99 pages 3 hours read

Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1970

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Summary and Study Guide


The Bluest Eye is the first novel of Nobel-Prize winning writer Toni Morrison. It was published in 1970. Set in Lorain, Ohio in 1941, the novel traces how Pecola Breedlove, the dark-skinned daughter of a poor African American family, came to be pregnant with her father's child and lost her sanity after the baby died.

Morrison prefaces the novel with a Foreword in which she explains several of her choices in writing the novel. The novel opens with sentences drawn from the Dick and Jane early reading primers. The novel then moves to first-person narration by Claudia MacTeer, who explains that she has returned to Pecola's story in an effort to understand why and how such a tragedy could have occurred.

In "Autumn," the first division of the novel, Claudia describes the fall of 1941 as a cold, lean one when the MacTeer house was cash-strapped due to cutbacks at the plant where Mr. MacTeer worked. That fall was also the first time Claudia heard the gossip about the Breedloves. Pecola was placed with the MacTeers by social services after her father, Cholly Breedlove, burned down the family's apartment and beat his wife. While staying with the MacTeers, Pecola got her first menstrual period. A third-person narrator describes the violent, loveless home life Pecola deals with at her house and her efforts to change her eyes to blue ones through prayer.

In "Winter," the second division of the novel, Claudia describes Maureen Peal, a light-skinned African American girl that the MacTeer girls and their peers adored because of her near-white appearance. The three girls came upon several boys bullying Pecola because of her skin color one day. After the girls rescued Pecola, Maureen ridiculed Pecola by repeating a rumor that she had heard about Pecola seeing her father naked. After trading insults with Maureen, the MacTeer girls headed home, where they caught their boarder, Mr. Henry, entertaining the sex workers that lived above the Breedlove apartment.

Morrison then shifts to a third-person narrator who recounts the stories of African Americans who participate in the Great Migration by moving from the North to the South. Some of these migrants are people like Geraldine, an African American woman who embodies the ideal of respectable black womanhood by keeping a good home. Louis Junior, Geraldine's son, turns out to be a sadist who tortures his mother's cat out of jealousy and throws the frantic cat at Pecola after tricking her into coming into his house. When Geraldine comes home, the cat appears to be dead, which her son blames on Pecola. Geraldine throws the ragged child out.

In "Spring," the third division of the novel, the narration reverts to Claudia, who discovered her sister crying in their bedroom one afternoon. Frieda told Claudia that she was molested by Mr. Henry, who was chased away by their parents with a shotgun. The girls thought being “ruined” meant being obese, so they sought out Pecola to see if she could give them some alcohol (the other ruined women they knew were skinny because they were malnourished alcoholics). They found Pecola at the Fishers, the white family for whom Pauline works, but the visit ended in disaster after Pecola knocked over a dessert.

Morrison then shifts back to the third-person narrator and some small sections of first-person narration by Pauline Breedlove, Pecola’s mother, to provide details of Pauline's early life in Alabama. As a girl, Pauline injured her foot and developed a limp as a result. As a teen, Pauline longed for love and beauty. She was standing on the road dreaming about love when Cholly Breedlove, then a handsome and charming man, came across her. They married and departed for Lorain for better opportunities.

Pauline soon discovered she could not find her place among her neighbors. Pauline got a job to cover the cost of clothes and hairdos that would help her fit in better; the couple argued violently thereafter. Cholly began drinking and beat Pauline while she was pregnant with Sammy, their firstborn. Over the years, the sexual and romantic part of the marriage faded. Pauline embraced an identity as a martyr and took comfort in her faith.

Cholly, on the other hand, came from Georgia. He was abandoned by his mother, a mentally unstable woman, and his father, who left before his birth. His Aunt Jimmy raised him in their stead. Cholly lived with Aunt Jimmy until she died. He was 14 at the time. The day of her funeral, Cholly was interrupted by two armed white men while making out with a girl. The men forced him to continue, a humiliation from which he never recovered.

Cholly ran away to Macon, Georgia, to look for his father but was rejected by the man he thought to be his father. Afterward, Cholly was taken in by some sex workers and grew up to be a drunk man who was unbound by societal conventions. His marriage to Pauline was the result of a fleeting desire, and Cholly found his children bewildering once they arrived. One day, Cholly got drunk, came home, and raped Pecola.

The novel then shifts to first-person narration from the perspective of Soaphead Church, a light-skinned pedophile who earned a meager living as a spiritual adviser. Pecola, then visibly pregnant and expelled from school, asked Soaphead Church to give her blue eyes. Eager to show up God and rid himself of his landlady's loathsome dog, he told Pecola that she needed to feed a piece of meat (secretly laced with poison by Soaphead) to the dog in order to receive a sign of God's willingness to grant the favor. When the dog died, Pecola believed her wish for blue eyes had been granted.

In “Summer,” Claudia and her sister began to hear the disturbing details of Pecola's pregnancy. The girls were shocked and disappointed to discover that some adults blamed Pecola and believed that it would be best for everyone if the baby died. In an effort to protect Pecola's baby, the girls agreed to give up the money they had been earning by selling marigold seeds. They would bury the money and plant the seeds. If the seeds grew and bloomed into flowers, the girls would know that their prayers to God had been heard.

The next section is a dialogue between Pecola and an internal voice that needles and argues with Pecola about the events going on around her, such as why people ignore her and whether or not they are just jealous of her blue eyes. Pecola panics as she begins to suspect that she does not have the bluest eyes.

Claudia resumes the narration at the end of the novel. Pecola's baby died shortly after birth, and Pecola descended into madness, which made the entire community avoid her. Pauline moved Pecola to a house by the town dump, where Pecola spent her days talking to herself and picking through the trash. Claudia believes the townspeople made themselves feel better by blaming Pecola for being a victim. Claudia closes the novel by stating that the townspeople were wrong in this belief. It is too late to save Pecola, however.

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