The Bluest Eye | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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The Bluest Eye | Spring, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter's Dick and Jane lines refer to a dog (SEETHEDOG). The chapter introduces a new character: Soaphead Church, an old man who loves things but dislikes people. Soaphead's real name is Elihue Whitcomb, and he grew up in a distinguished mulatto family (part African American, part Caucasian) in the West Indies. Soaphead has a very peculiar attitude toward life and people. He fails sexually with adults but molests young girls in a "clean and good and friendly" way, he says. Eventually he immigrates to the United States and becomes a fortune teller. He doesn't make much money, but he lives simply, renting rooms from an old lady in town. Soaphead's chief complaint about his rooms is his landlady's old, deaf dog, who he wishes would die.

One day Pecola appears at his door. She does not give her name but stands in the doorway, "her hands folded across her stomach, a little protruding pot of tummy." She tells Soaphead she "can't go to school no more" and asks him to make her eyes blue. Soaphead feels such sympathy for her that he wishes he really could do magic. He tells her if God wants her to have blue eyes, he will give a sign. Soaphead sprinkles something on a piece of meat and tells her to give it to the old dog. If the old dog reacts, her wish will be granted. The meat is poisoned, and the dog dies painfully in front of Pecola.

Pecola runs away and Soaphead writes a long letter to God. He reviews his family's history and his sexual experiences with grown women and young girls, which he tries to justify. He challenges God for abandoning Pecola and claims he is like a god himself because he gave Pecola what she wanted. He concludes the letter, looks briefly through his things, and lies down in "an ivory sleep from which he could not hear."

Analysis

Morrison intentionally includes three different incidents of pedophilia or child molestation in this book. She is most explicit about Soaphead Church. He cannot maintain an effective sexual relationship with an adult woman and is "disgusted" by the idea of sex with a man, though the narrator says "he could have been" homosexual. In literature pedophiles are often shown as less than a "real" man, and both Soaphead Church and Mr. Henry fit this idea. Soaphead cannot handle sexual intercourse with an equal, so he turns to children. When Claudia and Frieda see Mr. Henry with two prostitutes, he is sucking their fingers—nothing more. Morrison establishes Cholly's sexual prowess, but he too has been emasculated by society.

Soaphead may prefer young girls, but he never thinks to touch Pecola. He sees her as "pitifully unattractive," but he sympathizes with her. Soaphead thinks of Pecola as "a little black girl who wanted to rise up out of the pit of her blackness," yet again demonstrating how some light-skinned African Americans look down on darker-skinned people.

Pecola may already be pregnant when she comes to Soaphead. Note her "little protruding pot of tummy" and her revelation that she "can't go to school no more"—though the reason remains undisclosed. Pecola has a limited understanding of the reproductive system and might not realize she was pregnant for some time. Earlier in the book Pecola thinks her parents would treat her better if she had blue eyes. Now she has come to Soaphead Church to make it happen.

Soaphead is shockingly casual about murdering his landlady's dog. Pecola does not know what will happen and becomes almost physically ill as a result. Soaphead may feel sympathy for Pecola, but he seems surprisingly detached from how the dog's death might affect her.

Soaphead's letter to God touches briefly on his family history, but he uses a good portion of it to justify his actions as a child molester. Morrison makes it clear Soaphead has done this repeatedly, has molested his own family members, and has been written up in the papers because of his actions. He describes the breasts of young girls as irresistible and feels no remorse. He is quite proud he never went to bed with them or took "a child bride," but he seems to have done almost everything else.

The chapter's end is ambiguous, and it is possible Soaphead may commit suicide. In the letter he talks about wanting to avoid death, but later he writes "I am not afraid of You, of Death." He looks through his most prized possessions, which include items suggestive of his history of molestation: a girl's hair ribbon, a faucet head from a jailhouse sink. Morrison describes "a buzzing in his head, and a wash of fatigue," and he lies down "in an ivory sleep" and does not wake when his landlady finds her dead dog. Whether he too is dead Morrison does not give a definite answer.

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