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The Bluest Eye | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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

The Bluest Eye | Prologue | Summary



The prologue begins with an epigraph: a parody of the Dick and Jane books, which were a series of learn-to-read books from the early 20th century. Using very short sentences to introduce new words slowly to beginning readers, the books describe the experiences of a pair of "average" children, their parents, and their pets.

The narrator states: "There were no marigolds in the fall of 1941" and continues in the first person, explaining how she thought the marigolds did not grow because Pecola was pregnant with her father's child. The narrator worried about Pecola's baby being born safe and healthy, and the marigolds seem to represent the wish. The marigolds never grew, and Pecola's baby died. Pecola's father, Cholly Breedlove, died as well. The narrator says that, because the why of what happened "is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how."


The first paragraph is written with standard punctuation and simple sentence structure, as it would appear in a Dick and Jane book. The second paragraph turns the same words into a giant run-on sentence. The third keeps the text but eliminates the spacing between words. It creates a frantic feeling, as if someone is attempting to maintain a Dick and Jane viewpoint while the world is crashing down.

Morrison reuses lines from Dick and Jane throughout the book. These books serve as a powerful example of how the white person's experience of the world is often presented as the "normal" experience. Dick and Jane and their family and friends are all white. Their lives are presented as ideal by mid-20th century standards: they have a nice house, their father works, their mother is a housewife, and they are financially secure. Everyone is clean and happy and healthy. They are idealized: even many white children in the 1930s, 40s, or 50s would have been envious of Dick and Jane's beautiful house, their nice pets, their happy and affectionate parents. For African American children the books would be even more isolating. The characters in the novel—Claudia, Frieda, Pecola, and others—would have learned to read using Dick and Jane books, but no one in their world lives like Dick and Jane.

Morrison sets the story in 1941. To many Americans 1941 was the start of the American involvement in World War II. Morrison, who wrote the book in the 1960s, deliberately chose that year rather than any other. It may reflect her own age: she would have been 10 in 1941, close in age to the main characters.

Morrison does not describe the narrator yet, although the tone suggests a child. The narrator has invested marigold seeds with almost magical qualities: if they grew "everything would be all right."

Marigolds are a symbolic choice. They are sturdy flowers that usually grow easily. They can also serve many purposes. They are attractive to look at, their smell repels insects, and some varietals can be used to treat minor skin problems. In 1941 many African American communities were impoverished. Money would be scarce for fancy things like flowers, but flowers that served a purpose would be welcomed. Marigolds are the perfect flower for this type of community, and yet the flowers never grow.

Morrison shocks the reader by announcing the father of Pecola's baby: her father, Cholly. At this point the reader knows nothing about Pecola or her father except their names. Cholly is a nickname for Charles, but Pecola is an unusual name. Later in the novel someone suggests Pecola's name comes from a movie called Imitation of Life, which includes a character named Pecola. Their last name is highly symbolic: Breedlove. The conjunction of the two words raises questions about the relationship between "breeding" (sex) and loving. In light of what the reader already knows about the family's incest, the name is troubling.
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