eleven-year-old girl who lives with Claudia and Frieda briefly when her father burns down the family home
Rosemary Villanucci: a rich girl who lives next door to Claudia and Frieda
It is the autumn of 1940. Claudia is nine years old and lives in an old house with her parents and her ten-year-old sister, Frieda. She...
(The entire section is 1731 words.)
AUTUMN: Chapter 2 (Hereisthehouse…) and Chapter 3 (Hereisthefamily…) Summary and Analysis
Chapter 2 (Hereisthehouseitisgreenandwhiteithasareddooritisverypretty itisveryprettyprettyprettyp)
Chapter 3 (Hereisthefamilymotherfatherdickandjanetheyliveinthegreen andwhitehousetheyareveryh)
Mrs. Breedlove (Pauline): Pecola’s mother; works as a housekeeper for a rich white family and has a crippled foot
Cholly (Charlie) Breedlove: Pecola’s father; a terrible drunk who fights often with his wife
Sammy Breedlove: Pecola’s older brother
China, Poland, and Miss Marie: three prostitutes who live in the apartment above the Breedlove family
Mr. Yacobowski: the owner of a local grocery store
(The entire section is 1894 words.)
WINTER: Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis
Maureen Peal: a new girl in school who immediately becomes very popular
Bay Boy, Woodrow Cain, Buddy Wilson, and Junie Bug: four boys who are teasing Pecola in the playground
Maureen Peal, a new girl in Claudia and Frieda’s school, becomes popular because she is rich and light-skinned. Claudia tries to concoct a plan to humiliate her, but to her dismay, she discovers that everyone loves Maureen and wishes to become her friend. One day Maureen starts a conversation with Claudia, who holds the locker next to hers. When Maureen decides to walk home with Frieda and Claudia, Frieda is delighted, but Claudia is still wary of her. As the girls...
(The entire section is 1499 words.)
WINTER: Chapter 5 (Seethecatitgoesmeow…) Summary and Analysis
Chapter 5 (Seethecatitgoesmeowmeowcomeandplaycomeplaywithjane thekittenwillnotplayplayplaypla)
Louis Junior: a light-skinned black boy who invites Pecola back to his house
Geraldine: Louis Junior’s mother
There is a type of woman who lives in Lorain but comes from one of the bigger cities of America. This type of woman has dedicated her life to her own appearance, her education, and her family life. She has lived hoping that she will marry so that she may possess a house and a yard. Once she is married, she will become the head of the household and preserve this title at the expense of her own family. This type of woman has...
(The entire section is 1573 words.)
SPRING: Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis
The Fishers’ daughter: the adorable daughter of the family that has hired Mrs. Breedlove as a maid
One spring Saturday, Claudia returns from playing outside and finds the house unusually quiet. She goes to her bedroom and finds Frieda crying on the bed. Frieda tells her sister that Mr. Henry had touched her breasts. When Frieda’s father found out, he tried to shoot Mr. Henry but missed. Frieda cannot stop crying, and Claudia wonders if their mother had beat her. Frieda finally breaks down and tells Claudia that a neighbor told their parents that Frieda might be “ruined.” Frieda is scared because she believes she will turn out like the...
(The entire section is 1309 words.)
SPRING: Chapter 7 (Seemothermotherisvery…) Summary and Analysis
Chapter 7 (Seemothermotherisverynicemotherwillyouplaywithjane motherlaughslaughmotherlaughla)
Ada and Fowler Williams: Pauline Breedlove’s parents
Chicken and Pie Williams: Pauline’s younger twin brothers
Ivy: a singer in Pauline’s childhood church
The Fishers: the family that hires Mrs. Breedlove as a maid
Ever since Pauline Williams was a child, she felt inadequate because of her crippled foot. A childhood injury left her with a deformity and means of identification, but she felt that no one paid her attention. She was the only child in her large family that did not have a nickname, no one told...
(The entire section is 1355 words.)
SPRING: Chapter 8 (Seefatherheisbigand…) Summary and Analysis
Chapter 8 (Seefatherheisbigandstrongfatherwillyouplaywithjanefatheris smilingsmilefathersmilesmile)
Aunt Jimmy: the aunt of Cholly’s mother, who had abandoned Cholly right after he was born; raised Cholly herself
Blue Jack: an old man who worked at the feed store with Cholly; he used to entertain Cholly with stories
M’Dear: a respected midwife who also prescribed home remedies for the ladies of the town
O. V.: Aunt Jimmy’s brother
Jake: an older cousin who tries to pick up girls with Cholly
Darlene: Cholly’s first girlfriend
Samson Fuller: Cholly’s father
(The entire section is 1538 words.)
SPRING: Chapter 9 (Seethedogbowwow…) Summary and Analysis
Chapter 9 (Seethedogbowwowgoesthedogdoyouwanttoplaydoyouwant toplaywithjaneseethedogrunr)
Soaphead Church (Elihue Whitcomb): a child molester who works as a “spiritual guide” for the people of Lorain
Velma: Elihue’s wife for a brief period of time
Elihue Whitcomb was a person who always seemed to prefer the company of objects rather than people. However, his dislike for others could only mean that he would be in a profession that serves others. Although he briefly considered becoming a priest, he decided against it, instead choosing to be an analyst and interpreter of dreams. He enjoyed his job immensely because he could...
(The entire section is 1505 words.)
SUMMER: Chapter 10 and Chapter 11 (Looklookherecomes…) Summary and Analysis
Chapter11 (Looklookherecomesafriendthefriendwillplaywithjanetheywill playagoodgameplayjaneplay)
Claudia and Frieda are delighted to receive the packages of seeds that they had been waiting for all spring. They hope to sell enough seeds to earn a bicycle, so they begin to knock on the doors of their neighbors. They begin to pick up some gossip and eventually realize that Pecola is pregnant by Cholly. They are hurt and ashamed for their friend, but they are hurt even more when they find out that no one seems to care about Pecola, and everyone hopes that the baby will be stillborn. Frieda and Claudia decide that they must want the baby to live in order “to counteract the...
(The entire section is 1272 words.)
(The entire section is 0 words.)