The Bluest Eye

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Themes and Colors
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Bluest Eye, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Home and Family Theme Icon

Home in The Bluest Eye represents more than the physical structure where a family lives. In Morrison's novel, home is an idea that defines the characters' sense of self and self-worth, and likewise, informs the way they are perceived by those around them. The homes depicted in The Bluest Eye are set against an ideal image of home and family, presented in the novel's opening section written in the style of a Dick and Jane primer. This ideal serves to contrast the non-traditional homes and family compositions in which the novel's black families live.

Because the idea of home is fundamental in the way black families are perceived, owning and caring for a house becomes the primary focus of most black families. Already disadvantaged because of the color of their skin, home becomes a means through which black families may establish and sustain a sense of value. Several homes are depicted in the novel, offering the degrees to which idea of home defines an individual's or family's sense of worth. The Breedloves live in an abandoned storefront and have the lowest sense of self-worth. To the contrary, The Macteers live in an old house, but it is theirs and Mrs. Macteer takes great pride in it, and Geraldine lives in a beautiful house, which allows her to feel superior to other black families.

Claudia draws a sharp distinction between being without a home and being "outdoors". Most black families in the novel don't own homes, but still possess a sense of home and family. Being "outdoors", to the contrary, signifies the end of home and family, a place from which there is no return. Cholly's rape of Pecola represents the complete absence of home and family. In raping his own daughter, Cholly commits the ultimate violation of home and family. To the contrary, possessing a sense of home and family can serve as a redemptive force in one's life. Because of their home and family, Claudia and Frieda are capable of having a different perspective than characters lacking home and family. In the end, Claudia's untarnished perspective allows Morrison's narrative to unfold for the reader.

Home and Family ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Home and Family appears in each chapter of The Bluest Eye. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Home and Family Quotes in The Bluest Eye

Below you will find the important quotes in The Bluest Eye related to the theme of Home and Family.
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 Eye is the way internalized racism leads people to judge others extra harshly, rather than empathizing with them due to their shared identity and experiences. 

"How do you do that? I mean how do you get someone to love you?"

Related Characters: Pecola Breedlove (speaker)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Pecola has gotten her period for the first time, and Frieda has explained to her and Claudia that Pecola can now have a baby if somebody loves her. In response, Pecola asks how you get someone to love you, but at this point Frieda is asleep so only Claudia hears, and she does not know how to answer. This is a highly emotive moment in the novel, with several layers of meaning. On the surface, this conversation is an example of the girls' innocence, revealing their childish naïveté about sex, relationships, and pregnancy. However, Morrison discloses the fact that Pecola becomes pregnant by incestuous rape in the second sentence of the novel, and thus we already know that this state of innocence will be tragically and violently cut short.

Because she doesn't seem to know exactly what sex is yet, during this conversation Frieda uses "love" as a euphemism for sex. Pecola's response reveals not only her lack of understanding about sex but also the lack of any real love in her life. Indeed, Pecola's whole existence centers around the fact that no one loves her because she is considered ugly. In desperation, she comes to believe that having blue eyes will make her beautiful and thus loveable; however, the result of this desire is that she goes insane. The further tragic irony of her question is, of course, that she does become pregnant by someone who should love her (though not in a sexual sense), but who instead violently resents her. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights—if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different.

Related Characters: Pecola Breedlove
Related Symbols: Blue Eyes
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

With her parents fighting, Pecola has wished for God to make her disappear, and she imagines her body evaporating limb by limb; however, she is not able to make her eyes disappear, even in her head. The narrator then describes Pecola's wish for "different... beautiful" eyes. In the racist society in which she lives, this means blue eyes—the ultimate signifier of whiteness. Here Morrison contrasts Pecola's innocent childish daydream about having blue eyes with the dark reality of Pecola's life. At only eleven, Pecola has to deal with poverty, a violent home life, and a highly racist culture that deems her ugly for being a poor, dark-skinned black girl. She is thus robbed of any sense of a carefree, playful childhood, and internalizes the conflict around her into a deep sense of self-hatred. 

Note the fact that Pecola wishes for white-looking eyes, as opposed to other white features such as straight hair or pale skin. This choice is significant, as it reflects the idea that surface-level beauty has a meaningful impact not only on how we are perceived by others but on how we experience life ourselves. Pecola believes that "if those eyes of hers were different... she herself would be different." The novel reinforces this point by showing that white people––as well as black people who successfully associate themselves with whiteness––are not only considered more beautiful but lead more fortunate, privileged lives. Thus although Pecola's wish is distinctly childlike, we cannot dismiss it as naïve or mistaken.

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 5 Quotes

White kids; his mother did not like him to play with niggers. She had explained to him the difference between colored people and niggers. They were easily identifiable. Colored people were neat and quiet; niggers were dirty and loud… The line between colored and nigger was not always clear; subtle and telltale signs threatened to erode it, and the watch had to be constant.

Related Characters: Geraldine, Louis Junior
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has introduced Geraldine, a strict, uptight black woman who aspires to whiteness. Geraldine forbids her son, Junior, from playing with people she identifies as "niggers," instead insisting that he play with "colored" children. This distinction revolves around notions of "respectability" and proximity to a white ideal; once again, Morrison shows that even within African American communities, racism works to oppress those whose class and skin color are furthest from society's racist ideal of whiteness. Thus even though almost all the characters in the novel are African Americans living in a racist nation, within the black community itself there are still many levels to the hierarchy of society, and people like the Breedloves are at the very bottom.

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 8 Quotes

His soul seemed to slip down into his guts and fly into her, and the gigantic thrust he made into her then provoked the only sound she made—a hollow suck of air in the back of her throat. Like the rapid loss of air from a circus balloon.

Related Characters: Pecola Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

Cholly has arrived home so drunk that he is barely able to recognize his surroundings. He approaches Pecola, who is washing dishes, and rapes her. Pecola is so shocked that she remains rigidly still and silent, only making a sound when Cholly ejaculates. This sound connects to Pecola's earlier observation that, when her parents have sex, the only thing she can hear is silence and choking noises––leading her to associate these sounds with sex and love. 

In this passage, the sound Pecola makes is compared to a rapidly deflating balloon, implying that her whole self has been instantly crushed and hollowed by the rape. This is juxtaposed with the description of Cholly's soul "fly[ing] into her," suggesting that all the misery and trauma of Cholly's life––trauma that itself originated in an act of sexual violence––has been transferred to his daughter. 

Chapter 11 Quotes

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.