The Bluest Eye

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The Bluest Eye Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Claudia explains that winter has arrived and her father's appearance and demeanor has changed. His features take on the characteristics of winter, his brow like a cliff of snow, and his skin becomes pale and cheerless. He works day and night to keep the cold from infiltrating the house, teaching his daughters how to tend to the fire.
Mr. MacTeer's concern about keeping the house warm demonstrates the family's less than ideal financial situation, but both his concern and dedication to showing the girls how to take care of the home shows his love and desire to empower, as opposed to oppress, his girls. In the novel, warmth is associated with this feeling of love between family, while cold is associated with the opposite.
Themes
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Claudia and Frieda persist in boredom, waiting for spring to come, but then the monotony of winter is broken by the arrival of a new girl at school named Maureen Peal. Maureen is a light skinned black girl with green eyes. She comes from a wealthy family, owns nice clothes, and brings good food for lunch. She enchants the entire school—the teachers encourage her, and the other students treat her with the utmost respect.
Maureen's arrival complicates the issue of race in the novel. Although Maureen is half black, she possesses signifiers of whiteness—green eyes, wealth, and beauty. Maureen demonstrates that whiteness exists on a spectrum and is not only judged by the color of one's skin, but also one's class, education, and family. The way the other classmates respect her also shows that there are gradations of race within the black community, and that those closest to white are treated with the most respect. The black community has, broadly, adopted the value of the white culture that oppresses it, just as Pecola has specifically.
Themes
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Race and Racism Theme Icon
Claudia and Frieda are "bemused, irritated and fascinated" by Maureen Peal. Her expensive clothing and plentiful lunches shame the girls' ragged clothing and meager lunches. In response to the shame they feel, they search out Maureen's flaws. First they begin calling her "Meringue Pie", and eventually discover that she has a dog tooth and a little bump on each hand where her "sixth finger" had been removed. They use these things to insult Maureen, but do it alone because the other students remain loyal to Maureen.
Maureen's entrance into the novel demonstrates the way the novel's young female characters develop a sense of self and self-hatred based on external references. Maureen's wealth, beauty, and popularity makes Claudia feel that she is lacking. Searching out Maureen's flaws and using them against her demonstrates the cyclical nature of racial hatred and oppression. That Claudia and Frieda do this only while alone, though, shows how impotent such behavior is, and how while making them feel empowered it also makes them feel ashamed, which only drives their hatred (and self-hatred) further.
Themes
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Maureen is assigned the locker next to Claudia's. Claudia knows she is about to become friends with Maureen, but knows it will be a "dangerous friendship", because she still experiences violent urges when she compares herself to Maureen. Eventually, they get to know each other and Claudia begins to be able to talk to her without wishing violent things upon Maureen. One day, Maureen asks Claudia if she and Frieda want to walk home with her. As they exit the school, they notice a group of black boys surrounding Pecola. As they dance around Pecola, they taunt her for her dark skin and shout that her father sleeps naked. Pecola stands in the middle of the circle crying with her hands over her eyes. Claudia explains that the boys' contempt for their own blackness drives their assault on Pecola.
Although Maureen and Claudia agree to be friends, Claudia knows it will be a "dangerous friendship" because the barriers between them based on race and class will still exist. As Claudia explains, the black boys demonstrate the way in which racial self-hatred and shame are externalized and directed toward other black individuals.
Themes
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Frieda steps in and hits one of the boys in the head with a book. When the boy fails to retaliate, Claudia wonders if the boy stops because Claudia is taller than him, because of the look in her eyes, which reminds Claudia of their mother's eyes, or because the boy has a crush on Frieda. Frieda tells the boy to leave Pecola alone or she will "tell everyone what he did". Another boy then responds, telling the girls to move along, but Claudia calls him a bullet head. He steps forward, and drawing his hand back asks Claudia if she wants a fat lip. Before he can swing, Maureen steps forward beside Claudia and stops the violence. Claudia suggests that the boys did not want to harm the girls under the gaze of Maureen's green eyes, so they decide the girls aren't worth their time, and walk away.
This scene offers a rare occurrence of female dominance. Frieda stops the altercation based on two factors: First the boy has a crush on Frieda, which, as a male, makes him vulnerable and gives Frieda power (though this dynamic between men and women often changes once a man and woman get married). Secondly, Frieda threatens to reveal that the boy wets the bed. The possession of secrets and the ability to expose them gives power to the female characters of The Bluest Eye (i.e. the power of gossip). The incident is ultimately stopped, though, by Maureen's beauty. Beauty in the novel endows characters with power.
Themes
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Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
After the altercation, Maureen takes Pecola's arm and introduces herself. When Pecola tells Maureen her name, Maureen responds that 'Pecola' is the name of a character from the film, Imitation of Life. Pecola says she doesn't know what that is, so Maureen explains that it is a movie about a mulatto girl who hates her mother because she is black, but cries at her mother's funeral. She explains that she and her mother have seen it four times.
Sharing her fondness for a movie with racist undertones, along with the fact that she has seen it four times with her mother, reveals Maureen's own racist inclinations and their root in her relationship with her mother. Her casual way of talking about the issue suggests she is not fully aware of her own feeling of racial superiority.
Themes
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Home and Family Theme Icon
Maureen offers to buy Pecola an ice cream at Isaley's. As they walk, Claudia thinks about what flavor she will get, expecting Maureen to buy her an ice cream too. When they reach the ice-cream parlor, Maureen asks Claudia and Frieda if they are going to buy any. Claudia says no, feeling embarrassed that she expected Maureen to buy her an ice-cream or that she even deserved one as much as Pecola.
