Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1573
Chapter 5 (Seethecatitgoesmeowmeowcomeandplaycomeplaywithjane thekittenwillnotplayplayplaypla)
Louis Junior: a light-skinned black boy who invites Pecola back to his house
Geraldine: Louis Junior’s mother
There is a type of woman who lives in Lorain but comes from one of the bigger cities of America. This type of woman has dedicated her life to her own appearance, her education, and her family life. She has lived hoping that she will marry so that she may possess a house and a yard. Once she is married, she will become the head of the household and preserve this title at the expense of her own family. This type of woman has devoted her life to removing any sort of “Funk,” whether it be dirt, disorder, or sex. She would have sex with her husband, but it was always an inconvenience. She always made sure that her hair was as straight as possible, and her skin as smooth and pale as possible. One such woman, named Geraldine, moved into the town of Lorain.
One thing was able to provoke love out of Geraldine: her cat. She had a son, Louis Junior, and she made sure that he was warm and clean. She also kept his hair straight and his skin pale. She did not, however, soothe and cuddle him; all her true affection was reserved for her cat. Louis Junior understood this, and he grew up hating the cat. He would torture and abuse the cat any time that they were alone.
Louis Junior lived near the playground of Pecola’s school. He didn’t have many friends because he was only allowed to play with the “colored children,” as opposed to the “niggers.” Because Louis lived so near the playground, he spent most of his time there asking, or forcing, children to play with him. However, if children didn’t stay long enough to suit him, Junior would throw a rock or some gravel at them. As time passed, Junior “became a very good shot.”
One day, Junior stops Pecola, who is taking a shortcut through the playground. He invites her to come into his house. Pecola doesn’t want to stop in at first, but eventually she is enticed by the promise of kittens. Once she gets in the house, however, Junior leads her into a room, throws the cat at her, then slams and holds the door behind her. Pecola, scratched and trapped, begins to cry. The cat comes up to her legs, and Pecola begins to pet it. Junior wonders why the crying has stopped, and he enters the room to find the cat with the same look of content that it has when his mother, Geraldine, pets it. This causes Junior to lose control, and he seizes the cat and swings it around the room. Pecola tries to stop him, and in doing so, Junior lets go of the cat, which flies against the window. Geraldine comes home to find Junior and Pecola on the floor with the cat by the radiator. Junior quickly accuses Pecola of killing the cat. Geraldine moves toward the cat in sorrow, and she looks at Pecola. Geraldine thinks of the time and effort she has put into herself to prevent being the type of woman that she sees in Pecola, and she tells her to get out of the house. Pecola backs out of the house, while Geraldine cradles the cat in her arms.
The idea of beauty has been presented almost strictly in terms of skin color. Shirley Temple and Mary Jane are sweet and beautiful, and have light skin. Pecola, who has dark skin and eyes, is “ugly.” Pecola feels ugly because she believes that skin and eye color are directly related to beauty. However, the symbols of beauty that Pecola focuses upon do not actually exist. Shirley Temple hair will always be golden and her smile never vanishes because she is always seen within a film. Mary Jane’s beautiful white skin is pressed onto a candy wrapper; the face will always look the same. The reason Pecola feels so ugly is that she compares herself to the unreal. Whether these symbols are actually beautiful or not, Pecola could never change herself to such a degree because as unfortunate as it might be, she lives in a real world.
In the previous chapter, Maureen Peal demonstrated the problems of trying to live up to such an ideal of beauty. Her light skin and green eyes might come close to white society’s ideal of a pretty girl, but it is impossible for her to mimic Shirley Temple all of the time. When Claudia is not impressed by her beauty, Maureen is quick to lash out at her with cruelty. This exposes Maureen for what she is, a cruel little girl that has sacrificed her humanity for exterior beauty. However, no matter how beautiful Maureen is, she will always be nothing more than a spoiled brat. Even though Maureen thinks she is cute, and society might even agree with her, she will never be able to completely become a Shirley Temple or a plastic doll. Her exterior beauty will attract attention and love, but Maureen will always be dissatisfied as long as a girl like Claudia is not impressed. For the first time, the reader is presented with the negative side of this “beauty.”
Geraldine is a different light-skinned woman, but she may as well be Maureen Peal as an adult. Geraldine and Louis Junior have the same physical characteristics as the other dolls and near-dolls, but it can hardly be said that these are beautiful people.
Geraldine has sacrificed any pleasure she could have had for this “beauty.” She, in fact, maintains this beauty because she is fixated with society’s ideal of what makes a person beautiful. She associates beauty with skin color in much the same way as Pecola does, and therefore has learned to hate her own skin because she is not white. She is so full of self-loathing that she wants to eliminate any trace of her color, in favor of pale skin and straight hair. She also decides to eliminate what she considered to be the emotional characteristics of blacks, in an effort to change her color. In her mind, the elimination of blackness meant “the careful development of thrift, patience, high morals, and good manners” while getting rid of “passion, … nature, … [and] the wide range of human emotions.” So she devotes her life to changing herself, and she makes a “successful” transformation. She is now as pretty as a doll and as soulless as one.
Geraldine’s elimination of passion from her life also results in her not being able to give love to another human being. Her son suffers from her lack of love. Geraldine is only able to give her son physical comfort, and she finds it impossible to “talk to him, coo to him [and] engage him in kissing bouts.” Since she doesn’t like to interact with other blacks, she also severely restricts her son’s interaction with others. As a result of this lack of love from family and friends, Louis Junior becomes a sociopath, insisting that others play with him because he doesn’t know how to be friendly. When he is refused, he responds with violence. Junior is frustrated because he sees Geraldine give love to the cat, yet he is somehow excluded from her affections. This resentment causes Junior to focus his attacks upon girls in the playground, but his plans are usually thwarted because the girls travel together and can defend themselves. This makes Junior all the more frustrated, so he sets out to find a victim that he can overcome.
He finds that victim in Pecola. When Pecola becomes Junior’s target, she finds herself abused at the hands of the cat. Junior is satisfied because he is finally able to hurt the cat and a girl. However, Pecola overcomes her pain and begins to stroke the cat. The cat immediately responds because he too is merely a victim of Junior’s manipulations. When Junior does not hear Pecola’s crying, he walks in and finds that his plan has backfired. Junior watches the pleasure on the cat’s face, and he snaps because “he had seen that expression many times as the animal responded to his mother’s touch.” He is upset because he has once again been denied pleasure because of the cat, and he responds by smashing the cat against the window.
Geraldine, however, is too self-centered to understand that she is ultimately responsible for this. All that she can understand is that her source of pleasure has been destroyed and one of the “niggers” that she has devoted her whole life to avoiding is now in her house. She takes out her anger on Pecola because she, like her own son, is too misguided to blame herself. She tried to distance herself from blacks because she could not stand being black herself. Like Junior, Geraldine lashes out at the easily seen symbols of ugliness. The theme of injustice is once again shown because Geraldine and Junior have devoted their lives to their own hatred, their own “ugliness.” Even though they believe themselves to be beautiful, they have both lived the ugliest of lives and will continue to take out their bitterness and resentment on other blacks, long after Pecola leaves their house.
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