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

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THE BLUEST EYE: LITERARY CRITICISM / ANALYSIS

CHAPTER 5

Summary

This chapter, like most in the novel, begins with a short, non-punctuated, excerpt from the Dick and Jane primer. This one lists the family members, describes their house, and is cut short before the word "happy."

The Breedloves live in the storefront not as a temporary measure, but because they believe they are ugly. They poverty was not unique to them. It was "traditional and stultifying." The ugliness was unique to the Breedloves. Except for Cholly, whose ugliness resulted from behavior, "despair, dissipation, and violence directed toward petty things and weak people," the other members of the family put their ugliness on even though it did not belong to them. When people looked at them to see what their ugliness came from, they realized it came from their own conviction that they were ugly. It was as if some powerful master had given them a cloak of ugliness and they had taken it on without question. All the images of their culture reinforced the message. Mrs. Breedlove used her ugliness in her role as martyr. Sammy used his to hurt other people. Pecola hid behind hers as if it were a mask.

One Saturday morning in October, the family begins to awake. Mrs. Breedlove rises and goes to the kitchen. The bones in her good foot creak and her twisted foot slides over the linoleum. As she moves about in the kitchen, she makes noises with a threat to them. Pecola stirs and sees that the furnace is unlit. Cholly awakes and goes back to sleep. Pecola can smell his whiskey breath. The noises from the kitchen get louder. Pecola becomes afraid of what she knows is imminent. Cholly had come home drunk, too drunk to fight, so the fight would take place this morning. It would be "calculated, uninspired, and deadly."


Mrs. Breedlove comes in the room and tell Cholly she needs coal in the house. She stands over him yelling at him about having to make breakfast in a cold house, about his not bringing in any money, about her refusal to get coal herself, and about his drunkenness. He answers her with silence and indifference, with a note of violence. Sammy pretends to be asleep and Pecola clenches her stomach muscles. When Cholly gets drunk, her parents always get into a fight. These fights punctuate Mrs. Breedlove’s life with meaning and give her an identity. She considers herself a good Christian woman burdened by a worthless husband as punishment from God. She often speaks to Jesus about Cholly’s sins. Once, during a fight, Cholly fell on the stove, and she yelled out for Jesus to take him. Mrs. Breedlove needs Cholly’s sins for her sense of self.

Cholly also needs her. "She was one of the few things abhorrent to him that he could touch and therefore hurt." If he hated her, he could keep his own identity free. When Cholly was a boy, he had been intruded upon by two white men while he was fooling around sexually for the first time with a girl. The men shone their flashlight on his bottom and laughed. They ordered him to go on. They called him a "nigger" and told him to "make it good." He had not hated the men; he had directed his hatred toward the girl.

Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove fought silently and brutally, though they had somehow tacitly agreed not to kill each other. Sammy reacted to the fights by cursing and leaving or joining in. By fourteen years old, he had left home twenty-seven times. Pecola "experimented with methods of endurance. She either wished one would kill the other or that she would die. She called out to her mother, "Don’t, Mrs. Breedlove. Don’t."

That morning Mrs. Breedlove had threatened that if she sneezed, she would get Cholly out of the bed. When she did, she ran into the bedroom with a pan of cold water and threw it in Cholly’s face. He jumped out of bed and tackled her. She hit him with the dishpan and he hit her in the face. At one point she ducked and he hit the metal frame of the bed hard. Mrs. Breedlove got outside his reach. Sammy began to hit his father in the head calling him a "naked fuck." Mrs. Breedlove picked up the dishpan and hit Cholly two blows to the head, knocking him unconscious. Sammy screamed, "Kill him! Kill him!" Mrs. Breedlove looked at him with surprise and then told him to get up and get some coal.

Pecola begins to breathe easy, but kept her head covered with the quilt. She has an urge to vomit. She prays to God to make her disappear. She squeezes her eyes shut and imagined parts of her body disappearing. She can get every part of her body to disappear but her eyes. This failure makes her despair since her eyes "were everything and everything was there, in them." She thought about running away, but she knew it wouldn’t work anyway as long as she was ugly. She would sit for hours looking at her reflection in the mirror wondering what made her so ugly, an ugliness that made teachers and classmates at school ignore or despise her. She alone in her school sat alone at a double desk. Her teachers always avoided looking at her. When children wanted to upset each other, they said the other liked Pecola.

Pecola had realized that if her eyes were different, she would be different. She studied her other features and found them to be fine. She thought if she was different, maybe Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove would be, too. She thought up a rhyme about pretty blue eyes. Every night for a year she prayed for blue eyes. She didn’t give up hope because she thought a miracle took a long time.


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