Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1894
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 reader is told about the history of the house in which the Breedloves live. It is not a rich or interesting history. In fact, so many people have come and gone that it is hard to remember who has lived there before the Breedloves move in. The family’s furniture is also unimportant and uninteresting, providing only use without the joy and comfort that some people receive from their furniture. The Breedloves have no happy memories and live their lives with the unspoken belief that they are all ugly.
One morning in October, Mrs. Breedlove wakes up, and she begins to wake up Cholly so that he might get some coal from the house. Cholly came home late the night before, drunk, and Mrs. Breedlove is looking for an excuse to start a fight with him, a fight that they couldn’t have the previous night because Cholly was so drunk. Cholly is unable to get up, and Mrs. Breedlove leaves to get coal, warning him that she had better not sneeze while she is up. Of course, Mrs. Breedlove sneezes once and throws a pan full of cold water on Cholly’s face. While Cholly and his wife are fighting, Pecola is hiding underneath her blanket, trying once again to make herself disappear.
Pecola can never make herself completely disappear. No matter how hard she tries, she can always feel the presence of her eyes. She believes that if she had blue eyes, everyone would treat her nicely. Instead, other children either tease or ignore her, while adults simply ignore her. She blames the abuse she receives on her own appearance and prays every day for blue eyes. One day she goes into a store to buy candy and feels uncomfortable when Mr. Yacobowski, the store owner, doesn’t pay any attention to her. He stares at her, but it is a stare without any recognition “because for him there is nothing to see.” Pecola feels humiliated as she asks for the Mary Jane candies. When she walks out of the store, she can sense anger and shame well up inside her. Tears come into her eyes, but she is able to stop crying by eating the Mary Jane candies and looking at the white girl on the wrapper. She sees the “smiling white face” and the “blue eyes looking at her out of a world of clean comfort.” This gives Pecola the desire to “be Mary Jane.”
After buying the candies, Pecola visits the prostitutes that live upstairs. Poland China and Miss Marie are the only people in the town that treat her kindly, so Pecola often stops in to see them. The women love to entertain the child with stories about their former loves and the places that they have seen. Miss Marie tells Pecola about a boyfriend that she once had, a man whom she had loved before she found out she could make money as a prostitute. After hearing Miss Marie’s stories, Pecola wonders once again about what love means between two people. If Pecola’s parents fight, does that mean that she must fight as well in order to find love? She tries to picture her parents in bed together but cannot. As the girls laugh and sing with each other, Pecola wonders if the girls “were real.”
The first chapter of the novel was narrated by Claudia. While first-person narration is effective in terms of drama, this type of narration can only present the events from the point of view of one character. In the next two chapters, the events are told from the point of an omniscient narrator, a narrator that can see everything. This type of narration allows the reader to see events that Claudia could never see, such as Pecola’s troubles in the candy store. An omniscient narrator may also mention the thoughts of a character, something which a first-person narrator would have no way of knowing.
As a result of this new narration, these chapters provide more insight into the Breedlove family, and Pecola Breedlove in particular. The reader learns that the Breedloves are a family in name only. The Breedloves are simply a group of individuals, each one primarily concerned with their own feelings. When they do interact with one another, it is with cruelty. Unlike the MacTeers, however, who are sometimes unfair to each other but do show love, the Breedloves inflict pain upon each other without remorse. It does not seem as if this family could act towards each other in a different way.
The one characteristic that seems to connect the Breedloves to each other is ugliness. Everyone in the Breedlove family looks and feels ugly, and this directly affects their self-esteem. While they are poor, “their poverty … was not unique.” They live in a storefront that no one else would live in “because they believed they were ugly.” Since the Breedloves do not offer support or love to each other, each member is left with his or her own ugliness, “dealing with it each according to his way.” The way each Breedlove deals with this ugliness gives the reader insight into their character. Mrs. Breedlove uses her ugliness for “support of a role she frequently imagined was hers—martyrdom.” Cholly and Sammy use their ugliness as an excuse to lash out at others. Pecola, however, does not use it as an excuse for self-pity as the others in the family. She desperately wants to be beautiful and escape the cruel curse of her ugliness.
