The Bluest Eye | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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The Bluest Eye | Winter, Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter begins with Dick and Jane run-on lines about a cat (SEETHECAT). The omniscient narrator describes a particular type of African American woman who comes from "quiet black neighborhoods" where life for African Americans is slightly better. These women know how to get along with white people. They follow a precise beauty routine, earn a college degree that will help them please white people, and suppress any "funkiness" of real emotions. They keep their husbands and their houses under strict control to maintain their ideal. If they love anything, it might be a pet.

Shifting to a specific example, the chapter narrows in on Geraldine, her son Louis Junior, and her cat. Junior likes to hurt the cat because his mother loves it better than him, but he otherwise obeys his mother. Geraldine tells Louis they are "colored people" and are better than "niggers." Junior plays with white children, though he secretly admires the "black boys." One day he sees "a very black girl"—Pecola—and asks her to play with him. She avoids him until he says he has kittens at his house. She is impressed by his beautiful house. When she asks for the kittens, he throws his mother's cat in her face. The cat scratches her and Pecola starts to cry, but after its initial fright the cat is friendly to Pecola. That infuriates Junior. He grabs the cat and throws it against the radiator. Junior's mother, Geraldine, comes in, and Junior blames it all on Pecola. Geraldine sees Pecola as a symbol of all the African Americans she has tried to reject. She calls Pecola a "nasty little black bitch" as she comforts the cat. Confused and unhappy, Pecola leaves.

Analysis

In the last chapter Morrison addressed how African American women may internalize the idea that white features, hair, and more are more beautiful. Now Morrison describes African American women who embrace a shadow world of almost-white behavior.

Morrison describes "brown girls" who live the African American equivalent of the Dick and Jane life in "quiet black neighborhoods where everybody is gainfully employed" with flowers growing in the yard—a contrast to Claudia's neighborhood where money is tight and flowers do not grow. These "girls" treat their hair so it looks more like white women's curled hair rather than the kinky curls of natural African American hair. They speak politely and quietly and sing in the church choir. They go to college to learn to do "the white man's work." They live their lives to be acceptable to the white power structure.

Morrison does not approve of these girls—note the deliberate use of the word girls though these are grown women. She represents their lives as barren of emotion and afraid of change or disruption. To Morrison they have made a false choice and sacrificed authenticity. Their lives are constrained by their choices, and they hold people, even their husbands and children, at arm's length. Morrison does not address the possibility that these confines reflect the limits society put on women in general during the mid-20th century. Books like The Feminine Mystique explored the malaise of women who had "the perfect life" but were unhappy, focusing on the experience of the white housewife. An African American housewife of the era would have many of the same problems the white housewife did, combined with the additional challenges all African Americans faced at that time.

Geraldine and Junior get little sympathy from Morrison. Cholly Breedlove, who rapes his own daughter, gets more understanding from the author. Geraldine certainly has little compassion for other African Americans. She instructs Junior carefully about choosing the "right" playmates, and when she gets angry (unfairly, though she doesn't know it) at Pecola, she immediately attacks her for being "black."

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