The Bluest Eye

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Pauline Breedlove Character Analysis

Pecola's mother, also known as Polly and Mrs. Breedlove. Pauline has a disabled foot. She believes she is ugly, and has always blamed her foot for her ugliness and the neglect she experiences as a child. When she later loses a front tooth, her self-perceived ugliness intensifies. She views herself as a martyr because she stays with Cholly, who is verbally and physically abusive. Pauline constructs her identity based on the movies she watches, her devotion to Christianity, and her role as breadwinner of the family. She beats Pecola when she learns of Cholly's rape of her.

Pauline Breedlove Quotes in The Bluest Eye

The The Bluest Eye quotes below are all either spoken by Pauline Breedlove or refer to Pauline Breedlove. 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.
Chapter 2 Quotes

The Breedloves lived there, nestled together in the storefront. Festering together in the debris of a realtor's whim. They slipped in and out of the box of peeling grey, making no stir in the neighborhood, no sound in the labor force, and no wave in the mayor's office. Each member of the family in his own cell of consciousness, each making his own patchwork quilt of reality—collecting fragments of experience here, pieces of information there.

Related Characters: Pecola Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove, Pauline Breedlove, Samuel Breedlove
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Having introduced the abandoned storefront where the Breedloves live, the unnamed narrator goes on to describe the family themselves. The image the narrator builds is of people who are trapped, dirty, broken, invisible, and in some ways barely human. The word "festering" in particular points to a sense of ugliness and hopelessness, and the phrase "each member of the family in his own cell of consciousness" suggests that the Breedlove's dilapidated residence is closer to a prison than a family home. By invoking animality and imprisonment, the narrator connects the Breedloves' misfortune with many negative stereotypes about African American life. Indeed, although the identity of the narrator remains unknown, the observations here seem to reflect the wider community's impression of the Breedloves and their ghost-like presence in the neighborhood. 

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Chapter 3 Quotes

[The Breedloves] lived there because they were poor and black, and they stayed because they believed they were ugly.

Related Characters: Pecola Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove, Pauline Breedlove, Samuel Breedlove
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator explains that the Breedloves do not live in the storefront as a temporary measure while they transition to more appropriate housing—they seem to be there permanently. Although the Breedloves are forced to live there because they are poor and black, the reason they do not try to leave is because they "believed they were ugly." Here the narrator draws a clear contrast between social forces outside of the control of any one individual and the psychic condition produced by these forces that in turn exacerbates their effects. While it would be incorrect to say that the narrator blames the Breedloves for their situation, it is clear that in accepting society's negative view of themselves, the Breedloves have forsaken all hope for a better future. 

This passage is important because it introduces the notion that ideas about beauty and ugliness have a major impact on the way the world works. Note that the narrator does not say that the Breedloves believed they were wicked or inferior; rather, they simply believe that they are ugly. This is crucial, as throughout the novel Morrison shows that the concept of beauty––and specifically the association of whiteness with beauty and blackness with ugliness––is a highly insidious and effective way of making black people hate themselves and accept their own oppression at the hands of whites. 

You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their own conviction.

Related Characters: Pecola Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove, Pauline Breedlove, Samuel Breedlove
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has described the Breedloves' facial features, which do not sound particularly strange or grotesque but actually fairly ordinary ("they had high cheekbones, and their eyes turned forward"). The narrator explains that it is not the Breedloves' features themselves that are particularly ugly, but that the "source" of their ugliness is their belief that they are ugly. This emphasizes the earlier point that the Breedloves remain stuck in dire circumstances because they are convinced that this is what they deserve. Note that Morrison does not imply that believing in your own beauty is a simple or easy choice; rather, over the course of the novel she implies that it is might be easier for a black girl like Pecola to go mad (as Pecola does) than to contradict the stereotypes of a racist society and convince herself that she is beautiful. 

Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove fought each other with a darkly brutal formalism that was paralleled only by their lovemaking. Tacitly they had agreed not to kill each other. He fought her the way a coward fights a man—with feet, the palms of his hands, and teeth. She, in turn, fought back in a purely feminine way—with frying pans and pokers, and occasionally a flatiron would sail toward his head.

Related Characters: Cholly Breedlove, Pauline Breedlove
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator describes Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove, Pecola's parents, as deeply unhappy people who fight each other constantly. By describing the "formalism" of both their fights and their lovemaking, the narrator shows that there is a predictable choreography to their life together. This reinforces the idea that there is a sense of inevitability to the Breedloves' miserable existence, with no hope of change. The narrator's description of Cholly's cowardly way of fighting also links to Cholly's emasculation as a child, when his first sexual experience was interrupted by white men.

Meanwhile, the narrator's use of the word "feminine" to describe Mrs. Breedlove's fighting style is somewhat humorous, as whacking someone with a frying pan or poker is not necessarily behavior typically associated with femininity. On the other hand, the reference to femininity reflects the fact that Mrs. Breedlove roots her identity firmly in the domestic sphere; later in the novel, the narrator reveals that Mrs. Breedlove finds solace in the housework she performed early in her and Cholly's marriage and later for the white family who employs her. 

What did love feel like? she wondered. How do grownups act when they love each other? Eat fish together? Into her eyes came the picture of Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove in bed. He making sounds as through he were in pain, as though something had him by the throat and wouldn't let go. Terrible as his noises were, they were not nearly as bad as the no noise at all from her mother. It was as though she was not even there. Maybe that was love. Choking sounds and silence.

