Free Study Guide: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison - Free BookNotes|
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THE BLUEST EYE: DOWNLOADABLE NOTES
Pauline was surprised to see her baby. She had talked to it so much while it as in her womb that she had pictured it differently. When she first nursed Pecola, "she liked to pull my nipple off right away." She liked to watch her and to hear her baby sounds, but she knew right away that Pecola was ugly.
When Sammy and Pecola were young, Pauline went back to work. She gave up on the movies and became who she would always be. "She developed a hatred for things that mystified or obstructed her; acquired virtues that were easy to maintain; assigned herself a role in the scheme of things; and harked back to simpler times for gratification." She became the main breadwinner of the household and she returned to church. Among the women who had looked down on her, she became more moral than they. She joined a respectable church, joined women’s groups, and at prayer meetings, she brought up Cholly’s ways for prayer and lamentation. Another tooth fell out and she became outraged by women who wore make-up and only thought of men.
Pauline found a good job in the home of a wealthy white family. Pauline loved their house in which everything was clean and white. She became an ideal servant for the Fisher family. She loved taking care of the little Fisher girl, bathing her and drying her in fluffy towels. She combed her hair and the contrast to her own children with their "tangled black puffs of rough wool" was stark. She stopped taking care of her own house, her children, and her husband. Life at the Fishers was happier. She could arrange things in neat rows and enjoy the abundance of food. She enjoyed the authority her position as housekeeper gave her over creditors and service people, the same ones who humiliated her in her role as breadwinner for her own family. The Fishers even gave her a nickname, Polly.
Pauline never introduced the order and beauty of her work to her own household.
She taught her children respectability and fear. She only thought about
the old times with Cholly rarely. She remembered the times when Cholly
would come home not too drunk and get in bed with her. She would remember
his body which she loved, but she wouldn’t turn around to embrace him.
He would begin to touch her and she would be still, enjoying it, but not
acting on her pleasure. He would make love to her and she would feel "softer
than I ever been before." When she felt him loving her, just her,
she felt powerful, strong, pretty and young. When she had an orgasm, it
was like all the colors of her home burst inside her. When it was over,
she wanted to thank him, but couldn’t think of how, so she just patted
him like he was a baby. Nowadays, things are very different. "Most
times he’s thrashing away inside me before I’m woke, and through before
I am." Pauline tells herself she doesn’t care about it anyway, because
God will take care of her.
Morrison uses a different technique in this chapter. She mixes an omniscient narrator who describes Pauline with free indirect discourse, a kind of narration that seems as if it records a character’s inner thoughts. In this mix, Morrison accomplishes both the need to tell the story of Pauline’s life, from its beginnings to its present, and the need to let Pauline speak for herself.
It is important for the reader to speculate about the reason for Morrison’s choice of sequence in her depiction of Pauline’s character. First, the reader is given the picture of Mrs. Breedlove’s dilapidated house, then the reader sees a typical Saturday morning fight between Mrs. Breedlove and Cholly. Next, the reader sees Pauline as Polly standing in the kitchen of a wealthy white family beating her daughter for simple clumsiness and banishing her, then cooing softly to a white child. These images are hard to take because Morrison also lets the reader in on the tiny hopes and desires of Pecola. Mrs. Breedlove seems vicious for incomprehensible reasons. Polly seems to be a betrayer of her own tender-hearted daughter. After these de-humanized and incomprehensible views of the woman, Morrison introduces her reader to Pauline, tenderhearted in her own right and severely wounded in that tenderness. Thus, Morrison gives the reader the result, the consequences, and only then does she supply the causes.
Pauline was hurt in two primary ways. First, she was hurt by institutional racism, particularly the racism of the media which depicts European features as beautiful and consigns all other kinds of features as ugly and less than. Before her exposure to movies, Pauline did not think she was ugly. After she thinks she’s ugly, she gives up on self-respect and love of all sorts. Second, Pauline was hurt by internalized racism. This happens when people in the group targeted by racism begin to believe the lies about their inferiority, ugliness, lack of morality, and general lack of sophistication. The women in Pauline’s northern black community looked down on her. She was still wearing her hair natural, not having gotten the message yet that natural meant ugly. She was still speaking with her home dialect, not having acquired the sense that the dialect spoken in the movies was the dialect of sense and sophistication and all other dialects equaled ignorance and backwardness. In short, Pauline was rejected because she had not internalized all the messages that said she was not good enough as she was, and that she needed to do something to herself to look more like European Americans.
Morrison’s portrait of Pauline in this chapter is very poignant. It gives
the reader insight into a very complex process whereby a person is stripped
of a sense of self worth. This is the process which Pecola is undergoing,
and it is the primary subject of the novel.
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