Quote: “A high-yellow dream child with long brown hair braided into two lynch ropes that hung down her back…There was a hint of spring in her sloe green eyes…” (Morrison 62)
Analysis: The ideal image in this book is of a fair-skinned girl who has blue or green eyes. Claudia describes Maureen Peal, a half-African and half-white classmate, in this quote. Maureen is seen as a much more beautiful character based on the standards in this book because although she is part African, she is still lighter skinned than many of the other characters, and she has green eyes.
These characteristics are closer on the spectrum of traits resembling those of white people. In contrast, Maureen’s hair resembles brown lynch ropes which is a reference to lynching that occurred among many African Americans in the South. This comparison connects to the oppression of being dark-skinned because it shows the superiority and power among light-skinned people which was the underlying reason that lynching occurred in the first place.
Overall, despite being of African American descent herself, Maureen is the poster-child of beauty in Claudia’s school because she is not as dark and therefore, not as ugly as her African American peers.
Quote: “…it pulled a tooth right out of my mouth. I could have cried. I had good teeth, not a rotten one in my head” (Morrison 123)
Analysis: Ms. Breedlove’s persistent attitude towards conforming to white beauty standards is quite apparent throughout the novel. This scene is symbolic of that because she loses her white tooth.
She says that she styled her hair to resemble that of Jean Harlow, a white actress. When she sat down at movies to eat her candy, her front tooth fell out. Her positive mood while mimicking the stylistic choices of white celebrities was completely ruined because her white tooth came out. After this unfortunate event, Ms. Breedlove returned to being “ugly” and stopped following her beauty routine because she felt worthless and unworthy. Furthermore, the loss of her tooth symbolizes the idea that despite her efforts to act or follow white beauty standards, she will never fully attain them because of her race which essentially leads to the self-destruction and hatefulness that she forces on her family.
Quote: “You don’t even go to school/ You don’t either/ I know. But I used to. / What did you stop for?/ …I don’t know. After that first day at school when I had my blue eyes. Well, the next day they had Mrs. Breedlove come out. Now I don’t go anymore” (Morrison 197)
Analysis: Beforehand, Pecola went to Soaphead Church, a misanthropic advisor, to request that he give her blue eyes. Although Soaphead couldn’t physically do so, he basically brainwashes Pecola to believe that she now has blue eyes. Later, as shown in the quote, Pecola speaks to an unidentified, imaginary figure regarding her no longer going to school. Pecola is pregnant with her father’s child which is the real reason for why she is ostracized and no longer in school. Oblivious, Pecola tells the figure that she is probably no longer in school because she now has blue eyes that people may be envious of. Pecola is clearly using her blue eyes as an escape from all her childhood trauma and to her, rather than comprehending the severity and oppressiveness that she had endured, she is still stuck on regarding blue eyes and white superiority as the main center of her livelihood. Because of this, the yearning for blue eyes is associated with being both desirable and paralyzing to Pecola; thus, it is a blue, or sad, perception that Pecola believes to be true. Child/Mother Relationships
Quote: “As long as his needs were physical, she could meet them…Geraldine did not talk to him, coo to him, or indulge him in kissing bouts” (Morrison 86)
Analysis: Geraldine and Junior’s relationship is not loving and is toxic as it has instilled corrupt ideals into Junior’s mind. This relationship is atypical in comparison to how mothers usually try to nurture their children. Geraldine said that she provides Junior with physical necessities, but she also takes pride in being a “colored” person because she believes she is more distinguished and entitled compared to the average “nigger”, so she seems to provide Junior with a sense of confidence as well. Junior’s confidence turns into an ego as he starts to view certain black people as being inferior to him. The lack of emotion between Geraldine and Junior has reared him emotionless and unempathetic, which is the reason that Junior believes it is justified to form a boundary and single out certain black people, as exhibited when he terrorized Pecola.
Quote: “‘Hush, baby, hush. Come here. Oh, Lord, look at your dress. Don’t cry no more. Polly will change it’… Over her shoulder she spit out words to us like rotten pieces of apple. ‘Pick up that wash and get on out of here, so I can get this mess cleaned up’” (Morrison 109)
Analysis: Ms. Breedlove is known for being unaffectionate to Pecola throughout the novel. She made a pie for the white daughter of the family she works for, which Pecola accidently knocks onto the ground. The steaming pie splatters on Pecola’s legs and Ms. Breedlove responds by beating her daughter. She proceeds to say nasty slurs to Pecola, Claudia, and Frieda, but comforts the young, white girl. These actions are atypical of a mother as readers would expect for a mother to comfort her daughter in such a situation. In addition, Ms. Breedlove allows the white girl to refer to her as “Polly” whereas her own daughter is restricted to calling her “Ms. Breedlove”. This portion of the novel distinguishes the way in which Ms. Breedlove disassociates herself from black community as exhibited through her attempts to tend to the white people and based on her desire to be a mirror image of them.
