The Bluest Eye Additional Summary

Toni Morrison


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Bluest Eye opens and closes with Claudia MacTeer’s reflection on the meaning and significance of a little girl’s suffering and her community’s responsibility and obligation to her. Using marigold seeds as a metaphor for the affection that might have allowed her abused friend Pecola Breedlove to thrive, Claudia realizes that the failure of her seeds to sprout demonstrates that the soil of her community “is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear.” While Claudia MacTeer withstands that world’s harshness through the strength and love of her family, a fragile child such as Pecola has no chance.

Dark-skinned Claudia values herself more than the world does. Although kindly relatives and parents present her with fine white baby dolls for her to love and mother, she sees them only as something unlike herself, something to dismember, “to see of what it was made, to discover the dearness, to find the beauty, the desirability that had escaped me, but apparently only me.” Frighteningly, such destructiveness carries over to Claudia’s perception of real little white girls such as film star Shirley Temple; Claudia also resents her light-skinned African American classmate Maureen Peal, who possesses not only matching skirts and kneesocks, muffs to warm her hands, and beautiful, long, “good” hair, but also something that draws the attention of teachers and prevents the playground harassment of boys. In spite of all, Claudia remarks, “Guileless and without vanity, we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our skins, enjoyed the news that our senses released to us, admired our dirt, cultivated our scars, and could not comprehend this unworthiness.” That “Thing,” as Claudia calls it, that makes Shirley and Maureen and white baby dolls desirable and darker-skinned children not, the thing...

(The entire section is 782 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The events in The Bluest Eye are seen from the point of view of Claudia MacTeer. As the novel begins, Claudia is looking back at the year when she was nine and when her friend Pecola Breedlove, then eleven, became pregnant, having been raped by her own father, Cholly Breedlove. In the summer of 1941, Claudia and her sister, Frieda, planted marigold seeds in the childish belief that if the marigolds survived, so would Pecola’s baby. Even as the novel opens, however, the reader knows that the seeds never germinated and that the baby died. Years later, it is still impossible for Claudia to explain why the events of that year happened, so the novel becomes instead her account of how they happened.

The Bluest Eye has two structuring devices. One is the four seasons, which provide the four major divisions of the book. Claudia begins her account with the fall of 1940, when Pecola is placed temporarily in the MacTeer home because her father has tried to burn down the storefront apartment that serves as the Breedloves’ home. In the spring, Pecola is raped by her father, and by summer, her increasingly obvious pregnancy is the subject of gossip all over town, and Pecola herself has retreated into madness, kept company in the fantasy world of her own mind by an imaginary friend.

Also giving structure to the novel is a passage that imitates the Dick-and-Jane readers once so popular in elementary schools. The picture that the passage presents of the perfect white family—Mother and Father, Dick and Jane, the dog and the cat, all living happily in their pretty green and white house—contrasts sharply with the world of the Breedloves and the MacTeers, the world of poor blacks. To show the contrast, Morrison repeats the passage three times: first, as it would normally appear on the printed page; then, with all punctuation removed; and finally, with even the spaces between words removed. The Dick-and-Jane story degenerates on the page into a jumble of letters; lines from the storybook-perfect account of its...

(The entire section is 838 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the autumn of 1940, Claudia MacTeer, a nine-year-old African American child, begins the school year. The weather cools, and Claudia becomes ill. Her mother takes care of her, but Claudia does not understand that her mother’s harsh words come from worry rather than anger. Claudia later remembers the pain she felt when her mother rubbed ointment on her to heal the illness; she also remembers the touch of soft hands (not connected to a real person) that comforted her in the night. Claudia reveals knowledge about the lives of the people around her family in the community of Lorain, Ohio. She and her older sister Frieda learn about life after hearing adult conversations.

The family is exposed to two boarders at their home: Mr. Henry and eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. The older girls become friends, but Claudia is different than the older children. Pecola and Frieda have reached a point in their lives where they appreciate and even adore film star Shirley Temple and white baby dolls. Claudia, on the other hand, hates what they represent. She complains about the gifts of hard white dolls given at Christmas and wishes that she could just have a day when she matters to someone. She dissects the dolls, searching for what makes them so appealing. She does not find an answer, and is reprimanded by adults.

Autumn also brings a description of Lorain, a small, depressed town where African Americans and poor whites live their lives. Housed in one particular building are a family of Roma (gypsies), a Hungarian baker, the Breedlove family, and prostitutes.

The Breedloves—Cholly, Pauline, Sammy, and Pecola—now live on the first floor in a poorly constructed apartment with poorly constructed furnishings. The family’s ugliness comes to light, along with the way each family member lives with their respective physical deformity. Pecola yearns for blue eyes. Her desire for affection is divulged in her friendship with the three prostitutes—China, Poland, and Miss Marie—who live upstairs, and Miss Marie’s life story is exposed.

Winter comes, bringing a new girl to the school. Claudia immediately shares her distinct dislike for Maureen Peal, the child of wealthy black parents. When Claudia, Frieda, and Maureen see Pecola being teased by a group of boys, Frieda steps in to protect her friend. Maureen’s curiosity about the boys’ taunting of Pecola opens a dialogue about the novelty of sexual changes. She treats Pecola, but not the MacTeer girls, to an ice cream cone, and then feels this gives her...

(The entire section is 1037 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Morrison’s first published novel, The Bluest Eye, is marked by much narrative experimentation and a dedication to exploring the struggles with dignity and violence that especially confront blacks. The wide-ranging narrative experimentation is something that, for the most part, her later novels would not continue; the themes with which it deals, however, were to remain important in all of her later works.

The novel begins with a brief sample story such as might be found in a typical child’s reader about “Dick and Jane.” This story is repeated twice, first without any punctuation, and a second time without even any spaces between the words, as if to suggest the unreasoning power that such stories have over the mind of the main character, Pecola Breedlove.

After this, the voice of the character who is the main narrator, Claudia McTeer, appears, and she very quickly summarizes the plot of the novel that follows: Pecola was raped by her father and became pregnant with a child who never grew. Claudia relates this from a child’s point of view, calling the reader’s attention not to the rape itself but to the marigold seeds that she and her sister, Frieda McTeer, planted at the same time but which never grew. In this way, the shock value of this rape is removed from the narrative and the focus of the novel is shifted away from what happened to why and how it happened.

The main body of the novel is broken into four sections, titled “Autumn,” “Winter,” “Summer,” and “Fall.” The first part of each section is narrated by Claudia and is followed by other parts, which are headed by quotations from the child’s reader and are narrated from a variety of perspectives, usually in the third person. The first section begins in the autumn of 1940, in Lorain, Ohio. Shortly after Claudia and her sister Frieda recover from the flu, Pecola comes to stay with the McTeer family temporarily because her father, Cholly Breedlove, started a fire in their rented home, landing himself in jail and putting the rest of his family out of a home.

When Frieda offers Pecola a Shirley Temple mug from which to drink milk, the two girls discuss how “cu-ute” Shirley Temple is. Pecola drinks three quarts of milk in one day for the pleasure of looking at this mug. Pecola clearly idolizes Shirley Temple as the ideal girl, even though such a fair-skinned ideal leaves the dark-skinned, brown-eyed Pecola to be condemned as ugly. The reader later learns that Pecola’s nightly prayer is for God to make her eyes beautiful and blue so that her family will be so impressed by them that they will never fight in front of them again....

(The entire section is 1090 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Part I: "Dick and Jane" and Preface
The Bluest Eye opens with a short "Dick and Jane" primary reader story that is...

(The entire section is 1394 words.)