The Bluest Eye

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Claudia MacTeer Character Analysis

The narrator of parts of the novel, Claudia is a strong-willed and passionate nine-year-old black girl. Still young, Claudia has not experienced overt racism and violence to the extent many of the novel's other characters have. Still largely undamaged, she is compassionate toward Pecola, and rebels against the black community's worship of white beauty.

Claudia MacTeer Quotes in The Bluest Eye

The The Bluest Eye quotes below are all either spoken by Claudia MacTeer or refer to Claudia MacTeer. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Bluest Eye published in 2007.
Prologue Section 2 Quotes

Quiet as it's kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father's baby that the marigolds did not grow. A little examination and much less melancholy would have proved to us that our seeds were not the only ones that didn't sprout; nobody's did…It had never occurred to either of us that the earth itself might have been unyielding. We had dropped our seeds in our own little plot of black dirt just as Pecola's father had dropped his seeds into his own plot of black dirt. Our innocence and faith were no more productive than his lust or despair.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker), Pecola Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove
Related Symbols: Marigolds
Page Number: 3-4
Explanation and Analysis:

The opening paragraph of the novel reveals much about the narrative to come. The first phrase, "quiet as it's kept," signals that the story is set and narrated from within a certain community, and suggests that the coming events are not openly discussed within that community for the sake of maintaining respectability. This hints at the pervasive desire among the characters in the novel to disassociate themselves with behaviors they deem degraded and sinful, behaviors that are often linked (in the novel's American setting) to blackness.

Throughout this passage, there is a tense juxtaposition between the childish naïveté of Claudia, the narrator, and the disturbing mention of rape, incest, and child pregnancy. Claudia at first presents her belief that Pecola's baby caused the marigolds not to grow as unfounded, a matter of childlike "innocence and faith." However, she then suggests that there is a parallel between the marigolds and the baby when she compares Pecola's body to the "unyielding" black dirt where the seeds were planted. This comparison foreshadows Morrison's exploration of the association of blackness, and particularly Pecola's blackness, with undesirability and ugliness.

The phrases "our own little plot of black dirt" and "his own plot of black dirt" introduce the importance of the home and ownership. While on one level they evoke a pleasant suburban scene reminiscent of the Dick and Jane references threaded throughout the narrative, they also highlight the fact that ownership can have a negative side, particularly in the case of men feeling ownership of women.

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Chapter 1 Quotes

Knowing that there was such a thing as outdoors bred in us a hunger for property, for ownership. The firm possession of a yard, a porch, a grape arbor. Propertied black people spent all their energies, all their love, on their nests.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Claudia has explained that Pecola's father Cholly burned their house down, thereby putting the family "outdoors"––meaning he made them homeless. Claudia reflects on the terror and shame associated with being outdoors, and adds that this inspires an obsession with home ownership. Here, Morrison shows how African American communities are deeply affected by fear and aversion to social exclusion and destitution. Although there might not be anything inherently wrong with the desire for home ownership, Claudia's statement that "propertied black people spent all their energies, all their love, on their nests" suggests a disproportionate fixation with property. This is, of course, the result of centuries of racism, in which American blacks have been deprived of ownership and property (among many other things), but the present obsession Morrison describes comes perhaps at the expense of other, equally important matters.

Cholly Breedlove, then, a renting black, having put his family outdoors, had catapulted himself beyond the reaches of human consideration. He had joined the animals; was indeed, an old dog, a snake, a ratty nigger.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker), Cholly Breedlove
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Having explained the belief that being "outdoors" is the worst thing that could happen to a person, Claudia describes the community's denunciation of Cholly for putting his family in this position. In the eyes of the community, Cholly is reduced to the status of an animal, and, significantly, is called "a ratty nigger." The use of this racial slur shows that the community in the novel associates shameful behavior with blackness, or at least a particular version of blackness from which it strives to distinguish itself. Indeed, one of the main themes of The Bluest Eyeis the way internalized racism leads people to judge others extra harshly, rather than empathizing with them due to their shared identity and experiences.

When I learned how repulsive this disinterested violence was, that it was repulsive because it was disinterested, my shame floundered about for refuge. The best hiding place was love. Thus the conversion from pristine sadism to fabricated hatred, to fraudulent love. It was a small step to Shirley Temple.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker)
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Claudia has described her initial resentment of white baby dolls, admitting that she harmed and dismembered a white doll she was given, and adding that she felt the impulse to do the same to little white girls in real life. However, the realization that real girls would visibly and audibly react to this pain makes her feel ashamed of her violent urges, and in response she attempts to force herself to love white girls, saying this "was a small step to Shirley Temple" (whom Frieda and Pecola love).

