Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1309
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 prostitutes that their mother always talks about. Frieda is afraid that she will become fat, but Claudia remembers that China and Poland are “ruined” but thin. China and Poland drink whiskey, so the girls conclude that “ruined” people drink whiskey in order to stay thin. They decide that they need to get whiskey and head towards Pecola’s house, since her father is a drunk.
When Frieda and Claudia get to Pecola’s house, they find the Maginot Line sitting on the porch of their apartment drinking root beer. Both Frieda and Claudia are scared because they believe they “were seeing what was to become of Frieda.” Claudia finally asks about Pecola’s whereabouts, and she is told that Pecola is with her mother at the edge of town. Pecola’s mother works as a maid for a white family, and Pecola is helping her with some chores. The Maginot Line invites them to come up and wait for Pecola, but Frieda refuses, saying that they were told not to come near her. The Maginot Line simply laughs and throws the empty root beer bottle at the girls, narrowly missing them. The girls run away and decide to walk to the end of town.
They find Pecola by the house, and Mrs. Breedlove calls them into the kitchen of the house. The three girls wait for Mrs. Breedlove to get the laundry. While they are waiting, a little white girl in a pink dress asks them where “Polly” is, and Claudia feels hatred rising in her. Their thoughts, however, are diverted by a fresh berry cobbler on the windowsill. Pecola wants to touch it to see if it is still hot, but she accidentally spills it on herself. Mrs. Breedlove quickly runs up and starts slapping Pecola for ruining the floor, and then she consoles the little white girl, who is crying because the pie is ruined. She orders Pecola, Claudia, and Frieda to clean up the mess and promises the little white girl that she will make another pie.
This chapter can be easily divided into two halves in terms of action. The first half of the chapter chronicles Frieda’s fear that she will be “ruined” and Claudia and Frieda’s encounter with the Maginot Line. The second half of the chapter concerns Mrs. Breedlove’s cruel punishment of Pecola for accidentally knocking over a pie. This chapter focuses upon two characters who have dual identities, the Maginot Line (also known as Miss Marie) and Mrs. Breedlove (“Polly”). In this chapter, the Maginot Line and Mrs. Breedlove both must react in situations where their double lives are revealed. Their reactions are important not only in the context of their characterization but also in the context of the novel’s central themes.
Claudia and Frieda are scared of the Maginot Line when she is in fact one of the smarter and nicer women in the town. However, the only one who seems to know the sweet side of the Maginot Line is Pecola. This is implied by Pecola’s use of the name “Miss Marie.” Pecola doesn’t even know whom Claudia and Frieda are talking about when they mention “the Maginot Line.” Claudia and Frieda, meanwhile, cannot believe that Pecola is not scared of the Maginot Line and ask Pecola if she has ever eaten out of their plates. Pecola seems to understand that the town doesn’t like the women but nevertheless defends the Maginot Line with simple logic; even though Pecola’s mother doesn’t like them, Pecola knows that the women are nice because “they give me stuff all the time.” Pecola has met and talked with these women, and she knows that they have good hearts.
Claudia and Frieda had never met the three women but have been taught to fear them by their parents. Frieda is scared she will become like these women, yet they never have known exactly why they should be afraid. So when Miss Marie offers them some soda, Claudia is ready to accept the gesture of kindness. Frieda, however, remembers that they are not allowed to visit and is still afraid that she will be “ruined.” When Claudia and Frieda look at Miss Marie, they were both “seeing what was to become of Frieda.” Actually, Miss Marie was kind and friendly until Frieda tells her that she is already “ruined.” Miss Marie throws a soda bottle at the two children in response to their ignorance. The Maginot Line throws the bottle quickly, with “a gesture so quick and small” that is hardly seen by the girls. This is the response Miss Marie will always have for those who do not agree with her lifestyle. She is so full of confidence and love that she does not feel the need to convince anyone about her character. Miss Marie is generous and kind to those that appreciate her company, such as Pecola. She controls the world in which she lives, and she is not so easily influenced by the opinions of others.
Mrs. Breedlove, by contrast, is content to be the maid of a family at the edge of town. She spends her life pleasing and taking care of others. When Claudia and Frieda come into the house at the edge of town, they find Pecola and Mrs. Breedlove in a beautiful clean kitchen where the smells of cooking food hover in the air. This house is a dream when compared to the squalid little storefront in which Mrs. Breedlove’s own family lives. Mrs. Breedlove not only has devoted her energy to the upkeep of this white family, but she also has treated this family with much more affection than she had shown her own family in the second chapter.
This point is emphasized by the presence of the little white girl in a Shirley Temple outfit. When Claudia sees the white girl, she can feel her familiar anger, but it is the familiarity with which the girl addresses Mrs. Breedlove that really upsets Claudia. The girl’s reference to Mrs. Breedlove as “Polly” seems to Claudia enough “reason to scratch her.” The fact that the girl is able to address Mrs. Breedlove in a way that even her own daughter cannot seems immediately unfair to Claudia. The ultimate contempt, however, falls upon Mrs. Breedlove for betraying her own daughter. Mrs. Breedlove is not only able to ignore Pecola’s pain when she knocks over a hot pie, but she also beats her own daughter for upsetting the pretty little girl. Mrs. Breedlove cannot forgive Pecola for the disruption that she has caused, and she forgets her own daughter in favor of the little girl. It seems terrible that Mrs. Breedlove can show love for a complete stranger and either ignore or abuse her own daughter. This treatment reinforces Pecola’s idea that people would treat her differently if she had blue eyes. As for Mrs. Breedlove, she seems to have given up the poverty of her own family in favor of a new identity. She is more than happy to be “Polly,” and she resents her own daughter for intruding upon that identity.
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