Quote: “She put on some water to boil and then swept the porch; then she hauled out the curtain stretcher, but instead of putting the damp curtains on it, she swept the porch again” (Morrison 98)
Analysis: Ms. MacTeer was compulsively cleaning proceeding the conflict regarding Frieda being assaulted by Mr. Henry. In a sense, this portrays the mother’s love and concern as well as guilt for Frieda. She was unable to prevent the assault, but if it wasn’t for her approval, Mr. Henry would not be comfortable with coming to Frieda’s house frequently. Ms. MacTeer cleans her house and sweeps the porch twice to show how she is trying to get rid of the dirty feeling following the assault. This is her way of trying to remove the negative and pervasive feelings accompanied by Mr. Henry’s presence. In a sense, although she doesn’t directly comfort Frieda, she does stand up for her and exhibit many forms of guilt which is her way of showing that she cares for her daughter. Childlike Understanding
Quote: “‘How come you got so many boyfriends, Miss Marie?’” (Morrison 52)
Analysis: Pecola’s naïve perception of prostitution is apparent in this excerpt. She asked Miss Marie about her many “boyfriends” which are in fact, Miss Marie’s clients. Although Pecola knew that China, Poland, and Miss Marie were shunned and not accepted in society for their work, she didn’t understand the exact reason why that is so or what it is that they do. This explains why Pecola is not repulsed by the prostitutes like the rest of the community. Pecola’s innocence is a symbol of having an open mind and being accepting of people despite any preconceived biases.
Quote: “‘Like the Maginot Line. She’s ruined’… An image of Frieda, big and fat came to mind” (Morrison 101).
Analysis: Claudia and Frieda use the term “ruined” incorrectly. Their mother told them that Miss Marie, also known as the Maginot Line, is ruined. The implication of this is because she is prostitute, her emotions are dulled, and she is worthless because of the oppressive lifestyle of partaking in sexual activities. To Claudia and Frieda, being ruined means the same as being fat. They proceed to try to find whiskey for Frieda so that she can burn off the fat that they believe she will gain because she is “ruined”. In the correct use of the term, Frieda is thought to be ruined because Mr. Henry assaulted her which detracts from her childlike innocence. Because of their childish understanding and limited views of the cold world, the girls have been shielded from such unbearable and explicit topics.
Quote: “We did not think of the fact that Pecola was not married; lots of girls had babies who were not married. And we did not dwell on the fact that the baby’s father was Pecola’s father too… We thought only of this overwhelming hatred for the unborn baby” (Morrison 190-191)
Analysis: Because of their childlike understanding of Pecola’s situation, Claudia and Frieda were much more accepting of Pecola being pregnant with her father’s baby. Their naïveté is the reason for their open mindedness. They didn’t quite understand the concepts of rape, incest, and sex in general, so they did not regard the situation as others in the community did. Instead of shaming and laughing at Pecola for a situation that was completely out of her hands, they were more concerned about trying to use Pecola’s baby to defy white beauty standards so that the baby could combat the oppression that was common among black people. Therefore, although naïve, Claudia and Frieda certainly had a mature understanding and nonjudgmental view of the matters that Pecola went through. Ugliness and Beauty
Quote: “She thinks, ‘[Dandelions] are ugly. They are weeds.’” (Morrison 50)
Analysis: Previously, Pecola admired dandelions and didn’t understand why people overlooked their beauty and purpose which alludes to her positive acceptance of being black. When she went to the store, Mr. Yacobowski, a white, blue-eyed man, was hesitant when taking Pecola’s money for the candy that she was buying because he was disgusted at the idea of touching a black person’s hand. Afterward, her optimism regarding the underrated dandelions and the African American race plummeted. This scene is impactful because the audience can detect a distinct comparison between the underappreciated dandelions and the oppressed African American race due to the despotism ingrained by the white people and even the acceptance of white beauty among black people. When Pecola decided that she was ugly, readers learned about Pecola’s acceptance of society’s horrific view of race defining beauty and status.
Quote: “Maureen appeared at my elbow, and the boys seemed reluctant to continue under her springtime eyes so wide with interest. They buckled in confusion, not willing to beat up three girls under her watchful gaze” (Morrison 67)
Analysis: The boys were taunting Pecola for her skin color despite being black themselves. Claudia and Frieda stepped in for Pecola and the boys were ready to fight back until they noticed fair, green-eyed Maureen nearby. Although Maureen didn’t step in to help Pecola, the fight coincidently stopped because of her presence. The harsh reality of this is the idea of beauty equating to power. The boys didn’t respect Pecola, Claudia, or Frieda because they were black and therefore not worthy of being respected. However, Maureen shared many of the common attributes associated with white people, so she had a higher status. To the boys, it seemed inappropriate and disrespectful to quarrel in front of a respectable girl which was defined to them based on beauty.
Quote: “They wash themselves with orange-colored Lifebuoy soap, dust themselves with Cashmere Bouquet talc, clean their teeth with salt on a piece of rag, soften their skin with Jergens Lotion… They straighten their hair with Dixie Peach, and part it on the side” (Morrison 82)
Analysis: This excerpt is in regard to black people who follow a routine that emphasizes traits that white people have. Cleaning excessively while using soap, talc, and salt is symbolic of trying to clean away the African American culture and attributes that they have in them. They aspire to be clean and pure like white people since this is what is believed to be true by the majority of society. The use of Jergens Lotion as mentioned later in the chapter by Geraldine is to avoid looking ashen. Ashen skin is common among dark-skinned people, so this is representative of trying to stray away from being associated with being an ugly, black person. Lastly, these people would straighten their hair which is another way in which they are changing cultural aspects to fit in with the admired white people. It is apparent that the beauty standards set by white people are being accepted as the defining point of appearance and these people do not want to be singled out as their fellow African Americans are, so they are trying to mimic these cosmetic procedures to feel like they are in a place of superiority.