Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1355
Chapter 7 (Seemothermotherisverynicemotherwillyouplaywithjane motherlaughslaughmotherlaughla)
Ada and Fowler Williams: Pauline Breedlove’s parents
Chicken and Pie Williams: Pauline’s younger twin brothers
Ivy: a singer in Pauline’s childhood church
The Fishers: the family that hires Mrs. Breedlove as a maid
Ever since Pauline Williams was a child, she felt inadequate because of her crippled foot. A childhood injury left her with a deformity and means of identification, but she felt that no one paid her attention. She was the only child in her large family that did not have a nickname, no one told anecdotes about her, and she had “a general feeling of separateness and unworthiness.” She felt something was missing from her life and that the reason it was missing was her broken foot.
She spent her time cleaning and taking care of the other children in the house. When the other children were old enough to work and leave the house, Pauline, who enjoyed cleaning and cooking, then started to take care of other people’s homes. The one thing that Pauline wanted at this time was a sense of order, and she was able to find this order in cleaning. One day, while sitting on a fence, she was cleaning her nails when she felt something tickling her foot. She looked down, laughing, into the eyes of Cholly Breedlove. Cholly’s gesture gives Pauline the feeling that she is beautiful; “for the first time, Pauline felt that her bad foot was an asset.” Cholly is able to affect Pauline, “just as she had dreamed,” and give her the security that she had longed for.
Cholly and Pauline were married, and they moved up north to Lorain, Ohio. Unfortunately, their marriage started to fall apart. Pauline felt uncomfortable with her clothes and took a job in order to buy new clothes. Cholly was unhappy with these purchases and began to spend more time drinking. Soon they would begin to quarrel, and these vicious quarrels turned into fights. The marriage deteriorated to a point where Pauline spends most of her time at the movies. Things became better when Pauline was pregnant, but then she lost one of her front teeth eating a candy bar, and when Cholly laughed about it, Pauline tried to kill him.
After Sammy was born, Pauline tried to have another baby quickly and told herself she would “love it no matter what it looked like.” But when Pecola was born, Pauline “knowed she was ugly.” Pauline realized that she was too old to believe that life could be like in the movies and was fortunate enough to find work with the Fishers. In her job, she was able to be close enough to the life she had wanted. She still thinks about leaving Cholly, but she can remember the few moments of passion they had had together and cannot bring herself to leave. Whatever happens in the future, Pauline knows that “my Maker will take care of me. I know He will.”
This chapter is devoted to an extended character study of Pauline Breedlove. Reading about her, we find out that she is a much more sympathetic character than in previous chapters because she, like Pecola, had dreams and desires that were destroyed by her marriage to Cholly and her own “ugliness.” However, like the other characters in this novel, she eventually transfers her own inadequacies and faults onto Pecola, and she blames her own family for her problems.
The narration in The Bluest Eye has switched from first person to omniscient several times, depending upon which sort of perspective was necessary. This chapter introduces an entirely new narrative system. A traditional omniscient narrator, which presents events in an unbiased fashion, and Pauline herself (the text in italics) tell the story in this chapter. Therefore, this chapter has the feel of a magazine article; the omniscient narrator’s comments and observations are presented with occasional comments from the “subject,” Mrs. Breedlove.
The previous chapter, written from Claudia’s perspective, portrayed Mrs. Breedlove as a woman who had “adopted” a little white girl in place of her own daughter. This chapter allows Pauline to present her own motivation for keeping her job and private life separated. Although Pauline still seems cruel for abandoning her family, the reader may understand that this cruelty may have been necessary for her own preservation. The reader now sees that Pauline has been a victim of injustice herself, especially in her relationship with Cholly.
Like Pecola, Pauline becomes obsessed with society’s symbols of beauty. Her marriage with Cholly falls apart because Cholly responds to their poverty by drinking and staying away from Pauline. Pauline herself admits that “the onliest time I be happy seem like was when I was in the picture show.” While watching the actresses on the screen, Pauline becomes obsessed with the idea of physical beauty, which the omniscient narrator calls “probably the most destructive idea in the history of human thought.” Pauline desperately tries to imitate the hairstyles of the actresses in order to become beautiful. However, she gives up trying to emulate these actresses when she loses a tooth. This loss of beauty is too much for Pauline, and she admits that she was never able to overcome it. Even with beautiful hair, the loss of a pretty smile dooms her, in her mind, to a life of ugliness.
This is why she enjoys working at the Fishers’ place. Even though she is still ugly, she is surrounded by the trappings of success and beauty. This happy life comes only when she reduces her fantasies and learns to be satisfied with a subsidiary role. She used to imitate the hairstyles of Jean Harlow, but her role is now that of a housekeeper, not unlike the roles that black actors and actress were limited to in the movies of the time. Nevertheless, she is able to have “beauty, order, cleanliness and praise” at the Fishers’ home, which is something that her own family has apparently never given her. The Fishers appreciate her and their little daughter calls her “Polly”; this familiarity and respect is what Pauline has always wanted. Because she receives so much pleasure from this work and it is the closest she will ever come to her fantasy life, she does not share this life with others. Sammy and Pecola only remind her of her own less than perfect life, so she does her best to exclude them from her work. When they do enter her work, they only intrude upon her fantasies (by spilling her berry cobbler, for example).
As a result, she devotes her efforts to the Fishers, which results in more rewards, and deprives her own family of a strong, maternal figure. Since “all the meaningfulness of her life was in her work,” she undermines her own effectiveness as a mother to her own children. Nevertheless, she believes that she is “fulfilling a mother’s role” when she punishes the children for “any slovenliness, no matter how slight.” She doesn’t realize that by hitting Pecola, she has given her daughter “a fear of growing up, fear of other people, fear of life.” Her neglect of Pecola is not intentional, but is a result of her retreat into a fantasy world.
Morrison illustrates the destructive power of fantasy through the character of Pauline. Pauline’s decisions have been based upon moments of ecstasy; she runs away with Cholly because she is able to feel beautiful with him for a short period of time. Even though their marriage has deteriorated, she still focuses upon the times when they made love and “it be rainbow all inside.” She admits that “it ain’t like that anymore,” but she still cannot let go of her fantasies. The omniscient narrator of this chapter warns that “to find out the truth of about how dreams die, one should never take the word of the dreamer.” The passages in Pauline’s words show that she has put her fantasies ahead of her real life and that these fantasies now sustain her while she walks through her real life.
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