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

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Chapter 9 opens with the section of the Dick and Jane primer concerning Dick and Jane’s nice and smiling mother.

It would be easiest to say Pauline Williams’s wounded and deformed foot were the cause of her low self-esteem. "But to find out the truth about how dreams die, one should never take the word of the dreamer." It was probably a cavity in Pauline’s front tooth. Unbeknownst to her, it rotted away and then fell out unexpectedly. Pauline was the ninth of eleven children and lived in Alabama seven miles from the nearest road. When she was two years old, a nail punctured her food and made her limp. Because of the limp, Pauline was left out of a number of things she never got a nickname, anecdotes were never told about her, no one ever thought of her favorite foods, in short, she never felt at home anywhere. She "cultivated private pleasures." She especially liked to arrange things. In school, numbers were her favorite subject, words her least favorite.

At the beginning of World War I, the Williamses moved to Kentucky. Pauline recalls that it was the last time she saw the green streak of a june bug. The family’s fortunes rose in Kentucky. The family lived in a town, they rented a five-room house, and the children began to move away, leaving less work to maintain the house. Pauline, the oldest girl living at home, took on the responsibility of housekeeping. She enjoyed housekeeping. She liked the quiet and solitude of the work. After the war, Pauline’s younger siblings left school to work and Pauline turned fifteen. She began to fantasize about men and love and became extremely melancholy. Church songs taught her to long for a kind savior who would take her hand and lead her to happiness. In her fantasies, she always passively waited and the vague man came along and noticed her.

When a stranger did come into Pauline’s life, she was prepared for him. He came down the road on the hottest day of the year. He had yellow eyes and he sang "a kind of city-street music where laughter belies anxiety, and joy is as short and straight as the blade of a pocketknife." She was leaning on the fence in her yard and was gazing off into space. The sound of the whistling made her smile. She did not turn around when the whistling got louder. Then she felt something tickling her foot and she laughed aloud, turned to see the whistler was tickling her broken foot and kissing her leg. She couldn’t stop laughing. The whistler looked up and she saw "the Kentucky sun drenching the yellow, heavy-lidded eyes of Cholly Breedlove."

Pauline remembers that when she first saw Cholly, she felt that all the bits of color from back home in Alabama--purple from mashed berries, yellow from lemonade, green of june bugs--was inside her and when Cholly tickled her foot, the colors came together. She and Cholly were very happy and in love. He liked her country ways and he treated her foot as an opportunity to care for her. They got married and went north where Cholly had heard there were steel mills needing workers. They moved to Lorain, Ohio and Cholly got a job, while Pauline began keeping house.

The problem occurred when she lost her front tooth. It must have been gradual, but she had not noticed it until it was too late. Lorain seemed like the best place ever. Its streets were paved with concrete, it sat on the edge of a blue lake. Pauline remembers that she and Cholly got along very well at first, but Pauline found it difficult to know people in the north. She wasn’t so used to living in such close proximity to white people and the black people she met were unfriendly, "no better than whites for meanness. They could make you feel just as no-count, ‘cept I didn’t expect it from them."

Because she was lonely, Pauline turned to Cholly for everything. However, he resisted her "total dependence on him." He didn’t have any trouble finding friends and he often went out at night with his friends. Pauline, on the other hand, couldn’t find friends among black women. They laughed at her un-straightened hair, her un-made-up face, and her southern accent. She began to want new clothes and so she got a job to pay for them. She took jobs as a day worker, but Cholly became unhappy with her purchases and they quarreled constantly. After a few months, Pauline took a job as a housekeeper for a fairly poor white family. She remembers her and Cholly fighting all the time.

Pauline remembers the unpleasant experience of working for this white family. The mistress of the house was constantly upset, worried, or complaining. She was always intriguing about her family. Pauline found her ignorant and difficult. The family also made her work difficult, much more so than Pauline’s own family had when she was still living at home. She found that "nasty white folks is about the nastiest things they is." Nevertheless, Pauline would have continued working for them had Cholly not come to her while she was working and caused a scene, scaring the white woman. The white woman insisted that Pauline leave Cholly or not come back to work. Pauline saw the illogic of "a black woman leaving a black man for a white woman," and so she refused. The white woman refused to give Pauline the money she owed her, but Pauline had no recourse.

One winter, Pauline became pregnant. Cholly was pleased by it and he started coming home more often and taking better care of his place in the family. Pauline stopped working and took up housekeeping again. Yet, she was still terribly bored and homesick. She began to go to the movies. There, she "succumbed to earlier dreams." At the movies, she was inculcated in the values of romantic love and physical beauty--two of "the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought." When she learned to equate physical beauty with virtue, she began feel contempt for herself. "She forgot lust and simple caring for. She regarded love as a possessive mating, and romance as the goal of the spirit."

Pauline remembers the only time she was happy was in the movies. She saw white men taking good care of white women. She saw big, clean houses. She began to be sad to come home to Cholly. Once, she fixed her hair like Jean Harlow’s and went to the movies. In the middle of the movie, her tooth fell out. "Everything went then." She let her hair go back and gave in to being ugly. She and Cholly began to fight again and she developed a rage against him. She had a baby boy and got pregnant again. She loved her children, but she had difficulty coping with them. She remembers, "Sometimes I’d catch myself hollering at them and beating them, and I’d feel sorry for them, but I couldn’t seem to stop."

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