Study Guide

The Bluest Eye

by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye Analysis

Form and Content (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Bluest Eye tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young African American girl immersed in poverty and made “ugly” by the American culture of the early 1940’s that defines beauty in terms of such actors as Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, and Shirley Temple. Her mother beats and abuses her, and her father rapes and abandons her. Toni Morrison introduces the novel with a two-page parody of the Dick-and-Jane reader; the monotonous sentences of the reader repeat with increasing speed until the words run together. The parody is followed by a one-page interior monologue from the main narrator, Claudia MacTeer, who sets the scene for the four sections that make up the rest of the novel: “Autumn,” “Winter,” “Spring,” and “Summer.” The subsections are introduced by run-together lines from the Dick-and-Jane parody.

“Autumn” begins with Claudia MacTeer’s bleak sketch of her own home and impoverishment and moves toward Pecola’s brief stay with Claudia’s family after Cholly, Pecola’s father, burns the Breedlove home. While staying with the MacTeers, Pecola begins to menstruate and learns that she can now have a baby if some man loves her. “Autumn” ends with a sketch of three misanthropic “whores” who, unsentimentally, provide Pecola with the little warmth that she experiences.

“Winter,” a shorter section of the novel, begins by sketching the face of Claudia and Frieda’s father and then sketching his nakedness, which the daughters see accidentally. Because Mr. MacTeer’s nakedness is nonthreatening, it leaves Claudia and Frieda more astonished than offended. In contrast, the section ends with Pecola’s misery in the home of Louis and Geraldine, elitist African Americans who regard people such as Pecola as trash. Pecola has been lured into the home by their mean son, Junior, who promises to give Pecola a kitten. Once there, Junior, who is jealous of his mother’s blue-eyed, black cat, throws the cat in Pecola’s face and locks her in the room. When Junior discovers that Pecola likes the cat, he hurls the cat against the wall, leaving it unconscious when Geraldine arrives home. Junior blames the cat’s near-death on Pecola, and Geraldine, enraged by Pecola’s impoverished ugliness, calls Pecola a “black bitch” and tells her to get out.

“Spring,” comprising almost a third of the novel, begins with Claudia’s father beating up Mr. Henry, their roomer, for fondling Frieda, another scene contrasting the father-daughter relationship in the Breedlove family. Most of “Spring,” however, focuses on flashbacks to the earlier lives of Mrs. Breedlove and Cholly. In Mrs. Breedlove’s narration, she traces the loss of her romantic illusion and recollects the details of making love with Cholly in their youth. Her section ends shortly after her recollection of an orgasm. In Cholly Breedlove’s narrative, Morrison avoids interior monologue but uses an external first-person perspective to reclaim Cholly’s history in Georgia as an infant abandoned by his insane mother and reared by his Great Aunt Jimmy. Though Cholly’s story includes his marriage to Mrs. Breedlove, the final sexual image refers not to her but to his rape of their daughter.

“Spring” concludes with the pregnant Pecola seeking out Soaphead Church to petition him for blue eyes. Soaphead affirms Pecola’s desire to have blue eyes so that she will no longer be ugly. As Pecola’s rite of passage, Soaphead tricks her into poisoning his landlady’s dog, an animal that offends Soaphead’s sensibilities. Concluding “Spring,” Soaphead writes a letter to God on Pecola’s behalf and then sleeps dreamlessly while Pecola drifts into madness and his landlady finds her poisoned dog.

“Summer,” the shortest section of The Bluest Eye, is narrated by Claudia. She and her sister try to sell marigold seeds to earn a bicycle, and as they listen to neighborhood gossip, they piece together Pecola’s story. Pecola is pregnant with Cholly’s child. Cholly has fled. Mrs. Breedlove has beaten Pecola. Claudia and Frieda are disillusioned that no one wants the baby to live. As a petition for Pecola and the baby’s life, Claudia and Frieda bury the money for the bicycle and plant the marigolds. Yet the marigolds do not grow. Claudia speculates that maybe she planted the seeds too deep but that maybe “the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year.”