Related Characters: Pecola Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove, Pauline Breedlove
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

Pecola is visiting the prostitutes who live above her family, and has asked them questions about being in love and having children. Pecola appears fixated with the concept of love, seemingly because she has no real experience of it and doesn't understand what it is like. She thinks of her parents having sex, during which Cholly makes sounds as if he is in pain, and Mrs. Breedlove stays silent, and Pecola wonders if love consists of "choking sounds and silence." Although a rather horrifying definition of love, tragically this actually foreshadows Pecola's first experience of sex, when her father rapes her. In a broader sense, it connects to the fact that all the women in The Bluest Eye have relationships with men that are at best dissatisfying and at worst violent and harmful. 

Chapter 6 Quotes

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 7 Quotes

Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another—physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion. In equating physical beauty with virtue, she stripped her mind, bound it, and collected self-contempt by the heap.

Related Characters: Pauline Breedlove
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

In this part of the novel, the narrator presents Mrs. Breedlove's life story, tracing the early stages of her relationship with Cholly and her first pregnancy. After becoming pregnant, Mrs. Breedlove starts going to the movies, a habit that introduces her to the "idea" of physical beauty, and specifically the equation of surface-level beauty with inner goodness. In this key passage, the narrator describes physical beauty (along with romantic love) as "the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought." Note that there is a distinction here between beauty and love as abstract, undefined concepts, and the way that they operate within society. The narrator argues that both beauty and romantic love originate in envy, meaning that they serve to place people in competition with one another, with some people judged to be superior and others inferior. 

In The Bluest Eye, beauty is not only competitive and unjust, but an inherently racist strategy for justifying the oppression of black people. Beauty is a system that equates people's outward appearance with their inner morality. It thus functions alongside and in the exact same way as racism, and enables some people to have power over others based on distinctions that are completely meaningless and arbitrary. This passage shows that as soon as Mrs. Breedlove becomes aware of the idea of beauty and of which people her society deems beautiful, she begins to hate herself and believe that she is deserving of misfortune. 

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Pauline Breedlove Character Timeline in The Bluest Eye

The timeline below shows where the character Pauline Breedlove appears in The Bluest Eye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
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On a Saturday morning in October, Mrs. Breedlove awakes to a cold house. She enters the kitchen and begins making a commotion. Mrs.... (full context)
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Eventually, Mrs. Breedlove comes back into the bedroom and attempts to wake Cholly. She tells him the stove... (full context)
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The narrator explains that even though Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove constantly fight, they depend on each other to maintain their individual identities. For Mrs. Breedlove,... (full context)
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...Pecola waits for the storefront apartment to erupt in violence, she whispers to herself, "Don't, Mrs. Breedlove , don't." Eventually, Mrs. Breedlove inevitably sneezes, and as she promised, she starts the fight... (full context)
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...sex. During the sexual act, Cholly makes awful noises like he is in pain, and Mrs. Breedlove remains completely quiet as if she was not even there. Pecola thinks maybe this is... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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When Mrs. Breedlove finds the girls on the back porch, she tells them to come inside while she... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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As the little girl yells out for Mrs. Breedlove to come into the kitchen, Frieda notices a dish of berry cobbler on the stove.... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...in Alabama in a house seven miles from the nearest road. She grows up as Pauline Williams, one of eleven children. At two years of age, Pauline impales her foot on... (full context)
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Near the beginning of World War I, Pauline's family migrates north to Kentucky with a number of other families to find employment in... (full context)
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...the house feels spacious and luxurious compared to the one they'd moved from in Alabama. Pauline begins to care for the house and two younger siblings, Chicken and Pie, after her... (full context)
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When she turns fifteen, Pauline loses her passion she once felt for her duties around the house. She becomes restless... (full context)
...life, she is grateful, but not surprised. The man, later revealed to be Cholly, approaches Pauline on the hottest day of the year, with yellow eyes and flaring nostrils. He approaches... (full context)
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At first, Pauline and Cholly love each other. Cholly finds Pauline's simple country ways and naivety toward life... (full context)
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In Loraine, Pauline begins to miss "her people". She has never lived around so many white people. In... (full context)
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In her loneliness, Pauline becomes more dependent on Cholly. He begins to resent her for clinging to him, and... (full context)
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Eventually, Pauline gets a steady job working for a white family. The woman she works for is... (full context)
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One winter, Pauline discovers she is pregnant. Cholly is delighted by the news and begins drinking less and... (full context)
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One day at the movies, Pauline is watching Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. She has done her hair like Jean Harlow's,... (full context)
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Pauline gives birth to a baby boy, Samuel, but discovering the first baby did not fill... (full context)
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When Pecola is born, Pauline is surprised because she doesn't look the way she had imagined her during the pregnancy... (full context)
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Pauline finds a new sense of purpose in becoming a mother. She no longer has time... (full context)
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Eventually, Pauline finds a steady job working for a wealthy white family. She enjoys the work, as... (full context)
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Pauline and Cholly's marriage grows increasingly worse. She continues using her Christian virtue to feel superior... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...silly. He doesn't care how long he lives or how he dies. When he meets Pauline, he is drawn to her by the joy he awakens in her. After he marries... (full context)
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...scratches her calf with her toes. This gesture reminds him of the day he met Pauline in Kentucky. He is filled with tenderness for his daughter and desires to cover her... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...eyes, and cannot keep herself from looking at them. Pecola accuses her imaginary friend and Mrs. Breedlove of being jealous of her blue eyes. Her imaginary friend is the only person Pecola... (full context)
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The topic of their conversation then turns to Cholly. Pecola's imaginary friend suggests that Mrs. Breedlove ignores Pecola because she misses Cholly. When Pecola responds by asking why Mrs. Breedlove would... (full context)