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The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the novel as a whole and analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help you get started.

  • Topic #1

    Compare and contrast Claudia and Pecola in terms of their ability to fight injustice. How does this ability affect them later in the novel?

    I. Thesis Statement: Pecola and Claudia both live in a cruel world that does not allow innocence in children. Their survival in such a world depends upon their ability to fight injustice. Claudia is able to survive a cruel childhood because she never stops fighting. Pecola, on the other hand, retreats into a world of fantasy whenever she is attacked. Eventually, she must live her life in this world of fantasy because she can no longer passively defend herself from cruelty.

    II. Claudia aggressively fights for herself while Pecola is passive.
    A. Claudia stands up for herself.
    1. She gets revenge against Rosemary Villanucci.
    B. Pecola stands by while people abuse her.
    1. She is teased by a circle of boys.
    2. Louis Junior attacks her, then manipulates his mother into attacking her.

    III. Claudia attempts to defend Pecola.
    A. Claudia helps rescue Pecola from a group of boys in a playground.
    B. When Maureen Peal insults Pecola, Claudia immediately responds.

    IV. Cholly’s rape of Pecola instigates her downfall.
    A. She responds to the rape by asking Soaphead Church for blue eyes.
    B. In her madness, she not only believes that she has blue eyes, she also tells her “friend” that Cholly “didn’t do anything.”

    V. The people of Lorain force Pecola and Claudia to defend themselves or perish.
    A. People feel that Pecola “ought to carry some of the blame” for Cholly’s rape.
    B. Claudia never let herself be bullied, while the townspeople have contempt for Pecola because she lets herself be pushed around.
    C. In this town, “the soil was bad for certain kinds of flowers,” and a frail flower such as Pecola could never survive.

  • Topic #2

    Focus upon the characters of Maureen Peal and Geraldine. What characteristics do they share? Do these characters support Pecola’s belief that pretty people have pretty lives?

    I. Thesis Statement: Geraldine and Maureen Peal are considered beautiful by society but are unable to deal with others in personal relationships. The two characters develop a hatred of dark-skinned blacks because they consider themselves beautiful.

    II. Maureen Peal has learned that beauty is wonderful without sacrifice.
    A. She attains instant popularity at school.
    B. Pecola and others will do anything to be her friend.
    C. Maureen is aware of her own beauty and believes that she is special.

    III. Geraldine has chosen beauty over passion in her life.
    A. She has resisted sexual relations and passion in favor of order.
    B. Her son brings her no joy.
    C. Because of her own beauty, she develops a hatred for “niggers” that masks her own self-loathing.

    IV. Both Geraldine and Maureen Peal are unable to handle personal crises.
    A. Maureen Peal can only defend herself by calling others ugly.
    1. Her statement “I am cute! And you ugly!… Black and ugly!” indicates her awareness that people consider her beautiful because she is light-skinned.
    B. Geraldine reacts to the death of her beloved cat by blaming Pecola.
    1. Pecola’s ugliness arouses hate in Geraldine.
    2. Geraldine believed that “she had seen this little girl all her life,” and had devoted her life to distancing herself from girls like Pecola.
    C. When faced with a difficult situation, Geraldine and Maureen can only console themselves with their own beauty.

  • Topic #3

    How do the light-skinned male characters reconcile their appearance with society’s belief that blond, blue-eyed girls are beautiful? Focus upon Soaphead Church and Louis Junior in terms of their relationships with girls.

    I. Thesis Statement: Louis Junior and Soaphead Church have a lot of anger directed towards women and girls, because they are unable to form relationships with other males.

    II. Louis Junior and Soaphead Church have no friendly relationships with other males.
    A. Junior is forbidden to play with other black boys, and eventually decides that he is too good for them.
    B. Soaphead Church considers boys to be “insulting, scary, and stubborn.”

    III. The lack of a father figure has an effect upon their lives.
    A. Junior
    1. Louis Senior was not interested in him, and he feels that lack of love.
    B. Soaphead Church
    1. He is beaten regularly by his father in an effort to instill discipline, which affects his relationship with his wife, Velma.

    IV. The men feel hostility towards women as a result of their inability to form nurturing relationships.
    A. Junior
    1. Junior is bitter towards his own mother, even though he directs his hostility towards her cat.
    2. Junior enjoys teasing girls, even though he is overcome by a group of girls which only exacerbates his hostile nature.
    B. Soaphead Church
    1. Soaphead Church is unable to maintain a relationship with his wife.

    V. Reconciliation of their hostilities
    A. Junior finds a way to attack Pecola, his mother, and his mother’s cat in a manipulative scheme.
    B. Soaphead Church accepts his misanthropy and is no longer bitter towards God after he “helps” Pecola.

  • Topic #4

    What part does shame play in The Bluest Eye? Look at major events in the novel and decide to what degree shame plays a part in making the characters act.

    I. Thesis Statement: The characters in The Bluest Eye are motivated by shame to either defend themselves or lash out at those who are weaker.

    II.Claudia is quick to defend any attacks on her pride.
    A. She fights Rosemary Villanucci.
    B. She shouts her “most powerful” insults at Maureen Peal.
    1. Maureen Peal shames Claudia by not buying her ice cream.

    III. Cholly Breedlove is unable to defend himself, so he projects his anger on those he can defeat.
    A. He must hate Darlene because he cannot attack the hunters who shame him.
    B. His self-loathing plays a large part in his rape of Pecola.

    IV. Because Pecola has no shame, she becomes an easy victim.
    A. She is shamed by Mr. Yacobowski, but decides not to cry.
    1. The Mary Jane candies keep her from thinking about her shame.
    B. She forgives Maureen for her insults but cannot thank Claudia for helping her when she is insulted by Maureen.
    C. Even her own mother seems to reject her in favor a pretty white girl, but Pecola simply regresses into a fantasy world.

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