Claudia associates the arrival of spring with the changing nature of the beatings she receives with the newly growing forsythia and lilac branches. The lashings she receives from the switches taken from these plants feel different than the steady straps and firm hairbrushes they are used to in the winter.
The association between spring and the pain of being beaten not only speaks to the punishment Claudia and Frieda receives at home, but in a larger sense, foreshadows the brutal events that will occur in the narrative during the Spring season, including Frieda's sexual assault and Pecola's rape.
After an afternoon of relaxing in a field, splitting milkweed stems, Claudia heads home. When she enters the house, she finds her mother acting strangely. Mrs. MacTeer is singing a song about trains and Arkansas while she compulsively cleans. She still has her hat on and her shoes are dusty. As Claudia watches and listens to her mother's song, she notices her mother absent-mindedly sweeps the porch twice.
Claudia does not yet know that her mother here is reacting to Frieda's assault by Mr. Henry. In her distress, Mrs. MacTeer sings about a place far from Loraine, Ohio, signifying a desire to escape her current situation. Her incessant cleaning suggests she feels her home has been dirtied through the violation of her daughter.
When her mother finishes, Claudia goes to look for Frieda. She finds her upstairs in bed, crying. Claudia asks her what happened, assuming Frieda got a whipping. Frieda tells Claudia that their father beat up Mr. Henry. Claudia immediately thinks that their father found out about the prostitutes they'd seen Mr. Henry with, but Frieda tells her that Mr. Henry touched her breasts. Upon hearing this, Claudia asks how it felt, mistakenly assuming that this kind of sexual interaction should feel good. Frieda tells her she felt nothing.
Mr. Henry, an adult male character, forces Frieda into womanhood. This passage foretells the sexual violence and oppression experienced by the female characters of The Bluest Eye. Claudia's assumption that sexual interaction always feels good suggests an innocence that Frieda no longer has. Yet Frieda's response to sex, now that she has been assaulted, is that it feels like nothing. She no longer conceives of it as a possibly good thing; her sense of sex seems akin now to that of the other women in the novel, all of whom have also experienced male oppression.
Claudia continues prying for information about the incident. She asks if Frieda just sat there and let Mr. Henry touch her. She looks at her own undeveloped chest and comments that she doesn't have anything to touch, and never would. Frieda accuses her of being jealous, but Claudia tells her that she is just sick of getting everything last. She then asks what happened in the garden. Frieda tells her that they waited for Mr. Henry, and when he returned, their father threw a tricycle at Mr. Henry's head and knocked him off the porch, and then Mrs. MacTeer hit him with a broom. Then Mr. Buford brought his gun to the scene, and Mr. MacTeer shot at Mr. Henry as he ran away. After Mr. Henry ran, Rosemary came from her house and told Frieda that her father was going to jail, so Frieda hit her.
By asking Frieda if she just sat there, Claudia displays her ignorance of the realities of male oppression of women. Her jealousy shows her inability to conceptualize the trauma incurred during such an experience. Their father's reaction, while violent, demonstrates the love he has for his family, which is contrasted later when Cholly rapes Pecola, simultaneously failing to protect her and acting as the aggressor. Frieda likewise demonstrates her love for her father by hitting Rosemary. Love in the Bluest Eye is often paired with violence.
Claudia asks Frieda if their mother whipped her after the incident. When Frieda tells her that their mother didn't whip her, Claudia asks what she was crying for. Frieda tells Claudia that after the incident, Miss Dunion come to the house and told Mrs. MacTeer to take Frieda to the doctor to make sure she isn't "ruined". Frieda explains she is crying because she doesn't want to be "ruined" like the prostitutes they'd seen with Mr. Henry. The girls assume ruined means that Frieda will become fat, with thin legs and an ugly face. Claudia attempts to assuage Frieda's fear by telling her that China and Poland are ruined, but they aren't fat. Frieda replies by telling Claudia they aren't fat because they drink whiskey. Based on this logic, the girls decide that Frieda should drink whiskey to avoid getting fat and becoming "ruined", so they go to Pecola's house because they know her father will have whiskey and believe Pecola can acquire it for them.
The girls misunderstanding of what their parents mean by the word "ruined" speaks to their naiveté with regard to sexual matters. They associate being "ruined" with the prostitutes, as they sense it has something to do with distasteful sexual interactions like the one Frieda experienced, and assume because Miss Marie is fat, she must be ruined. They realize the other prostitutes are not fat, and based on their mother's gossip about the prostitutes believe the reason for this is because they drink whiskey. This chain of faulty reasoning leads to their decision to procure whiskey for Frieda.
