Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1505
Chapter 9 (Seethedogbowwowgoesthedogdoyouwanttoplaydoyouwant toplaywithjaneseethedogrunr)
Soaphead Church (Elihue Whitcomb): a child molester who works as a “spiritual guide” for the people of Lorain
Velma: Elihue’s wife for a brief period of time
Elihue Whitcomb was a person who always seemed to prefer the company of objects rather than people. However, his dislike for others could only mean that he would be in a profession that serves others. Although he briefly considered becoming a priest, he decided against it, instead choosing to be an analyst and interpreter of dreams. He enjoyed his job immensely because he could witness the silliness of his fellow human beings every day. He believed himself to be superior to those that came into his office seeking advice, and seeing their weaknesses and humility merely fed his ego.
Elihue’s personality was neatly ordered and well-balanced except for one flaw: his “rare but keen sexual cravings.” His passions are directed towards little girls because they “were usually manageable and frequently seductive.” The bodies of little girls lacked “all the natural excretions and protections the body was capable of,” which disturbed his love of precision and cleanliness. Since he also hated physical contact, even the seduction of a girl “smacked of innocence and was associated in his mind with cleanliness.” Ever since he had been abandoned by his wife, Velma, he had devoted his life to the elimination of filth and disorder. This desire for little girls reconciled his sexual desires with his obsession of cleanliness.
Elihue finally settled in Lorain, where the residents nicknamed him Soaphead Church. Since he had spent most of his life as a professional scholar, he could not find work easily and went through a number of jobs. He finally became a counselor, a job he was well-suited for because he understood the psychology of human beings and could grant his clients relief from their sufferings simply by telling them what they wanted to hear. His clients “asked for the simplest of things,” and Soaphead Church was always able to grant these requests because he never judged his clients for being greedy or destructive.
He rented an apartment in the house of an old religious lady, and he enjoyed this arrangement, except for the old dog that slept by the entrance to his apartment. Soaphead Church’s love of order and cleanliness was challenged every time he saw the dog at his front door. He had bought some poison to put the dog out of his misery. However, even being near the dog disgusted him, and he could not bring himself to finish the job.
Pecola Breedlove enters his office one day with “a little protruding pot of tummy.” She thinks that he can help her; she “can’t go to school no more” and hopes that he can “do it for her.” She asks him to give her blue eyes. To Soaphead Church, this is the most reasonable request he could ever hope to encounter. For the first time in his life, he wishes he could actually help people instead of manipulating their weaknesses. This wish then turns into anger, for he knows that he is a fake, and that there is nothing he can do to make Pecola’s wish come true. As he looks toward his window, his eyes fall upon the dog, and he is inspired by an idea. He tells Pecola that he is merely an “instrument” of God, and she must perform a ritual in order to find out if God will grant her wish. He quickly retrieves the poison he bought and pours it over some meat, instructing Pecola to give the meat to the dog. If the dog changes his expression, God has heard her. The dog eats the meat and almost immediately convulses and dies. Pecola, shocked, runs away.
After this is all done, Soaphead Church takes out some paper and writes a letter to God. He curses God for giving him a life where people did not love him and a preference for little girls. Because of this, he has been forced to live his life as a misanthrope and sexual deviant. He also wonders why it was necessary for God to create a world in which Soaphead Church’s only love could have abandoned him, a world in which little girls “sit on road shoulders, crying next to their dead mothers.” Soaphead Church comes to the conclusion that God has “forgot how to be God.” This is why he gave Pecola the blue eyes she wanted. He is proud of himself because he has done what God couldn’t do. Even though only she will see those blue eyes, he has given Pecola happiness. After Soaphead Church finishes his letter, he folds it together and drifts off to sleep.
It is easy to dismiss Soaphead Church because he is a charlatan and a child molester. Strange as it seems, this character has the most impact upon Pecola. Morrison uses him to illustrate the problems of faith and Pecola’s reliance upon faith. By praying and going to this fake in hope of blue eyes, Pecola has resisted self-reliance and withdraws more deeply into the idea of being beautiful.
The rape has clearly destroyed Pecola. She is visibly pregnant when she enters Soaphead Church’s office and says that she is no longer going to school. She has been abandoned by society, and this has caused her to take action against her shame, something which she had never done before. Unfortunately, her course of action is to ask for blue eyes, which is certainly nonsense in the context of her situation. Blue eyes wouldn’t make her any less pregnant, but Pecola’s solution to her personal problems has always been to hide in the symbols of beauty. Usually she internalizes her pain by eating a Mary Jane candy or praying for blue eyes. This time, under the pressure of being abandoned, she has turned away from God in hope of making her wish come true.
Soaphead Church was successful because he understood the nature of his clients. The clients that come to his door are regular citizens of Lorain, yet their desires are usually either self-serving or designed to harm others. This illustrates the base nature of the society in which we live. Soaphead Church attributes his success to his ability to grant requests without passing judgment on his clients. However, because the ones that come to his door lack the spirituality needed to confront difficult situations, Soaphead Church now believes that the world is inherently base and evil. He decides that “evil existed because God had created it.”
Yet when Pecola comes to his door asking for blue eyes, Soaphead Church is touched because this is the first request that he feels is necessary to grant. “Here was an ugly little girl asking for beauty,” rather than for a material possession. Soaphead Church’s bitterness toward God increases because, in his sense of order, God should have already granted this wish. Instead, Soaphead believes that God has brought this little girl to him in order to show him that he is a fraud. Soaphead believes he can turn the tables by tricking Pecola into believing that she has blue eyes. As he explains in his letter to God, he does “what You did not, could not, would not do,” and believes that in doing this, he has created the miracle that God should have created, the miracle of making a little girl happy.
However, Soaphead Church’s law of creation has a logical flaw. He does not have a high opinion of God’s work because he likes the idea of order without the idea of balance. Although he does think that everything should be arranged and logical, this idea is not universally applied by Soaphead, especially the idea that good must exist alongside evil in order to maintain balance. He thinks that God’s biggest fault was “creating an imperfect universe.” It is beyond Soaphead’s view to think that the universe must exist this way. Both Soaphead and Pecola believed that a supernatural force could alter the destiny of people living on Earth, while characters such as Claudia have shown that human beings are ultimately responsible for their own behavior. Soaphead Church never thinks that God does not grant wishes because it is unfair to take away the responsibility that humans must have for themselves.
So, Soaphead Church gives Pecola blue eyes in order to create something based upon his law of creation, rather than God’s ideal. However, the fact that only Pecola will notice her blue eyes simply shows what false faith can do. Pecola is easily deluded because she had prayed to God for so long, only not to be answered. Instead of finding the answer within herself, Pecola turns to a second-rate god, who is only happy to oblige her. They both have succeeded in deluding themselves, but this will not make Pecola’s eyes look different.
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