Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 613
“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 an early age until the lessons become fact. This information, however, is not the same as a mathematics lesson. In this “textbook,” a family that bears no connection with reality becomes the standard by which millions of children expect to live.
Although the meaning of this opening passage will become clear as the novel is read, there is one notable action in the passage that foreshadows the action of the novel. Jane is looking for someone to play with her. Why is it so difficult for Jane to find a companion? The mother “laughs” when she is asked to play, and the father “smiles.” The friendly language of the passage masks the fact that no one seems to want to play with Jane, until a “friend” is found at the passage’s end. In the perfect world suggested by the textbook, it should be easy for Jane to find a playmate. The long search shows that problems can exist in what seems to be the most perfect of places. Even Jane, in her pretty dress and beautiful house, seems to have trouble finding a friend.
A woman talks about the fall of 1941, a time when none of the marigolds that she had planted along with her sister had blossomed. These flowers were planted when they had discovered that their friend, Pecola, was pregnant with her father’s child. In their disappointment, each girl used to blame the other, but now the woman wonders if it was “the earth” that caused the flowers to die. In any case, she knows that “nothing remains but Pecola and the unyielding earth.” It is clear to her that it is too late to help her friend, so the only thing left to discuss is why this tragedy occurred in the first place. However, it is too painful for this woman to mention why this happened, so “one must take refuge in how.”
This preface is primarily used to foreshadow, or give hints to future events in the novel. The reader understands that the events that will follow are tragic, because of the symbol of the marigolds. Whatever happens later in the novel will cause the marigolds to die and cause the still-unknown narrator to feel pain. The reader also learns that the narrator had blamed herself for the tragedy but has since come to realize that “nobody’s” marigolds had grown that year. This realization has helped the narrator accept the tragic events, although she still is affected by the death of Pecola’s baby and “our innocence.”
Since “nothing remains but Pecola and the unyielding earth,” the narrator feels that no more hurt can come from telling the reader of the events. However, the narrator leaves the discussion of why this occurred to the reader, since “why is [still] difficult to handle.” The narrator is too affected to offer any insight of her own, indicating that the events that follow will shock and affect the reader as well.
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