The Bluest Eye Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The Bluest Eye: Novel Summary: Winter

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In Winter, Claudia's narrative continues. She recounts the hard times in her own family where her father had to work day and night to keep them from starving. Claudia also relates the appearance of a new girl at their school, Maureen Peal. Maureen is a light-skinned black girl; she is rich, cute and held in high esteem by the teachers and other students. Claudia and Frieda are both irritated and fascinated by Maureen; Claudia often imagines hurting Maureen. She and Frieda are jealous of her. Maureen's locker is near Claudia's, and one day Maureen starts a conversation with Claudia. They walk out of the school together and see Pecola surrounded by a group of taunting black boys in the schoolyard. Frieda rescues Pecola and they all leave the schoolyard together.
Maureen is friendly towards Pecola and buys her an ice cream cone at Isaley's. The girls walk home together talking about the movies. Maureen starts talking about boys and asks Pecola whether she has ever seen a man naked. Claudia thinks of the time when she and her sister saw their own father naked.
Soon the conversation turns into a quarrel. Then Frieda throws a punch at Maureen, and Maureen runs away. The three black girls are on one side of the street and Maureen is on the other side. Maureen yells back at the girls that she is cute, but they are black and ugly. After this insult, Frieda and Claudia scream at Maureen while Pecola stands there showing her emotional pain, sad and withdrawn.
Claudia and Frieda go home and see Mr. Henry, the boarder, who gives them money for candy. They go to the store and when they return they watch Mr. Henry from outside the house by the bushes. He is playing with the prostitutes. They wait until the women leave to go inside. They promise him they won't tell their mother.
The next section, told by the omniscient narrator, describes educated blacks who arrive in Lorain from cities like Mobile, Aiken and Newport News. They live in beautiful homes and take extreme care of their appearance, trying to look lighter and act like white people. They think of themselves as "colored people" and view themselves as superior to other blacks, whom they refer to as "niggers." One of these is Geraldine and her son, Junior, who is described as growing up in an overly clean, but emotionally cold environment where he does not receive nurturing from his parents and is not allowed to play with other black children. Living near the park, Junior often bullies other children.
One day Junior stops Pecola in the park and invites her to his house. He lures her into his home, promising to show her kittens. He throws his big black cat into her face. The cat scratches her and she cries. Junior locks her in the room with the cat. When Pecola notices its beautiful blue eyes, she takes refuge in petting it. When Junior doesn't hear her cries he emerges from the other room and grabs the cat away from her and swings it by its leg over his head. He throws it against the window where it falls behind the radiator. His mother, Geraldine, arrives home and is surprised to see the girl. Junior tells his mother that Pecola killed the cat. Geraldine makes Pecola leave, calling her a "nasty little black bitch," automatically believing that she had indeed killed the cat.
Maureen, the light-skinned black girl, is considered by everyone at her school to be one of the most attractive girls there. She is also wealthier. This creates a link between degrees of blackness of skin and economic class; the lighter the skin, the greater the chance of prosperity. This is reinforced in the section about the middle-class, educated blacks who move into Lorain. They are also lighter-skinned.
The self-hatred felt by the poor blacks is apparent. When the black boys taunt Pecola they insult her with a chant of "Black e mo." They do not seem to notice that such a chant is insulting to them as well. They are full of a learned self-hatred; they feel contempt for black people, even if that includes themselves.
However, Claudia and Frieda have not yet learned this self-hatred. Unlike the taunting boys, Claudia says, "we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our own skins." They have not yet imbibed the idea that they are worthless because their skins are not the "right" color. But the first hint of the change that will come is present in their encounter with Maureen. They figure that if Maureen is cute, as she claims to be, then they cannot be. Her cuteness makes them less cute, because they are not like her. Maureen has something that makes her beautiful but which they do not have, although they have not yet figured out what this might be. The reader can guess that this realization will not be long in coming, since as in the previous section, there are continual reminders to the girls in popular culture that white is beautiful (in the mention of the movie stars Betty Grable and Heddy Lamarr for example).
This section also reveals the personalities of the three main characters: Pecola, Claudia and Frieda. Pecola is the perpetual victim, always passively enduring what befalls her. She is already withdrawn, which foreshadows her ultimate fate of isolation. Claudia and Frieda, on the other hand, are more aggressive and in touch with their emotions. Frieda rescues Pecola from the taunting boys; then in the scene where they are walking home from Isaley's, while Pecola just absorbs Maureen's insults, Frieda defends Pecola aggressively, and Claudia throws a punch at the offending girl. The author shows clearly the difference between a black girl who does not fight back against the degrading racist culture and the girls who access their rage and inner power to assert their worth.


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