The Bluest Eye | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Autumn, Chapter 3

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Autumn, Chapter 3 of Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye.

The Bluest Eye | Autumn, Chapter 3 | Summary



This section begins with lines from Dick and Jane, focusing on Dick and Jane's family (HEREISTHEFAMILY). Crucially, the lines stop before the word happy. This chapter transitions from the storefront house to the people inside it: the Breedlove family.

Pecola's mother, Mrs. Breedlove, is angry because Cholly, Pecola's father, got drunk the night before. Now it is morning and Mrs. Breedlove is ready for a fight. She tries to send the hungover Cholly to get coal, but he refuses. While she could get the coal herself or send one of the children for it, she wants to fight with Cholly. Morrison says Mrs. Breedlove "needed Cholly's sins desperately" because it allows her to feel superior to him. Cholly also needs her because he can hurt her when he is angry at the world. They beat each other up on a regular basis. Sammy, now a teenager, has sometimes intervened in their fights, but Pecola never does. Mrs. Breedlove dumps cold water on Cholly to wake him up. He retaliates, beating her. She manages to escape, and Sammy, their son, attacks Cholly, whom Mrs. Breedlove knocks unconscious with the stove lid; she then orders Sammy to get up and fetch coal.

Pecola wishes to have blue eyes. She believes if she had pretty blue eyes her world would be better. Her parents wouldn't fight, and kids at school wouldn't pick on her. She fantasizes about eyes like something in a Dick and Jane book, although she thinks of other names: Alice and Jerry and their dog Jip. She prays for blue eyes, believing only a miracle could make her pretty.

Pecola goes to a store run by white people to buy some penny candy. Morrison says the white shopkeeper cannot see her because there is no reason for a white man to need to see a little African American girl. He is not helpful, but Pecola eventually gets her candies. She is embarrassed and angry about what happened. Pecola soothes herself by eating the candies, which have a picture of "Mary Jane" on them: a white little girl with blond hair and blue eyes.

Above the Breedloves' storefront home three prostitutes live in an apartment. Pecola knows them as Miss China, Miss Poland, and Miss Marie. She likes to visit with them. They seem to be in a constant state of getting ready to meet a man, whom Pecola thinks of as "boyfriends"—but the three women hate all men and are ready to cheat them. They do not explain to Pecola about sex, but they are not attempting to shield her either. They tell tall tales about their exploits—Miss Marie suggests she helped J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director, catch famous criminal John Dillinger—and they laugh at each other and at themselves.

Pecola is curious about what "love" feels like. She has conflated love and sex and remembers what she has seen when Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove have sex. She thinks about the songs she hears the prostitutes singing and wonders if the songs explain love.


Morrison says the Breedloves lived in this miserable place "because they were poor and black" and "stayed there because they believed they were ugly." Morrison says Cholly's ugliness is behavior, while the other three—Mrs. Breedlove, Sammy, and Pecola—"put on" their ugliness and believed it, "as though some mysterious all-knowing master ... had said, 'You are ugly people.'"

The word master is significant, raising the image of slavery. Although slavery is technically over, the Breedloves still experience white people as their "masters" in many ways. Morrison states the Breedloves' understanding of their ugliness was supported "from every billboard, every movie, every glance." This connects back to Claudia's attitude toward Shirley Temple and baby dolls. Claudia fights back, trying to reject the message of white beauty and black ugliness. The Breedloves accept it. Mrs. Breedlove takes on ugliness as part of her personal suffering, and Sammy uses it to hurt others. Pecola "hid behind hers." Cholly's ugliness is an ugliness of attitude and behavior. His ugliness seems to be tied up in anger against white people, anger he cannot express.

In this chapter the reader learns of Pecola's secret wish for blue eyes, the source of the book's title. Morrison shows her fascination with Shirley Temple and with Mary Jane, the little girl on the candy wrapper. Pecola's wish for blue eyes captures many tragic things about this character and these circumstances. First, Pecola believes she will be beautiful only if she has blue eyes: a physical impossibility. Pecola has so deeply absorbed the dominant messages in her culture that she cannot accept any idea of beauty that contradicts the "white is beautiful" ideal. Eating the Mary Jane candies symbolizes her total and eager internalization of the "white is beautiful" message. Second, Pecola thinks blue eyes would solve her problems. She envisions Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove ending their arguments because "we mustn't do bad things in front of those pretty eyes."

The Breedloves are a dysfunctional family, to say the least. Like many children in abusive situations, Pecola wants to find a way to fix her family. Her solution is totally out of reach, which emphasizes her sense of powerlessness. Morrison writes about the Breedloves, even Cholly, with a certain sympathy. She suggests anyone in similar circumstances might turn out like Cholly or Mrs. Breedlove. Certainly fighting and even physical abuse can be a result of difficult personal or financial circumstances, although some of Cholly's later actions are impossible to justify.

Morrison has already established Pecola's confusion (shared with Claudia) about love and sex. The adult women in Pecola's life do not clear anything up. Mrs. Breedlove is an angry woman, and when Pecola sees her parents having sex Mrs. Breedlove makes no noise at all. By contrast the three prostitutes who live above their storefront are much more expressive about sex and men.

Prostitutes in fiction have a long tradition of being secretly good, led to it by tragic circumstance and so on. Morrison rejects those ideas. Her prostitutes, she tells the reader directly, are realists. They hate most men and women equally. They look out for themselves. They talk to Pecola because she amuses them, but they feel no need to protect her.

After witnessing a morning with Pecola's family, the reader doesn't blame her for seeking out other company. The three prostitutes are good fun, whatever their morals might be. Miss Marie spins tall tales, exaggerating her stories to entertain Pecola even as the other prostitutes sneer. Miss Marie paints herself as a legendary figure: the "Lady in Red" who helped capture infamous criminal John Dillinger, a gangster during the 1930s. He stole from banks and became a sort of antihero during the Great Depression. J. Edgar Hoover, the powerful head of the FBI, wanted Dillinger captured. A madam who ran a house of prostitution approached the FBI and gave them information on Dillinger's location. Dillinger was shot trying to escape from the FBI. The newspapers painted dramatic stories about a "Lady in Red" who betrayed Dillinger. The stories were largely fabricated, but Miss Marie tries to claim the fame for herself. Her fellow prostitutes laugh at her, but Pecola doesn't. She wonders about these women and their attitude toward men. Pecola's reaction toward menstruating in an earlier chapter suggests her mother has not spoken to her about sex and puberty, while these prostitutes assume she knows everything already. Poor Pecola has good reason to be confused.

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