The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Claudia and Frieda stand outside of a Greek hotel, watching their neighbor Rosemary Villanucci eat bread and butter in her father's Buick. Rosemary rolls the window down and tells Claudia and Frieda they can't come in. Afterward, Claudia imagines leavening red marks on Rosemary's white skin. During the violent fantasy, Claudia imagines Rosemary will ask her if she wants her to pull her pants down. By asking this, Claudia knows that Rosemary will be offering her something sacred, which she must decline to assert her own pride.
Rosemary denies Claudia and Frieda access based on the color of their skin. Claudia's subsequent desire to leave marks on Rosemary's white skin highlights the importance of race in the conflict. The fact that Claudia imagines Rosemary will offer to pull her pants down during this violent fantasy introduces the force of oppression on women through their sexuality, and the connection between sexuality and violence.
Themes
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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 that has fallen from railroad cars to heat their house. The house is old, cold, and green. Some of the rooms are lit with kerosene lamps, but others remain dark and occupied by roaches and mice.
The fact that Claudia and Frieda collect coal that has fallen from passing trains speaks to their family's financial challenges. The condition of their house contrasts the idealized home introduced in the opening Dick and Jane section, but regardless of its condition, the house is their own, which remains an important part of their identity and sense of worth as a family.
Themes
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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 head while outside. In bed, Claudia feels guilty about her illness. She doesn't understand that her mother's anger is not directed at her, but at her illness. That night, Frieda comes into the room and sings to her, and later, another unnamed family member comes in to wrap her in blankets. Despite the scolding, Claudia can feel that there is love in the house.
As a young girl, Claudia does not understand that her mother's maternal concern for her welfare manifests as anger at the illness. She feels guilty about getting sick, even though this is not her mother's intention. Although her mother scolds her, Claudia still feels she is surrounded by love, which distinguishes her from other characters in the novel.
Themes
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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 who Mr. Henry used to board with. The women talk about how Miss Delia has lost her mind. They blame her mental health issues on her husband, who left her for another woman. Then the women begin talking about Mr. Henry. They question why he has never married. Initially, someone suggests Mr. Henry is just picky, but then someone else suggests there are no desirable women in town. They conclude he is just sensible.
Under the burden of male oppression, the novel's women use gossip and slander as a way to attain a sense of power. While gossiping, the women's suggestion that her husband drove Miss Delia to insanity speaks to the tragic outcome of male oppression. The conclusion that Mr. Henry is sensible for not marrying speaks to the way the novel's women characters negatively perceive one another.
Themes
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When Mr. Henry arrives, the girls are not introduced to him, 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, and you must be Ginger Roberts," he says to the girls. Once they have been introduced, Mr. Henry pulls out a penny and asks the girls if they'd like it. When Claudia reaches out for it, Mr. Henry snaps his fingers and the penny disappears. The girls search Mr. Henry's body, putting their fingers in his socks, and looking up the backside of his jacket, but never find the penny.
By associating Claudia and Frieda with Greta Garbo and Ginger Roberts, who were white actresses, Mr. Henry alludes to the standard of white beauty existing at the time of the novel. By making the penny disappear, Mr. Henry tricks Claudia and Frieda into touching his body. This scene foreshadows Mr. Henry's attraction to young girls, which is revealed later when he assaults Frieda.
Themes
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Not long after Mr. Henry moves in, Pecola Breedlove also comes to stay with the MacTeers. 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 as a great sin by the community.
Through the act of burning down his house, Cholly blatantly desecrates the sanctity of home and family. The act has a devastating effect on the way the community views Pecola and the Breedlove family.
Themes
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During her stay, Pecola obsessively drinks milk from a Shirley Temple cup owned by the MacTeers. Pecola and Frieda gush over Shirley Temple's beauty. Claudia, however, hates Shirley Temple in the same way she hates the white baby dolls she receives for Christmas. Still younger than Pecola and Frieda, She doesn't understand why those around find the baby dolls and Temple so lovable and beautiful. Claudia's only desire is to dismember the dolls in order to understand what makes them so desirable to those around her. Over time, this urge to dismember the dolls transforms into a desire to harm little white girls. Claudia explains that she feels guilty about these urges, so she hides them behind a fabricated love for Temple and the baby dolls. This fabricated love, however, eventually turns into genuine worship of Shirley Temple.