Mrs. Breedlove, on the other hand, needs to be perceived as ugly to complete her identity as a woman who must work her whole life away for a good-for-nothing husband. She can’t wait to start a fight with Cholly, and the reader gets the idea that she was going to sneeze even before she warns Cholly about it. Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove fight because they need to fight each other. For Mrs. Breedlove, fighting represents “all the zest and reasonableness of life.” Because she believes herself to be a woman who shows the proper respect for God, she needs Cholly so that she can compare herself to a true sinner. If Cholly ever managed to stop drinking and turn his life around, Mrs. Breedlove “would never have forgiven Jesus.” She needs her husband so that she can be a more successful martyr. Martyrdom has replaced motherhood in Mrs. Breedlove’s life. The fact that her own children call her “Mrs. Breedlove’ indicates that she has not been successful as a mother. When Mrs. Breedlove wants Cholly to get some coal, she repeatedly mentions how cold she is but never points out how the children must be suffering. After she has had her fight, she turns to Sammy and orders him out of bed for the coal. Mrs. Breedlove finds it very easy to ignore the children when her desires have been fulfilled.
Pecola had decided long ago that the reason she did not receive love and support from her family was that she herself was ugly. Pecola connects the themes of injustice and beauty by her prayers for blue eyes. She feels that once she has blue eyes, the world will look upon her with love and respect. Until that time, she must put up with the abuse of her peers. She has put up with this abuse all her life, and now she expects it. One important scene that illustrates her passivity is in the candy store. The owner refuses to acknowledge her, and Pecola cannot speak up for herself. She knows that the owner regards her with distaste, but Pecola finds the fault in “her [own] blackness” and blames herself for the shame that she feels. She is able to buy her candy, but as she walks away, she is ashamed of herself and begins to cry. However, she is able to keep herself from crying by remembering the Mary Jane candies. The Mary Jane candies that she eats in this chapter once again represent her desire for blue eyes and white skin. Just as she drank milk in order to be near to Shirley Temple, her desire for candy represents her desire for the symbol, not the actual sweets. The narrator remarks that “to eat the candy is somehow to eat the eyes”; Pecola feels a brief connection to beauty when she possesses the symbols of beauty. However, Pecola uses these symbols to hide from reality as well. If Pecola had allowed herself to cry, she might have felt shame and have been provoked to defend herself. Instead, she takes refuge in these empty symbols of beauty, and withdraws into her fantasy world. She would rather “disappear” than confront the poverty that she lives in and the hatred that she receives from others. She is willing to be a victim if she can still have her candies, her milk, and feel close to these beautiful symbols.
While Pecola seems to be the victim of her own ugliness, she does have friends in the three prostitutes who live upstairs. These women are considered beautiful not by their appearance but by their actions. Pecola is in awe of them because they freely love whomever they want and live in their own way. The fact that the town and society considers their behavior low does not bother them in the least. Although Pecola listens to their stories, she can never believe that she could live life in the same way. Pecola is looking for society’s acceptance because she falsely believes that this could make her happy. She doesn’t even see that Poland, China, and Miss Marie are as happy as they could be without society’s acceptance. The text in this section is adoring of the three prostitutes; Miss Marie even belches “lovingly.” They shower affection upon Pecola, but this does not seem to be enough for her. Ironically, Pecola wonders if the prostitutes are real; it never occurs to her to question Mary Jane or Shirley Temple, unreal symbols of the fantasy world in which she lives. While the three black women live out their fantasies, Pecola is not convinced that this is a way that she could live. The narrator states that “if Pecola had announced her intention to live the life they [Poland, China, and Miss Marie] did, they would not have tried to dissuade her or voiced any alarm.” While the narrator does not mean to suggest that Pecola should be a prostitute, the three women do prove that a happy, full, free life can be had without blue eyes and blond hair. However, Pecola cannot be convinced that the women are “real,” so she will once again go back to her fantasy world. Pecola would rather have the Mary Jane candies than the reality of life. It never occurs to her to find happiness without blue eyes.
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