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Free Study Guide: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison - Free BookNotes

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Morrison here begins the structural principle of the novel--the seasons, beginning with autumn and ending with summer. Although other works of literature have used the seasons as markers of time, they usually begin in Spring, the time of beginnings. Beginning in Autumn, the time when plants go dormant, leaves begin to fall from trees, and the earth prepares for winter, strikes the reader as ominous. When we see the constrained lives of these children, we understand the reason for the ominous note.

In sharp contrast to the bright and happy green house of the Dick and Jane primer, Claudia and Frieda live in an old, cold green house, poorly insulated against the biting cold. Unlike Dick and Jane’s smiling parents, Claudia and Frieda’s father is mainly absent and their mother is too tired to be kind to her daughters. She blames Claudia for getting sick. There is some love in her mother’s constant rough treatment of the girls, but the dominant note is meanness and anger. They have absolutely no voice in their family. They only listen silently while their mother calls them names, mainly "stupid." Adults treat them as inconvenient pieces of furniture.

Morrison moves outward in this chapter from the specific family of Claudia and Frieda to the larger African-American community in their neighborhood. She does this with the clever technique of an overheard conversation among adult women with Claudia and Frieda’s as yet unnamed mother. These women talk about the character Miss Della, who has just lost a boarder, Mr. Henry, to Claudia’s mother.

Mr. Henry comes with several smells. He smells like vanishing cream and hair oil among other things, both of which are products for changing the physical features of African Americans. Vanishing cream was used with the purpose of lightening the color of the skin and hair oil was used along with straightening agents to make the hair straight. Mr. Henry, the dandy of the novel, is a victim of internalized racism.

The women commiserate with Miss Della, but also gossip about her family’s lack of intelligence and sanity. We get our first view of gender relations with Miss Della. Her husband seems to have left her for a prostitute for the flimsy reason that she smelled like perfume. The two ways to be a woman in this community are named--respectable women who go to church and sexually promiscuous women who do not. They seem to wage a fierce competition over who gets the men.

Pecola Breedlove is introduced in this chapter. She is a girl almost entirely without a voice and seemingly without a will of her own. She goes any way the other girls lead her. She voices no desires, but accepts what is given to her. She loves Shirley Temple to excess. She gets her period in this chapter, leading the reader to assume that what we heard in chapter 2--that Pecola became pregnant by her father--occurs later in time. Pecola has been abandoned in this chapter. While her brother was taken in by family, she was left to the county to place in the grudging care of Mrs. MacTeer.

Morrison delays naming Claudia’s mother until late in this chapter, when Rosemary calls her and tells her her daughters are playing nasty. She gives them no time for explanation before she applies vigorous and brutal corporal punishment. When she sees her mistake, she does not apologize.

The chapter ends poignantly with Pecola wondering how she will ever find someone to love her and not getting an answer. The reader is reminded of all the love poured forth for white children and for white dolls.



Chapter 4 begins with three lines of capitalized, non-spaced, and non-punctuated text of the Dick and Jane children’s primer. It concerns the pretty green house. "Pretty" is repeated several times.

An abandoned store sits on the southeast corner of Broadway and Thirty-Fifth street in Lorain, Ohio. It stands out as an eyesore and makes people traveling through town wonder why it hasn’t been torn down and residents of Lorain look away. It was once a pizza parlor. Young teenage boys used to hang around the corner and smoke. Before that time, the place was leased to a Hungarian baker. Before that, it was a real-estate office and before that, some gypsies used it.

The population in the area was very fluid so probably no one knows what was there before the gypsies. The Breedloves were the last residents. They were invisible in the community and in the larger city. Among each other, they were separate and isolated. The plan of the house was unimaginative. The large store in front was partitioned into two rooms by boards that did not reach the ceiling. There was a front room and a bedroom. The front room contained two sofas, a piano, and a dusty Christmas tree. The bedroom had three beds, one for Sammy, one for Pecola, and one for Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove. A coal stove sat in the center of the room. The kitchen was a separate room in back. There was no bath, only a toilet bowl. The furniture was aged, but not cared for or even thought about. The sofa split open at the back the day it was delivered. The store refused to take it back. Regardless, the Breedloves still had to scrape together $4.80 a month for it. They hated it so much it infected their lives. They never cared enough about the house to paint the walls or fix the tear.

"The only thing living in the Breedloves’ house was the coal stove." It had a mind of its own, and always went out in the morning.


Morrison uses the realist technique of showing the house and furnishings. The difference she makes from previous writers of realism is to show how the house and furnishings become saturated with local meaning, how they influence the lives of the inhabitants, spoil their sense of self as it is attached to a sense of place.

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