The Bluest Eye | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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The Bluest Eye | Winter, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter returns to Claudia's perspective. It is winter and they are cold. Claudia describes how her daddy fights valiantly to keep the house warm. At school the girls have a new classmate: a girl named Maureen Peal with light skin, green eyes, and fancy clothes. She is popular with both students and teachers, but Frieda and Claudia resent her. They tease her and call her names. Maureen is assigned a locker near Claudia's, and one day she offers to walk home with them. They find Pecola surrounded by a bunch of boys who are tormenting her. Frieda and Claudia break up the teasing and the boys, embarrassed by Maureen's presence, give up. Once they are gone Maureen takes Pecola's arm and begins chatting as if they are close friends.

As they walk Maureen sees a store where they can get ice cream. She offers to buy some for Pecola, but not Claudia or Frieda. Maureen says her family gets money by suing businesses, including the chain store they are about to use. They walk home, Pecola and Maureen eating ice cream and Maureen talking. Maureen says she menstruates, and when Pecola asks her questions, she tries to answer them. But Maureen is not perfectly informed about menstruation and pregnancy either. Maureen asks Pecola if she has ever seen a naked man, and Pecola gets upset. She says, "Nobody's father would be naked in front of his own daughter," although Maureen had not mentioned fathers. Maureen questions Pecola on the subject, and Claudia and Frieda stand up for Pecola. Maureen becomes angry and yells the same insults the boys had been shouting at Pecola, calling them all "black and ugly" as she runs away.

Claudia is frustrated when Pecola collapses under the insults rather than fighting back. Claudia and Frieda head home without Pecola, wondering if Maureen might be right. When they get home, Mr. Henry offers them money to go get ice cream. Instead they go to a nearby shop to buy candy. They get home faster than Mr. Henry expects and see him with two "bad" women: China and a woman they call the Maginot Line. The Maginot Line's name is a joke: the Maginot Line was a line of French defensive outposts that supposedly would protect France from the Nazis. In reality the line was easily taken by the Nazis. Thus "Maginot Line" would be a topical and clever nickname for a prostitute, who presumably wouldn't fight very hard to prevent someone from taking over her body.

Mr. Henry is entertaining prostitutes in their house while their mother is gone. Claudia and Frieda hide until the two women leave. Frieda asks him who the women were, and he claims they were in a Bible study class with him. The girls don't believe him but decide not to tell their mother.

Analysis

Until now Claudia has spoken primarily of her mother. Now the reader hears about her father—very briefly, but in positive, semiheroic tones. Claudia's "daddy" serves mostly as a contrast to Cholly, particularly in later stages of the book.

Just as there are differences between Claudia's family and Pecola's family, Maureen comes from a different type of family entirely. Claudia calls her a "high-yellow dream child." "High-yellow" is an offensive term by today's standards. It refers to an African American person with very light skin color, often someone who is multiethnic (e.g., both black and white). Maureen also has straighter hair than an African American person typically has: Morrison describes her "long brown hair braided into two lynch ropes that hung down her back." As the reference to lynch ropes makes clear, Maureen does not represent a positive force in the girls' lives.

Claudia and the other girls have grown up in a society where white is beautiful and black is not. Therefore, lighter skin (closer to white) is considered prettier than darker skin. This was not new in the 1940s. In fact it had its roots decades earlier in slavery. Slaves who were lighter skinned often were kept as "house slaves" while those with darker skin were sent to work in the fields. People politely pretended not to notice if house slaves were lighter skinned because they had been conceived by white slave owners forcing themselves on female slaves. For the slaves looking more "white" was a way to survive.

In the 20th century society's ideal of beauty remained white. African Americans internalized these images, believing an African American with lighter skin or straighter hair was lucky. Beauty products were created to artificially lighten skin or straighten hair. Maureen has light skin and hair that can be braided the way a white girl's hair would be: two long braids, not cornrows. Claudia resents Maureen the way she resents the baby dolls. Both represent a beauty ideal Claudia does not want to accept. Nevertheless, the children have internalized these racist standards. The cruelest insult anyone uses in this chapter is to call someone "black." Both the boys and Maureen use the word about Pecola and her family. Claudia and Frieda, although stunned for a moment, fight back. Pecola does not.

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