The Bluest Eye

Sex and Sexuality Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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Women and Femininity Theme Icon
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Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
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In The Bluest Eye, sex is associated with violence, humiliation, and immorality. Instead of sex being an enjoyable act between two people, sex, like race and beauty standards, works as a form of oppression. For both men and women, sexual initiation has devastating effects on an individual's life and sense of self. The scenes of sexual initiation are particularly violent and humiliating, leaving a lasting effect on the novel's characters.

Cholly's first sexual experience is paired with humiliation and hatred, as the white men force him to rape Darlene. Frieda's first sexual experience is forced upon her by Mr. Henry, and causes her to believe she has been ruined. And Pecola's sexual initiation happens through rape.

Men in the story use sex as a means to oppress the women in their lives. Their sexual desires are distorted by their past sexual failures and their ideas concerning the value of women. Cholly's first sexual experience leads to his hatred of women, hatred of his own race, and his feeling of being unlovable. The combination of these things leads to the rape of his daughter. Soaphead Church's failed marriage and hatred of women leads to the direction of his repressed sexual desire toward children.

For the younger characters in The Bluest Eye, sex becomes the defining element of their passage into womanhood. The adolescent girls in the story, however, lack a true understanding of the perilous nature of sex. They hold idealistic views of what sex means, associating sex with love and a sense of self worth as a woman.

As an adolescent, Mrs. Breedlove fantasizes about a man coming into her life and offering redemption from the rejection she receives from her family. Geraldine represents another kind of experience. Her sense of worth as a woman still comes through her relationship with her husband. The husbands of women like Geraldine marry them because they cook, clean, and take care of the house. Although sex for her is not overtly violent, she is unable to enjoy sex because she views it as a burden she must bear for her husband.

There are examples of women who escape the violence and oppression of sex. This evasion of sexual oppression, however, comes only through passing the point of being sexually desirable, or through exploiting one's sexuality as a means to gain power over men. M'Dear and other elderly women in the community experience freedom because they are no longer desired as sexual objects. These women, however, are bitter, tired, and accept the presence of pain. The Prostitutes exploit their own sexuality to gain power over men, but this method of gaining power leads to self hatred and hatred of the opposite sex. Sex stands as the primary form of oppression in the novel. Even those who escape overt sexual violence bear the consequences of oppression through sex. The climax of the story offers the primary example of this form of oppression. Pecola's rape leads to her ultimate demise. Through this experience, Pecola embodies the devastating effect of sexual violence, and the oppressive force of sex in these women's lives.

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Sex and Sexuality ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Bluest Eye related to the theme of Sex and Sexuality.
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:
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Chapter 1 Quotes

"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 anyreallove 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 3 Quotes

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:
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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.

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 Eyehave relationships with men that are at best dissatisfying and at worst violent and harmful.

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.

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:
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Chapter 8 Quotes

Sullen, irritable, he cultivated his hatred of Darlene. Never once did he consider directing his hatred toward the hunters. Such an emotion would have destroyed him. They were big, white, armed men. He was small, black, and helpless. His subconscious knew what his conscious mind did not guess—that hating them would have consumed him, burned him up like a piece of soft coal, leaving only flakes of ash and a question mark of smoke…For now, he hated the one who had created the situation, the one who bore witness to his failure, his impotence.

Related Characters: Cholly Breedlove
Page Number: 148-149
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

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 10 Quotes

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

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.