Pecola and Frieda's devotion to Shirley Temple speaks to the influence of beauty and racial standards over the novel's characters. At first, Claudia does not feel the same affection for Shirley temple, but over time, she also becomes obsessed with white culture. Once Claudia's desire to destroy the dolls results in the urge to harm white girls, she feels immense guilt. She hides this guilt behind a false love, which eventually leads to obsession with the thing she originally wanted to destroy. This process depicts the way black hatred of white cultural oppression and beauty standards can result in black obsession with white culture.
Themes
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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 Pecola drank three quarts of milk. As the girls try to figure out what to do that afternoon, Pecola begins to menstruate for the first time. The sight of the blood scares Pecola, but Frieda eases her worry by telling her not to worry, she is only "ministratin", which is how she pronounces menstruating. Frieda sends Claudia inside to get a glass of water to clean the blood from the steps. Frieda begins helping Pecola while Claudia cleans the steps. As she cleans, Claudia feels like she is missing out on something important. When she finishes washing the blood from the step, she rushes around the corner of the house to where Frieda is helping Pecola.
Pecola's obsession with Shirley Temple leads to her drink an obscene amount of milk, which upsets Mrs. MacTeer. The fact that a black girl drinks so much (white) milk symbolizes Pecola's wish to internalize whiteness. Pecola's fear during her first menstruation alludes to both the dangers of being a woman and Pecola's complete unfamiliarity with the realities of being a woman. Likewise, Frieda's mispronunciation of the word "menstruate" and Claudia's feeling of being left out further emphasizes the girls' innocence.
Themes
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As they help her pin a pad to her dress to tamp the bleeding, Claudia notices Rosemary, the white girl who lives next door, watching them through the bushes. Claudia grabs Rosemary's face and scratches her nose. Rosemary then hollers for Mrs. MacTeer, claiming the girls are "playing nasty". Upon hearing this, Mrs. MacTeer rushes out and begins lashing Frieda with a switch. After lashing Frieda, she grabs Pecola to punish her the same way, but when she does, the pad falls from between Pecola's legs. When Mrs. MacTeer sees the pad, and allows the girls a moment to explain that they were trying to help Pecola, she feels sorry for what she's done. Mrs. MacTeer takes the girls inside of the house and goes into the bathroom with Pecola. Over the sound of the running bath water, Claudia and Frieda hear their mother's laughter as she helps Pecola get cleaned up.
Rosemary's accusation that the girls are "playing nasty" associates Pecola's menstruation with a forbidden act of sexuality. Once Claudia scratches Rosemary's nose, an element of racial violence enters the scene, which erupts once Mrs. MacTeer begins lashing Frieda. The overt presence of violence in this scene foreshadows the violence the black female characters encounter upon passing into womanhood. Once Mrs. MacTeer realizes the nature of the situation, however, she feels sorry, sympathizing with Pecola's fear and shame. In the end, the physical separation between the characters distinguishes Pecola and Mrs. MacTeer as women, whereas Claudia and Frieda are still girls.
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That night in bed, Claudia and Frieda are full of awe and respect for Pecola. Pecola asks Frieda if her menstruation means she can have a baby now. When Frieda says she can, Pecola asks how. Frieda explains that someone must love her first. Pecola asks how to get someone to love her, but Frieda is already asleep, and Claudia doesn't have an answer.
Claudia and Frieda recognize the significance of Pecola's passage into womanhood, but their naivety with regard to womanhood suggests they are unaware of the perils of this passage. They are still innocent girls—they think love is required in the making of a baby. Pecola's question of how to make someone love her forebodes her path over the rest of the novel.
Themes
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