The final scenes focus on Pecola’s madness and on her obsession with having the bluest eyes. Claudia, as narrator, reveals that the baby is dead; that Pecola’s brother, Sammy, left town; that Cholly died in a workhouse; and that Mrs. Breedlove still does housework. Claudia realizes that Pecola’s beauty was turned ugly by society and that “[l]ove is never any better than the lover.” Claudia ends with the lament “it’s much, much, much too late.”

The Bluest Eye Context (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Toni Morrison, the 1993 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, is best known for her novels and literary criticism. The Bluest Eye, Morrison’s first novel, was followed by Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981), Beloved (1987), and Jazz (1992). Morrison won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon, and she won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for Beloved. Best known of Morrison’s critical writing is Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992).

According to an interview with Morrison, The Bluest Eye began as a short story for a writer’s group. It was written during a time of loneliness, following her divorce, when she was parenting her two preschool-age sons. In the interview, Morrison talks about her interest in focusing her novels on friendships between women, as she does in Sula. Morrison rejects the notion that friendships between women are “subordinate” to other “roles they’re playing.”

Reviews of The Bluest Eye were mostly favorable, though the work was somewhat overlooked until Morrison’s other novels began to form a body of work. Many critics then looked at The Bluest Eye as background for Morrison’s later explorations of racial, gender, and cultural issues. For example, Sula, the central character in Morrison’s second novel, is unconventional and unbound by social codes, and Jade, the fashion model in Tar Baby, rejects the romantic myth. Increasingly, Morrison’s women seek freedom and autonomy. Like Claudia MacTeer in The Bluest Eye, they reject romantic myths, beauty myths, and roles of acquiescence. Yet The Bluest Eye is more than groundwork for Morrison’s later novels: It deserves to be read for itself.

The Bluest Eye Historical Context

Shirley Temple Published by Gale Cengage

Civil Rights and Race Relations
Although Toni Morrison set her novel The...

(The entire section is 529 words.)

The Bluest Eye Quizzes

AUTUMN: Chapter 1 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why do Claudia and Frieda beat up Rosemary, and what does Rosemary offer as an apology?

2. What does Claudia do once she falls ill?

3. How does Claudia describe Mr. Henry when she first meets him?

4. What game does Mr. Henry play with Claudia and Frieda when he first sees them?

5. What does Frieda and Claudia’s Mama mean when she says that a “case” is coming to live with them?

6. According to Claudia, what is the difference between being put out and being put outdoors?

7. Where is the rest of the Breedlove family while Pecola is at Claudia’s house?

8. Why does Mama complain about “folks” when she...

(The entire section is 446 words.)

AUTUMN: Chapter 2 (Hereisthehouse…) and Chapter 3 (Hereisthefamily…) Questions and Answers

Chapter 2 (Hereisthehouseitisgreenandwhiteithasareddooritisverypretty itisveryprettyprettyprettyp)
Chapter 3 (Hereisthefamilymotherfatherdickandjanetheyliveinthegreen andwhitehousetheyareveryh)

Study Questions
1. What is the history of the Breedloves’ home?

2. Why is the fact that “the furniture had aged without becoming familiar” significant?

3. What was “the only living thing” in the Breedloves’ house, and what does this phrase mean?

4. Why do the Breedloves live and stay in the house?

5. Why does Pecola hide beneath the sheets when Mrs. Breedlove wakes up?

6. What does Sammy say to Mrs. Breedlove as...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

WINTER: Chapter 4 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Maureen start a conversation with Claudia?

2. How does Frieda break up the circle of boys teasing Pecola?

3. Why do the boys stop teasing Pecola?

4. Why do Claudia and Frieda begin to like Maureen?

5. What was Claudia thinking about before it became clear that Maureen was not going to treat her to ice cream?

6. Why does Maureen tell Pecola not to eat the end of the cone?

7. Why do boys have belly-buttons, according to Maureen?

8. Why doesn’t Frieda want to go to Isaley’s?

9. How does Henry explain Poland’s and the Maginot Line’s visit?

10. What does Frieda know about...

(The entire section is 344 words.)

WINTER: Chapter 5 (Seethecatitgoesmeow…) Questions and Answers

Chapter 5 (Seethecatitgoesmeowmeowcomeandplaycomeplaywithjane thekittenwillnotplayplayplaypla)

Study Questions
1. Why would a man want to marry a girl like Geraldine, according to the narrator?

