The Bluest Eye Summary

In The Bluest Eye, Claudia MacTeer reflects on the rape and spiral into madness of her friend Pecola Breedlove.

  • At the beginning, Pecola goes to live with Claudia’s family after her father, Cholly, burns down the Breedloves’ house.
  • Sometime after the Breedloves move into a new house, Cholly rapes Pecola, impregnating her. When she learns of the pregnancy, she visits the town's spiritual advisor and asks him to give her blue eyes.
  • When Pecola's baby dies, she's driven mad by grief and abuse and spends the rest of her days talking to her imaginary friend about her big blue eyes.

Summary

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Last Updated June 29, 2023.

Plot Summary of the Bluest Eye


Claudia MacTeer is a young Black girl who is growing up in Lorain, Ohio, a small town that relies on a mill for employment. She faces many challenges in her life because her parents are too occupied to offer her affectionate care. Due to the neglect, Claudia has to defend herself against other kids who belittle her, while the grown-ups only acknowledge her when they need assistance. Claudia channels her frustration and hostility towards the white dolls she receives as gifts, as she perceives that these toys receive more affection and attention than a real Black child.

Claudia and her sister Frieda's lives take an intriguing turn when Pecola Breedlove is temporarily placed under their care by county authorities. Pecola's father set fire to their house, and she needs a place to stay while her father serves his prison term. Claudia and Frieda are fond of Pecola because she is introverted and responds positively to their offerings of graham crackers and milk, which they serve in a Shirley Temple mug. Pecola and Frieda share an admiration for Shirley Temple, and they engage in a discussion about her. Although Claudia cannot relate to the topic, they enjoy each other's company.

The Breedlove family reunites and moves into an unattractive house located on a forgotten street. We discover that the entire family suffers from low self-esteem and they believe themselves to be unattractive. Mrs. Breedlove, also known as Pauline, spends her time arguing with her husband, Cholly, and working for a white family. Cholly, when not fighting with his wife, spends his days drinking.

The children are either abused or neglected, and each child has developed their own way of coping with their situation. Sammy has previously left home multiple times, while Pecola attempts to remain unnoticed. Pecola hopes for blue eyes because she thinks that if she were beautiful, people in town would treat her better.

Pecola is mistreated by most people in her town. During one incident, she is subjected to cruel taunts by a group of boys but is rescued by Frieda, Claudia, and a new girl named Maureen Peal, who happens to be both beautiful and light-skinned. Maureen is friendly toward Pecola for a bit but eventually turns against her and the other girls. Additionally, Pecola is targeted by a light-skinned boy named Louis Junior, who harbors prejudice against dark-skinned people.

The reader is given insight into the background of Pecola's parents and how they came to be together. Pauline Williams' aspirations are dashed at a young age when she injures her foot, but her outlook on life changes when she meets Cholly Breedlove. However, after moving to Lorain as a married couple, they grow apart from each other. Pauline finds comfort in watching movies and mimicking the appearances of the actresses, but this only makes her less attractive. As she becomes a mother of two children, she spends most of her time caring for a white family in order to maintain the illusion of her own beauty.

Cholly's upbringing was challenging because he was abandoned by both of his parents. His Aunt Jimmy was the only person who took care of him, but unfortunately, she passed away when Cholly was still a young boy. During the funeral service, Cholly meets a girl, and they slip away to a nearby field. Two white hunters interrupt their moment and demand that Cholly make love to the girl while they watch. Feeling embarrassed and humiliated, Cholly directs his anger towards the girl instead of the hunters who caused the shame and humiliation.

Following that incident, Cholly travels to Macon, Georgia, in pursuit of his biological father. Although he does locate his father, Cholly becomes too afraid to introduce himself and flees. With no parents present, Cholly leads a life of complete freedom. However, after having children with Pauline, he struggles to understand how to love them and often resorts to drinking to cope with his confusion.

During one inebriated evening, Cholly returns home and discovers Pecola washing the dishes. When Pecola scratches her leg with her foot, it triggers a recollection of a fond memory of tickling his wife's foot. In his intoxicated state, this memory, along with other factors, causes Cholly to sexually assault Pecola.

After the rape, Pecola makes the decision to visit Soaphead Church, who is considered the town's "spiritual advisor." She requests that he grant her blue eyes, which moves the man. In an effort to assist the girl, Soaphead Church deceives her into poisoning a dog that he despises, falsely claiming that it would be a sign that God has answered her prayers. After Pecola departs, Soaphead Church composes a letter to God, informing Him that he has granted the girl's request since God has apparently been ignoring her prayers.

Pecola's pregnancy, resulting from sexual abuse by her father, triggers a dreadful scandal and ultimately leads to her expulsion from school. While the town censures Cholly for his despicable actions, they also believe that Pecola is partly responsible for not resisting.

Upon learning about their friend's situation, Claudia and Frieda opt to pray for her and give up some flower seeds that they had intended to sell. Regrettably, the seeds that the girls plant do not grow, and Pecola's baby dies. Feeling that they have let their friend down, Claudia and Frieda distance themselves from Pecola.

Pecola is abandoned to wander the streets. The mistreatment she has experienced has driven her insane, and she spends her days conversing with her imaginary friend and gazing at her reflection, fixating on the idea of having blue eyes. Claudia, who is now an adult, reflects on that period and realizes that she is not responsible for Pecola's mental breakdown. Unfortunately, she recognizes that it is too late to aid Pecola in her recovery.

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