The Bluest Eye

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The Bluest Eye Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
An unnamed narrator introduces Soaphead Church, a self proclaimed "misanthrope", who hates people and find's the human body ugly and filthy. The closest he gets to human relationships is by collecting the items they have touched, used, and thrown away. In the community, Soaphead Church is a failed preacher turned caseworker, declaring himself a "reader, adviser, and interpreter of dreams." He enjoys the job because it allows him to witness human stupidity and build a sense of his own meticulous self-righteousness by witnessing human decay. His life is strictly regimented, balanced, and tightly structured, but his stability is thrown off by his sexual desire. Because he hates the human body with such passion, he directs his sexual desires toward children, as he finds their bodies the less offensive than those of adults.
Like Geraldine, Soaphead Church is another example of how obsession with whiteness destroys black lives. He is obsessed with cleanliness and discipline, which are indicators of whiteness. This obsession leads to perverted sexual desires for children, and a feeling of superiority, which results in isolation from the community.
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Soaphead Church is a cinnamon-eyed West Indian man with light brown skin. His family is proud of their academic accomplishments and white heritage. A British Nobleman introduced the "white strain" into Soaphead Church's family in the early 1800's, leaving the child and his mother with a small sum of money before abandoning them. The child becomes a man who is obsessed with his white heritage and instills this obsession in his progeny. With the feeling of superiority that stems from their white ancestry, the family members do well in school. They go into medicine, law, and theology, gaining prestigious positions, but abusing their power to exploit "the less gifted" in the process. Members of the family are encouraged to marry others with light skin, and those who cannot find a light skinned partner marry within the family.
Soaphead Church's obsession with whiteness begins with his family. The family has constructed their identity based on their white heritage. The "white strain" becomes their most important asset, as it allows them limited access to the white world. This obsession, however, leads to a hatred of their black ancestry, self-hatred, and even incestuous marriages to preserve the white heritage. Education becomes another defining characteristic of the family's whiteness, and through education they are able to attain positions of power. These positions of power, however, allow the family to continue the legacy of racial oppression.
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Soaphead Church was born as Elihue Micah Whitcomb, the son of a schoolmaster and a half-Chinese mother who died shortly after childbirth. As a child, Soaphead Church reads voraciously, immersing himself in the works of writers who considered themselves misanthropes, but instead of expanding intellectually and morally through literature, he interprets the texts in ways that suit his own views. His father's violence and strict discipline force him to develop rigid habits and a hatred of disorder and decay.
Soaphead Church's upbringing contributes to his hatred of his own black heritage. The hatred of disorder and decay instilled in him by his father later translates into a hatred of blackness, which he associated with these things. The books Soaphead Church reads reinforce and justify his hatred of others, and his interpretations keep these views from being challenged.
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At seventeen, Soaphead Church meets a woman named Velma, and marries. She is drawn to his meticulous habits and lack of humor, as she desires to introduce him to the pleasure and joy of life. After two months of marriage, however, Velma realizes that she will never change him, and leaves. Soaphead returns to his father and focuses on his studies to avoid the pain of being abandoned by his wife. He decides to join the ministry, but after he is told that he has no calling, he leaves for the United States. He studies psychology, sociology, and physical therapy, until his father eventually refuses to support anymore him until he "finds himself". Eventually, Soaphead Church moves to Lorain, Ohio, and claims that he is a preacher. The community is impressed by the way he speaks English and the women believe he is a supernatural figure because of his celibacy. They give him the name Soaphead Church, and he assumes the identity they provide for him.
The obsession with cultivating whiteness makes Soaphead Church unable to shed his habits and seriousness, which thwarts his relationship with Velma, his chance at love in the real world. He turns to his studies, which allow him to move toward whiteness, and simultaneously avoid the pain of losing his marriage or of living in the real world. He remains unable live up to his father's request to "find himself", since self-discovery would mean confronting his black heritage. Instead, he moves to Loraine and assumes a role that allows him to feel closer to his white ancestry, as an educated, superior, supernaturally inclined "leader" of sorts.
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Soaphead Church moves in with a woman named Bertha Reese. He doesn't mind living with her because she is clean, quiet, and orderly, but he hates her dog, Bob. Because of the dog's uncleanliness, Soaphead Church wishes Bob would hurry up and die. He considers his wish humane because the dog is old, but he never considers that his own comfort may be the source of the wish. He buys poison to kill the dog, but is unable to go through with killing it because he can't bear the thought of going near the dirty animal.
His deep hatred of Bob's uncleanliness, which he associates with his own blackness, inspires him to wish death upon the dog. His views, distorted by the self-righteousness—which in reality masks his self-hatred—make him unable to see the cruelty of this wish. This same thinking later allows him to trick Pecola into killing the dog.
Themes
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Soaphead Church begins counseling community members who come to him for advice. They bring their maladies, concerns, and wishes to him, asking for help. Because of the sad nature of those who came to him for help, Soaphead Church becomes aware that something is wrong with the world and blames it on God for designing an imperfect universe. He believes he could have done a better job than God.
Soaphead Church's self-righteousness and vanity, which serve as defenses against his own racial self-hatred, become so extreme that he believes he is superior to God, demonstrating the way that worship of whiteness distorts black views of themselves and the world.
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One day Pecola knocks on Soaphead's door. She comes into his house, holding her hands over her pregnant stomach. When he asks Pecola what he can do for her, she asks if he can give her blue eyes. He tells Pecola that she must make an offering to nature. He goes into his icebox and pulls out some meat, and then he poisons it and tells Pecola to give it to the dog, Bob, sleeping on the front porch. He says that if the dog behaves strangely, God has heard her prayer. Pecola gives the poisoned meat to the dog, which promptly kills the animal. Terrified by the sight of the dying dog, Pecola runs home.
Soaphead Church, like his ancestors, abuses the power he has gained through his white heritage to exploit Pecola for his own ends. Pecola's deep desire for blue eyes—driven by her own self-hatred, which has only increased after her father raped her—drives her to accept Soaphead Church's dubious solution without question. Pecola's response to the dog's death shows the way that exploitation of black individuals by whites is deeply traumatic.
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After Pecola runs away, Soaphead Church sits down at his night table and writes a letter to God. In his letter he expresses his feelings in his own words. He writes about how Velma left him just as one leaves a hotel room. He writes that no one cares about a hotel room, and leaves easily once it is no longer needed. He writes about his desire for young girls, and blames God for allowing his desire to stray from God toward little girls. He blames God for not answering the prayers of little girls, and forcing them to come to him for help. He finishes the letter by telling God that he has given Pecola blue eyes because God had refused to do it himself, although nobody would be able to see them but her.
The reader gains access to the severity of Soaphead Church's delusional mindset in the letter. Through describing his relationship with Velma in terms of a hotel room, he speaks to his lack of home and family he feels. He blames God for his attraction to young girls, showing the way in which self-conceptions of dirtiness, ugliness, and guilt are externalized in order to preserve a superior sense of self—it's not his fault; it's God's. His obsession with his own whiteness, allows Soaphead Church to believe that he has done the work God wouldn't do, depicting the extreme sense of power attained by whiteness. And he realizes that by inflicting even more trauma on Pecola he can force her into her own isolated world in which she sees exactly what she wants to see, just as Soaphead himself does.
Themes
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