Here Claudia displays remarkable emotional sophistication and maturity for someone who is only nine years old. This passage shows that, as a young black girl, Claudia must navigate extremely challenging social dynamics, leading her to develop a complex and ambivalent relationship to white people, culture, and power. By forcing herself into feelings of love (even if they are fraudulent), Claudia also embodies an oppositional reaction to other characters in the novel––particularly black men––who react to the impact of racism by becoming increasingly violent, taking out their anger on the black women around them.

Chapter 4 Quotes

We were lesser. Nicer, brighter, but still lesser…what was the secret? What did we lack? Why was it important? And so what? Guileless and without vanity, we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our skins, enjoyed the news that our senses released to us, admired our dirt, cultivated our scars, and could not comprehend this unworthiness.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Claudia and Frieda have fought with the wealthy, light-skinned new girl at school, Maureen, who called them black and ugly. As they walk home, Claudia ponders the nature of racism, incredulously wondering why anyone would think that she and her sister are inferior. In this passage Claudia's sharp understanding of how class and colorism affects the relative social position of everyone within her African American community (and beyond) contrasts with her innocent confusion about what she must "lack" in order to be deemed "lesser." This contrast works to show that, although racism and colorism operate according to their own, internally coherent logics, in a broader sense they are completely baseless and make no sense whatsoever. Claudia's rhetorical question "so what?" shows that she understands the absurdity of racism.

Despite clearly pointing to racism's ludicrousness, this passage suggests that Claudia's self-love is only possible in a state of childish innocence ("We were still in love with ourselves then"). Here Morrison suggests that this innocence, rather than hindering comprehension of the world, actually allows Claudia to see truths that others cannot. Her comfort in her own skin is a direct contrast to the Breedloves' belief that they are ugly. At the same time, this passage indicates that Claudia's feelings of self-love cannot last long, and that they are only possible in childhood.

Chapter 6 Quotes

"He…picked at me."
"Picked at you? You mean like Soaphead Church?"
"Sort of."
"He showed his privates to you?"
"Noooo. He touched me."
"Where?"
"Here and here." She pointed to her tiny breasts that, like two fallen acorns, scattered a few faded rose leaves on her dress.
"Really? How did it feel?"
"Oh, Claudia." She Sounded put-out. I wasn't asking the right questions.
"It didn't feel like anything."
"But wasn't it supposed to? Feel good, I mean."

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker), Frieda MacTeer (speaker), Henry Washington, Soaphead Church
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Claudia has come home to find Frieda crying in her bedroom; Frieda explains that their father has beaten up Mr. Henry because Mr. Henry groped her. Once again, the children use metaphorical language to discuss sexual acts, leaving Claudia confused about what Mr. Henry did and how it made Frieda feel. Claudia does seem to have some level of awareness about child molestation, based on the fact that she compares Mr. Henry's behavior to Soaphead Church, a known pedophile who exposes himself to young girls in the neighborhood. On the other hand, Claudia's misunderstanding is revealed by the fact that she asks Frieda if she liked it, thereby implying that Claudia is confused over the distinction between consensual sex and child abuse.

Taken in the wider context of the novel, this confusion appears rather understandable. The sexual experiences of most of the female characters in The Bluest Eyeare imbued with force and violence, and young girls are taught almost nothing about the reality of sex, relationships, and pregnancy. It is thus not surprising that Claudia does not expect sex to be consensual, and does not link pleasure to consent. Her naïveté is shown to further harm Frieda, who is hurt by her sister's misguided questioning.

Mrs. Breedlove's skin glowed like taffeta in the reflection of white porcelain, white woodwork, polished cabinets, and brilliant copperware.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker), Pauline Breedlove
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:

Claudia and Frieda have gone with Pecola to the house of the white family where her mother works. Claudia observes that, in her maid's uniform, Mrs. Breedlove looks nicer than she had ever seen her previously, and describes how Mrs. Breedlove's skin glows against the elegant backdrop of the kitchen. On one level, this description echoes the association of whiteness and wealth with beauty. In contrast to her shabby home in the storefront, the house where Mrs. Breedlove works is expensively furnished, and the kitchen's polished interiors seem to make Mrs. Breedlove herself look more beautiful to Claudia. This perhaps also reflects the fact that Mrs. Breedlove finds a sense of fulfilment in her domestic duties and association with the white family.

