Claudia MacTeer represents the author, Toni Morrison, as a young girl. Claudia feels strongly about her identity as an African American girl, and she is troubled by the cultural messages she hears, which suggest a white girl is better or more beautiful. Claudia's life is not easy, but she has energy and determination to survive.
Pecola Breedlove believes she is ugly because everyone has told her she is ugly. She is convinced she needs blue eyes so her parents will never fight and only good things will happen to her. After she is raped by her father, Pecola goes to a local fortune teller to get blue eyes. By the end of the novel she has lost her mind and hallucinates, believing she has obtained blue eyes.
Cholly Breedlove is defined by two early incidents: his abandonment by his mother and the trauma of his first sexual experience, when he is forced to have sex while two white men watch him. Morrison describes Cholly both as "angry" and "free." Cholly drinks heavily and seems to be constantly resentful of his wife and family. Although he does rape and impregnate his own daughter, Morrison attempts to create a nuanced portrait of Cholly and does not paint him as a monster.
Pauline Breedlove is always set apart from others, in part because of her injury. She is happy to marry Cholly and fights, for a time, to keep his interest. She becomes convinced it is impossible, just as she resigns herself to the idea she could never be beautiful. Instead she embraces religion and creating "perfection" for her white employers. She makes no space for perfection or love in her own home. Her children call her Mrs. Breedlove, although her employers call her Polly.
Frieda MacTeer and Claudia are together throughout much of the book, though Frieda is older and somewhat more knowledgeable. Frieda understands menstruation, for example, and tries to help Pecola. But Frieda's knowledge is comically limited on the subject of "ruined" women and making babies. Frieda is another version of a "normal" African American girl—not as aggressive or militant as Claudia, but still far more secure in her own identity than Pecola.