2. Where would a woman like Geraldine want her own private parts to be, and why?

3. What does Geraldine smell like?

4. What did Geraldine forbid Junior to do?

5. Who did Junior play with?

6. What does Junior tell his parents when he is beaten up by a bunch of girls?

7. How do Junior’s parents respond to his story?

8. Junior notices that no one ever plays with Pecola. What does he believe is the reason for this?

...

(The entire section is 379 words.)

SPRING: Chapter 6 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why is Claudia jealous of Frieda?

2. What is Claudia’s initial reaction to the news about Mr. Henry?

3. What does being “ruined” mean to Frieda?

4. What happens when Miss Dunion suggests that Frieda should be taken to a doctor?

5. What is a “Maginot Line”?

6. Why do Frieda and Claudia go to the second-story porch?

7. How does Claudia react to Pecola’s smile when they meet at the house by the lake?

8. Where is Pecola going to go with Poland and China?

9. What is Mrs. Breedlove wearing while she works?

10. Describe what the little girl is wearing.

...

(The entire section is 349 words.)

SPRING: Chapter 7 (Seemothermotherisvery…) Questions and Answers

Chapter 7 (Seemothermotherisverynicemotherwillyouplaywithjane motherlaughslaughmotherlaughla)

Study Questions
1. How many brothers and sisters did Pauline have?

2. What fantasies kept her from doing her work?

3. How does Pauline feel when Cholly tickles her?

4. How does Pauline’s happiness with Cholly compare with her fantasies?

5. What becomes the focus of their quarrels?

6. How is Pauline surprised by Cholly when she tells him she is pregnant?

7. What does the doctor say about Pauline and black women in general?

8. Name the groups and organizations of which Pauline is a member.

9. What would Mr....

(The entire section is 314 words.)

SPRING: Chapter 8 (Seefatherheisbigand…) Questions and Answers

Chapter 8 (Seefatherheisbigandstrongfatherwillyouplaywithjanefatheris smilingsmilefathersmilesmile)

Study Questions
1. How does Aunt Jimmy supposedly die?

2. What are the future plans for Cholly after Aunt Jimmy’s death?

3. How does Cholly embarrass himself asking for a cigarette?

4. Why does Cholly miss Aunt Jimmy when he goes into the field with Darlene?

5. Why doesn’t Cholly live with his uncle, O. V.?

6. How does “a Georgia black boy” run away?

7. Why does the man at the bus window sell Cholly an under-twelve bus ticket even though he is certain Cholly is lying about his age?

8. What makes Cholly cry...

(The entire section is 446 words.)

SPRING: Chapter 9 (Seethedogbowwow…) Questions and Answers

Chapter 9 (Seethedogbowwowgoesthedogdoyouwanttoplaydoyouwant toplaywithjaneseethedogrunr)

Study Questions
1. What is a “misanthrope”?

2. What is the significance of Soaphead Church’s name?

3. What is the one thing that disgusts him more than touching a woman?

4. What does Pecola’s request for blue eyes do to him?

5. Why does Evil exist, according to Soaphead Church?

6. What is meant when it is written that Soaphead Church’s business “is dread”?

7. How does Soaphead Church address God in his letter?

8. What does Soaphead Church mean when he writes that Velma left him “the way people leave a motel...

(The entire section is 373 words.)

SUMMER: Chapter 10 and Chapter 11 (Looklookherecomes…) Questions and Answers

Chapter 10
Chapter11 (Looklookherecomesafriendthefriendwillplaywithjanetheywill playagoodgameplayjaneplay)

Study Questions
1. What do Claudia and Frieda think about until they hear that Pecola is pregnant?

2. How long does it take for Claudia and Frieda to realize that Pecola is pregnant?

3. What type of “law” do the women say there should be against Cholly’s actions?

4. What is Claudia’s “only handicap”?

5. How long do the sisters promise to be good if God lets the baby live?

6. What reason does Pecola give for other people turning away from her?

7. How does Pecola’s madness protect her from other people?...

(The entire section is 279 words.)