On the other hand, Claudia's statement that "Mrs. Breedlove's skin glowed like taffeta" shows that Claudia sees Mrs. Breedlove's black skin itself as beautiful. This reflects the fact that Claudia, despite the racism all around her, still retains self-love and belief that blackness can be beautiful.

Chapter 10 Quotes

I thought of the baby that everybody wanted dead, and saw it very clearly. It was in a dark, wet place, its head covered with great O's of wool, the black face holding, like nickels, two clean black eyes…no synthetic yellow bangs suspended over marble-blue eyes, no pinched nose and bowline mouth. More strongly than my fondness for Pecola, I felt a need for someone to want the black baby to live—just to counteract the universal love of baby dolls, Shirley Temples, and Maureen Peals.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker), Pecola Breedlove, Maureen Peal
Related Symbols: Blue Eyes
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

Claudia and Frieda have heard rumors that Pecola is pregnant with her father's baby, and they are the only ones in the neighborhood who sympathize with Pecola. In contrast to the rest of the community, Claudia hopes the baby lives, and muses that if the baby was wanted, this would be a counteracting force to the glorification of whiteness that pervades American society. She imagines a vision of the baby, using positive terms to describe its blackness ("clean black eyes"), and framing white features as ugly ("synthetic yellow bangs... pinched nose"). This echoes Claudia's earlier feelings of resentment toward the white baby dolls, suggesting that this resentment is born out of a noble and necessary desire to reverse the automatic association of whiteness and beauty.

The fact that Claudia and Frieda are alone in wanting the baby to live, however, does not bode well; this suggests that the adults in their community have accepted blackness as ugly, an acceptance that makes them unable to sympathize with Pecola (despite the fact that she is clearly a victim who has done nothing wrong). In this sense, the novel is not very optimistic––after all, Pecola's baby does not survive, Pecola goes insane, and there seems to be a sense of inevitability to Claudia and Freida losing their innocence and self-love.

We had defended ourselves since memory against everything and everybody considered all speech a code to be broken by us, and all gestures subject to careful analysis; we had become headstrong, devious, and arrogant. Nobody paid us any attention, so we paid very good attention to ourselves. Our limitations were not known to us—not then.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker)
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

Claudia and Frieda realize they are alone in wanting Pecola's baby to survive, and Claudia describes this as a familiar feeling, reflecting the fact that she and her sister have always existed in a world of their own. As young black girls, Claudia and Frieda are belittled on account of their race, gender, and age; they have no access to structural power and are not taken seriously by anyone around them. However, rather than responding to this by accepting their lowly status, the sisters grow determined to figure out the world for themselves: "Nobody paid us any attention, so we paid very good attention to ourselves."

Although Morrison presents this as somewhat "arrogant" and naïve, she also emphasizes that it is only through maintaining a strong sense of self-worth in the face of societal prejudice that Claudia and Frieda are able to live happy and meaningful lives. Unlike the Breedloves, who accept and believe that they are ugly, Claudia and Frieda refuse to know their own "limitations." One the one hand, the girls' determination might be interpreted as doomed; the retrospective angle of the narrative suggests that their fearless attitude will not necessarily last, and their scheme with God to get Pecola's baby to live ultimately fails. However, regardless of these facts, Morrison implies that the girls' strategy of stubborn self-love is still the right course of action, as in a rigidly racist society it provides the only hope for maintaining dignity and compassion.

Chapter 11 Quotes

The birdlike gestures are worn away to a mere picking and plucking her way between the tire rims and the sunflowers, between Coke bottles and milkweed, among all the waste and beauty of the world—which is what she herself was. All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker), Pecola Breedlove
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final section of the novel, Pecola's baby has died and she has gone mad; she lives alone with her mother, shunned by society. Claudia describes Pecola both as existing among waste and being a form of waste herself, having absorbed the community's hatred and shame. This passage shows that oppressed groups of people––such as the African American community depicted in the novel––often use individuals like Pecola to make them feel better about themselves.

Claudia's statement that the community's beauty belonged to Pecola first and that she "gave" it to them might at first seem strange, as throughout the novel Morrison emphasizes that Pecola and her family are considered to be absolutely and essentially ugly. However, recall that in the passage about physical beauty from the chapter about Mrs. Breedlove, Morrison defines beauty as inherently competitive, a system designed to pit people against one another. With this concept in mind, it makes sense that Claudia describes the community's beauty as originating with Pecola––it is only by sacrificing Pecola, by using her as an example of ugliness, that the rest of the community can consider itself beautiful.

Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly, but the love of a free man is never safe. There is no gift for the beloved. The lover alone possesses his gift of love. The loved one is shorn, neutralized, frozen in the glare of the lover's inward eye.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker)
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

Claudia has conceded that some people did love Pecola, including the prostitutes and Cholly, but that this did not amount to much––and in the case of Cholly, it in fact proved "fatal." This passage directly contradicts the idea that love is inherently redemptive. Claudia's words suggest that love, rather than being a positive thing, is at best neutral, and in fact often has highly destructive results. The final sentence conveys how being loved can leave one totally vulnerable to another person. This coheres with the statement earlier in the novel that romantic love and physical beauty are the most destructive ideas in human culture.

It was the fault of the earth, the land, of our town. I even think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to the marigolds that year. This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Marigolds
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final paragraph of the novel, Claudia connects Pecola's fate directly to the marigolds. Just as "the soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers," so is society as we know it bad for certain kinds of people, such as poor black girls like Pecola, who are told they are ugly and shunned by their communities. With this analogy, Morrison suggests that no one person is to blame for the fact that the community was a "hostile" environment in which there was no possibility for Pecola to thrive. However, she emphasizes that the people in the community are at fault for refusing to recognize and acknowledge this injustice; instead of sympathizing with Pecola and attempting to help her, they accept her fate as fair, saying that she had "no right to live."

Although the novel ends on this rather dark and pessimistic note, it is possible to see a glimmer of hope through the characters of Claudia and Frieda, who defy society's demands by sympathizing with Pecola and trying to save her baby by planting the marigolds. While Claudia implicates herself in the community's shunning of Pecola, there is evidence in the narrative that Claudia symbolizes the possibility of change to come by caring about Pecola, maintaining self-love, and refusing to believe that blackness is inherently ugly or inferior.

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Claudia MacTeer Character Timeline in The Bluest Eye

The timeline below shows where the character Claudia MacTeer appears in The Bluest Eye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue Section 2
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An unnamed narrator (later revealed to be Claudia) explains that no marigolds bloomed in 1941. At that time, the narrator and her sister... (full context)
Chapter 1
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Claudia and Frieda stand outside of a Greek hotel, watching their neighbor Rosemary Villanucci eat bread... (full context)
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School has just started for Claudia and Frieda. In the evening, grown-ups take them to Zick's Coal Company to collect coal... (full context)
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One day, after a trip to collect coal for the house, Claudia gets a cold. Claudia's mother, Mrs. MacTeer, scolds her for not wearing something on her... (full context)
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A new boarder named Mr. Henry comes to stay with the MacTeers. Before he arrives, Claudia and Frieda listen to their mother gossip with her friends about Miss Delia, the woman... (full context)
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...but pointed out by their mother along with the furniture and rooms of the house. Claudia and Frieda are surprised when Mr. Henry speaks to them. "You must be Greta Garbo,... (full context)
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...The county places Pecola with the MacTeers because her father, Cholly, burned their house down. Claudia explains that Cholly put the family "outdoors", which is different than being homeless and seen... (full context)
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One Saturday afternoon, Pecola, Frieda, and Claudia are outside on the house's stoop trying to avoid Mrs. MacTeer who is upset because... (full context)
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That night in bed, Claudia and Frieda are full of awe and respect for Pecola. Pecola asks Frieda if her... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Claudia explains that winter has arrived and her father's appearance and demeanor has changed. His features... (full context)
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Claudia and Frieda persist in boredom, waiting for spring to come, but then the monotony of... (full context)
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Claudia and Frieda are "bemused, irritated and fascinated" by Maureen Peal. Her expensive clothing and plentiful... (full context)
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Maureen is assigned the locker next to Claudia's. Claudia knows she is about to become friends with Maureen, but knows it will be... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Claudia associates the arrival of spring with the changing nature of the beatings she receives with... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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When her mother finishes, Claudia goes to look for Frieda. She finds her upstairs in bed, crying. Claudia asks her... (full context)
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Claudia continues prying for information about the incident. She asks if Frieda just sat there and... (full context)
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Claudia asks Frieda if their mother whipped her after the incident. When Frieda tells her that... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Claudia and Frieda find Pecola sitting on the stoop in front of a beautiful white house.... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Summer arrives and brings storms that both frighten and please Claudia. She imagines her mother in the summer of 1929 when a tornado hit Loraine and... (full context)
Claudia and Frieda feel ashamed and embarrassed for Pecola. Nobody in the community seems to share... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Claudia then begins to narrate the story. She describes Pecola's insanity and the way the community... (full context)
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Claudia believes that the Maginot Line and Cholly loved Pecola, but love is only as good... (full context)