The Bluest Eye | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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The Bluest Eye | Summer, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

Claudia and Frieda travel around to local houses, selling seeds. If they sell enough, they hope to get a new bicycle. As they troop from house to house, they hear gossip about Pecola. She is pregnant with Cholly's child. Cholly has gone. Mrs. Breedlove beat Pecola, and the community seems divided about whether Pecola might be partially to blame for what happened.

The girls are angry on Pecola's behalf. They look for someone—anyone—who will feel sorry for her and her baby, but everyone is shocked and horrified instead. Claudia, with her dislike of white baby dolls, is especially bothered by the fact that no one wants this African American baby. She and Frieda are matter of fact about Pecola being pregnant without being married, which is common in their neighborhood. Since they are hazy about how pregnancies occur, they do not understand why it matters that her father is the baby's father.

They decide to sacrifice their bicycle money to please God and ensure the baby will live. They bury the money they already earned and plant the seeds in their yard. If the seeds grow, they will take it as a sign God will let the baby live.

Analysis

Claudia and Frieda's summer "job" sounds questionable at best. If each packet is worth $0.05, they would have to sell an inordinate number of packets to earn a bicycle. The girls say they have earned $2 selling seeds, which seems to be remarkably high earnings: they would need to have sold 40 packets of seeds! Of course, these seeds are symbolic, representing hopes and plans for the future. The door-to-door sales allow the girls to hear gossip about Pecola, which they might not otherwise hear.

Throughout the book Morrison presents Claudia and Frieda's limited knowledge of sex as humorous or endearing, demonstrative of their innocence. Now the reader sees it in a different light. The girls are so unclear about the mechanics of conceiving a child they think it's okay for Pecola to bear her father's baby. Claudia believes the adults reject the idea of the baby because it will be black. She compares Mrs. Breedlove's reaction to her employer's child—soothing her tears—to Mrs. Breedlove's reaction to Pecola—severely beating her. In her mind Claudia connects the employer's little girl to the white baby dolls she never liked. Claudia becomes convinced this baby must live. She envisions the baby as a very dark-skinned child with the type of features African Americans are often teased about—a "flared" nose and big lips—and she thinks the baby of her imagination is beautiful. She says her "need for someone to want the black baby to live" is greater than her feeling for Pecola. The two girls sacrifice their dreams of a bicycle in an effort to save Pecola's baby.

Through the gossip the reader learns that some people blame Pecola. Mrs. Breedlove beats her severely, and the gossipers themselves question why Pecola didn't fight harder. Morrison is a feminist writer. She is well aware of the not-uncommon practice of blaming the victim, which often occurs in sexual assault cases. Psychologically, people may blame the victim of a crime because it helps them feel safer. Only if they envision Pecola as having aggressively resisted her father they can then see her as a victim. Seeing her as a victim requires them to be sympathetic to her and to consider how their society produced someone like Cholly.

Morrison is deliberately vague about the timing of events. The gossips say Mrs. Breedlove "ought to take her [Pecola] out of school." However, Pecola has already said she "can't" go to school any longer. The chapters may not show events in sequential order: Claudia and Frieda may hear about Pecola's situation before Pecola goes to Soaphead Church. Morrison puts the Soaphead Church chapter immediately after the chapter where Cholly rapes Pecola. This sets up a contrast between Cholly and Soaphead. Cholly's crime is far worse, but his motives seem unclear: he has no history of pedophilia. Soaphead, on the other hand, never had sexual intercourse with a child but molested many girls over the years. Putting these two chapters back to back also keeps the reader close to Pecola's experience. Morrison then shifts back to Claudia's perspective—what might be called a more "normal" perspective—for this chapter.

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