Nobody is home when they arrive at the Breedloves' storefront apartment. As they walk around the side of the building to try the side door, they encounter The Maginot Line (Miss Marie) sitting on the second-story porch drinking root beer. The girls look up at her, noticing her massive legs and puffy feet. She looks down at the girls and belches. The girls imagine they are witnessing what will happen to Frieda. When The Maginot Line asks if the girls are looking for someone, Claudia explains they are looking for Pecola. The Maginot Line tells them Pecola is at her mother's workplace, explaining that Mrs. Breedlove works at a house by the lake. She offers to let the girls wait with her for Pecola to return, but Claudia tells her that they are not allowed to because the Maginot Line is "ruined". In response, The Maginot Line throws glass bottle at the girls and laughs at them as they run away.
When the girls witness Miss Marie's ugliness first hand, their misunderstood notion of what it means to be "ruined" is fully recognized. Miss Marie is insulted when Claudia tells her she is "ruined." As a mature women, she has a different understanding of the word from that of the innocent girls, which makes it more painful and triggers her violent reaction. Yet at the same time the girls sense is also the communities sense of the prostitutes. It may be, though, that such an accusation coming from girls she thought might be innocent only makes the accusation more painful for Miss Marie.
Deciding that Frieda's situation is dire enough, they begin walking to Mrs. Breedlove's workplace, even though their mother might beat them for it. As they approach the house where Mrs. Breedlove works, the girls notice the houses become sturdier, and edged with shrubbery and flowers. They find that the lakeside houses are the most beautiful, with large grassy yards stretching back to Lake Erie. Just before reaching the house, they pass a park where black children are not allowed to play.
The girls enter a wealthy, white neighborhood with beautiful homes. The houses are sturdier, literally because they are better constructed than the houses in the black section of town, and symbolically as the families that live in them are more stable than the black families in the story. For the girls, the beauty of the homes likewise signifies their worth and the worth of the people who live in them. The playground for whites only lets the girls know that they are in a place where they are not welcomed based purely on the color of their skin.
Claudia and Frieda find Pecola sitting on the stoop in front of a beautiful white house. They tell her about their interaction with The Maginot Line, claiming that she tried to kill them. Pecola, who calls the Maginot line by her true name, Miss Marie, explains that she is not dangerous. She lies to Claudia and Frieda, claiming that the prostitutes give her pretty dresses and shoes, take her to the movies, and that China is going to take her to Cleveland to see the square and Poland is going to take her to Chicago to see the Loop. Pecola defends herself when Frieda tells her to stop lying.
Pecola's lies demonstrate the insecurity she feels about herself, and her self-perceived ugliness. The lies about traveling with the prostitutes points to her desire to escape her abusive home and see the world.
When Mrs. Breedlove finds the girls on the back porch, she tells them to come inside while she finishes up the wash. The girls are stunned by the beautiful interior of the house. They notice Mrs. Breedlove's skin glowing in the house's white porcelain, white woodwork, polished cabinets and copperware.
The white family's home stands in stark contrast to the home the Breedloves live in. Mrs. Breedlove's reflection in the white furnishings symbolically represents her desire to be white and embody whiteness.
After Mrs. Breedlove leaves the room to finish the wash, the family's little white girl walks into the room. When she sees Pecola, Frieda and Claudia, a look of fear dances across her face. After a moment, the little girl asks where Polly is. Claudia is insulted that the little white girl calls Mrs. Breedlove by her first name, and has the urge to scratch her.
The fear in the little white girl's eyes suggests she has been taught to fear black people. Even as an adult, Mrs. Breedlove is inferior to the little white girl, as shown when the little girl calls her by the nickname "Polly." At the same time, that willingness to interact with the little girl based on a nickname may suggest that Mrs. Breedlove shares a level of love for the young girl that she withholds from her own daughter, who is not allowed to call her mother by a nickname. Claudia's response reveals the injustice she feels with regard to the little girl's gesture, and the violent tendencies such feelings inspire.
As the little girl yells out for Mrs. Breedlove to come into the kitchen, Frieda notices a dish of berry cobbler on the stove. Pecola reaches out and touches the dish, accidently knocking it onto the floor. The hot cobbler splashes onto Pecola's legs, causing her to jump around in pain. Just then, Mrs. Breedlove enters the room with a basket of laundry in hand. She jumps toward Pecola, slapping her to the ground with the back of her hand. She immediately yanks her up from the floor and slaps her again, yelling at Pecola for messing up "her" floor. Mrs. Breedlove then notices the little white girl is crying. She goes over to her and begins hushing her, promising she will make the girl another cobbler.
By referring to the floor as hers, Mrs. Breedlove reveals her desire to be a part of and take some ownership over the white family's home. Her differing reactions to Pecola and the little white girl further this idea. She slaps Pecola twice, even though the cobbler has burned her legs, demonstrating her disdain for her own child. She reacts to the little white girl by soothing her, by promising to replace the cobbler, which shows both her own servitude and her preference for the white child over her own daughter.