Claudia's embarrassment at expecting Maureen to buy her ice cream depicts her feeling of inferiority to Maureen. She had thought that Maureen would buy her ice cream because Maureen was rich, and in realizing that Maureen won't it reminds Claudia of her own relative poverty. That Maureen buys an ice cream for Pecola seems like a kindness, but this kindness suggests a paternalistic superiority that Maureen feels toward Pecola. Buying the ice cream reinforced for Maureen her own sense of superiority.
Themes
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Race and Racism Theme Icon
As they finish the walk home, they pass the Dreamland Theater, where they see an image of Betty Grable. Maureen asks the girls if they love Betty Grable as much as she does. Pecola agrees, but Claudia says that Hedy Lemarr is better. Maureen agrees with Claudia, and tells them about a black girl named Audrey who went to the beauty parlor and asked the hairdresser to fix her hair like Hedy Lemarr's. Maureen says that the hairdresser told the girl she would as soon as the girl grew hair like Hedy Lemarr, and then laughs.
Maureen and Pecola's fondness for Betty Grable, a blond haired and blue eyed actress, shows their acceptance of and devotion to white beauty standards. Claudia's defiant belief that Hedy Lemarr, a dark haired Austrian actress, is better suggests her resistance to the white beauty standard. Maureen's easy agreement with Claudia suggests that she is naturally resistant to the white beauty standard, but then her story about Audrey demonstrates that in fact her beauty, because she displays traits of white beauty, actually makes her an enforcer of that beauty standard as well as her insensitivity toward those who suffer as the result of racism.
Themes
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Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Maureen then tells the girls that Audrey, who is sixteen, doesn't menstruate yet. She then asks the girls if they menstruate yet. Pecola promptly replies that she does, and Maureen says she does too. Pecola asks Maureen why women menstruate, as if she hoped to provide the answer herself, but Maureen quickly says that babies need blood when they are inside of a woman, so if a woman is pregnant she does not menstruate. Maureen then asks Pecola if she has ever seen a man naked. Pecola responds that she has never seen her father naked. Maureen presses the issue, sensing something strange about the way Pecola brought her father into the conversation. Frieda and Claudia tell Maureen to end the conversation, and Claudia remembers seeing her father naked. She feels ashamed at the lack of shame and strange intrigue she felt at the time.
For the girls, their first menstruation signifies their passage into womanhood. The importance of this passage is exhibited in Pecola's eagerness to respond to her own question, as she wants to feel important due to the "knowledge" that being a menstruating woman gives her. Maureen steals that opportunity from Pecola, and yet Maureen (and likely Pecola, too) don't know the actual reason that women menstruate, revealing the girls' innocence. When Pecola brings her father into the conversation, it foreshadows the sexual violence he brings upon her later in the novel. Claudia's shame and intrigue demonstrates the mystery and power of sex and sexuality in their lives.
Themes
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Maureen continues pushing the issue. "What do I care about her old black daddy?" she says. Claudia responds by asking whom she is calling black. When Maureen says "you", Claudia yells, "You think you are so cute!" and takes a swing at her. When she swings, however, she misses Maureen, hitting Pecola in the face instead. Maureen runs, yelling back that she is cute. She then calls the girls "ugly, black e mos", and goes home. After parting ways with Pecola, the girls walk home, pondering Maureen's insults. Claudia realizes that if Maureen is cute, it means that she is not. She wonders what Maureen has that she lacks. She suggests that at that time, she and Frieda could not fully understand the idea of worthlessness. She knows that Maureen is not the enemy, but the thing to fear was the thing that made her beautiful, and others ugly.
Claudia's aggressive response to Maureen shows that, although she is not fully aware, the color of her skin is one of her most tender insecurities. Missing Maureen and hitting Pecola symbolically demonstrates that anger and violence in response to racism is wild and harms more than its intended target, and further establishes Pecola as the most-harmed member of black society. Maureen's racist inclinations are fully revealed by calling the girls, "black e mos". Claudia begins to realize that Maureen's light skin, green eyes, and wealth are part of what makes her beautiful. Likewise, she begins to understand that racism and the white standard of beauty are her true enemies, not any single individual.
Themes
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Race and Racism Theme Icon
When the girls get home, Mr. Henry comes downstairs in his bathrobe and asks if they'd like some ice cream. He gives them a quarter and tells them to go down to Isalay's. The girls go to a store closer to home and return quickly. They go over to the lilac bushes at the edge of the yard. From the bushes, they hear laughter coming from inside the house. Through the window they see Mr. Henry inside with China and Miss Marie, who they refer to as the Maginot Line. Mr. Henry is sucking on China's fingers while Miss Marie gets dressed. The girls are appalled at the sight of the prostitutes in their house. They have heard rumors that make them perceive the women as dangerous. When the prostitutes leave, the girls go inside. Frieda asks Mr. Henry who the women were. He tells her that the prostitutes are members of his bible class. He tells the girls they better not tell their mother. The girls agree, and after he leaves agree between themselves not to tell.
The girls are horrified because of the rumors they have heard about the prostitutes, who engage in illicit sexual acts. Sex is still a mysterious and frightening issue for the girls. The community refers to Miss Marie as the Maginot Line as a joke. The Maginot Line was a system of fortification built by France in WWI that was supposed to be impregnable, but utterly failed. They call her that because she is easily penetrated. Mr. Henry is depicted in a submissive position to China, which exhibits the power these women have over men. As an adult male, Mr. Henry easily convinces the girls not to tell, which permits him to stay in the house and eventually sexually assault Frieda.
Themes
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Home and Family Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon