Book Notes: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Reading Time: 22 minutes

Book Notes: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

Publisher : Holt, Rinehart, and Winston (1970)

ISBN-13 : 978-0307278449


Table of Contents

Quick Thoughts

I’d long wanted to read Toni Morrison’s debut novel, and I really enjoyed reading “The Bluest Eye”. “Enjoy” is a strange word for reading about the casual and methodical destruction of a little black girl’s self esteem, sanity, and psyche. Toni Morrison wrote this book in 1970, but its themes are still relevant today. Who decides what is deemed to be ugly and what is designated as beautiful? And, why does it matter?

How did whiteness come to represent the ideal standard of beauty in the United States and across the rest of the world? How does one break this cycle? Is there hope for a future in which the young and the vulnerable are no longer subject to both racism and internalized racism? How do we go about working to recognize the value and full humanity of all kinds of people?

This novel details the psychologically damaging effects of racism and internalized racism on one of the most vulnerable members of society – a young black girl who is taught to believe, through words and actions, that she is ugly, and therefore deserving of maltreatment, abuse, and neglect.

Pecola is treated badly by everyone around her: her parents, teachers, classmates, neighborhood grocers and charlatans. Abused and mistreated at almost every turn, Pecola is still a child when she experiences a brutal betrayal and slips, quietly, into madness.

“The Bluest Eye” is painful to read. It describes how some children are treated with care, love and affection. And, others are not. Not even by their own families or those within their communities. They are the children who are planted in barren soil. And the results are crushing.


Claudia MacTeer narrates the tragedy of Pecola Breedlove, an 11-year old little black girl growing up in Lorain, Ohio, in the fall of 1941. Pecola is mistreated, betrayed and neglected by almost everyone around her – her parents, schoolmates, neighbors, and other black people. She believes this is because she is ugly.

Believing that beauty and social acceptance reside in whiteness, Pecola’s strongest desire is for a pair of blue eyes. She believes that having blue eyes will make her beautiful, and will rescue her from a life filled with racism, abuse, poverty, neglect, physical and sexual violence.


Claudia MacTeer

The main narrator. She is nine years old in the Fall of 1941 when the story begins. She is Frieda’s younger sister. She is one of the neighborhood children, and develops a casual friendship with Pecola after her parents take in Pecola for a temporary stay (after Pecola’s father Cholly burns down their house).

Pecola Breedlove

She is the main subject of the story. She is 11 years old. While she is never fully described in the book, Pecola is frequently described by others, including her own mother, as ugly.

After being raped and impregnated by her father, Pecola gives birth to a still-born baby. Afterwards, after believing that she has been granted her long-desired wish for blue eyes (so that people would treat her better), she descends into madness.

Charles “Cholly” Breedlove.

Cholly Breedlove is Pecola’s father. Born in Georgia, he was abandoned as a 4-day old baby at a railroad junk heap by his mother. He is rescued from the junk heap and raised by his elderly great aunt, Aunt Jimmy.

As a teenager, during his first sexual experience, he and his lover are interrupted by a pair of white men who order them to continue having sex while they watch.

At age 14, after Aunt Jimmy’s death, Cholly runs away from home and tries to find his biological father, Samson Fuller, who rejects him in favor of gambling. He marries Paulina, and physically abuses her.

Cholly is underemployed or more frequently unemployed and frequently drunk. He accidentally burns down their house, the incident that sends Pecola to stay temporarily with the MacTeers. Finally, in a drunken state, he rapes and impregnates his daughter Pecola.

Paulina “Polly” Breedlove (born Paulina Williams)

Pecola’s mother. Paulina is born into a poor, rural family, the ninth of eleven children. She is neglected as a child, resulting in a childhood accident that leaves her with a deformed foot. She blames her loneliness on this deformity and develops a strong obsession with cleanliness, orderliness, and beauty. She leaves school at a young age to earn money and look after the house.

After marrying Cholly, Paulina gives birth to Sammy and Pecola. She also becomes devoutly religious. Her marriage to Cholly is violent and abusive, and she views her drunken husband with contempt and as a burden to bear. She neglects her children, and sees Pecola as ugly; beating her and Sammy at slight infractions. Paulina prefers to spend her time with the white family whose house she cleans, and views her work as more meaningful than her family. She is nicknamed “Polly” by the white family whose house she cleans and manages.

Frieda MacTeer

She is 10 years old when the story begins, and Claudia’s older sister. She is also friends with Pecola.

Aunt Jimmy

She rescues Cholly from the junk heap as a baby and raises him. She names him Charles Breedlove after her deceased brother. She dies when Cholly is 14 years old.

Blue Jack

The drayman at Tyson’s Feed and Grain Store. He is an old man who is friends with the young Cholly. Cholly views him as a dear friend and pseudo-father figure.

Sammy Breedlove

Pecola’s elder brother. He is 14 years old. He deals with the neglect, abuse, and violence of his home life by leaving as soon as he is old enough.

Maureen Peal

A rich, light-skinned girl with green eyes who attends the same school as Claudia, Frieda, and Pecola. She is considered very beautiful and treated well by the other children, teachers, and parents in the school. She is prideful, and selfish.

Elihue Micah Whitcomb “Soaphead Church”

He is a cinnamon-eyed mixed-race West Indian with lightly browned skin. He is a charlatan who works as a fortune teller, dealer in miracles, and a spiritual interpreter of dreams. He is a pedophile with a predilection for little girls. After she is assaulted by her father, Pecola comes to Soaphead Church, the neighborhood charlatan and mystic, for help in granting her wish for blue eyes. He tricks Pecola into killing his landlady’s old pet dog he dislikes but is too afraid to kill himself. He tells Pecola that if something happens to the dog, that means her wish for blue eyes has been granted.

Henry Washington

A womanizer who rents a room from the parents of Claudia and Frieda McTeer. He is beaten and evicted from the house when he fondles Frieda.


He is a light-skinned classmate of Claudia, Frieda, and Pecola. He hates his mother, Geraldine, due to her emotional coldness towards him. He bullies Pecola, and falsely blames her for the death of his mother’s cat.


She is Junior’s mother. She is married to Louis. From a small, poor rural town, she has married her way into a middle class existence, and hates all reminders of poverty. Despite being black herself, she prefers her son Junior to play with mostly white or light-skinned children. She is cold and remote, and prefers to demonstrate love mostly to her cat.


Internalized Racism

  • Who told her? Who made her feel that it was better to be a freak than what she was? (3)
  • It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds—cooled—and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path. pg. 51
  • Safe on the other side, she screamed at us, “I am cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly black e mos. I am cute!” pg. 58
  • We were sinking under the wisdom, accuracy, and relevance of Maureen’s last words. If she was cute—and if anything could be believed, she was—then we were not. And what did that mean? We were lesser. Nicer, brighter, but still lesser. pg. 59
  • Dolls we could destroy, but we could not destroy the honey voices of parents and aunts, the obedience in the eyes of our peers, the slippery light in the eyes of our teachers when they encountered the Maureen Peals of the world. What was the secret? pg. 59
  • What did we lack? Why was it important? And so what? pg. 59
  • The Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us. pg. 60
  • In short, how to get rid of the funkiness. The dreadful funkiness of passion, the funkiness of nature, the funkiness of the wide range of human emotions….Wherever it erupts, this Funk, they wipe it away; where it crusts, they dissolve it; wherever it drips, flowers, or clings, they find it and fight it until it dies. They fight this battle all the way to the grave. (66)
  • 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. pg. 69
  • Pauline felt uncomfortable with the few black women she met. They were amused by her because she did not straighten her hair. When she tried to make up her face as they did, it came off rather badly. pg. 92
  • Then she brushed the yellow hair, enjoying the roll and slip of it between her fingers. No zinc tub, no buckets of stove-heated water, no flaky, stiff, grayish towels washed in a kitchen sink, dried in a dusty backyard, no tangled black puffs of rough wool to comb. pg. 100
  • Soon she stopped trying to keep her own house. The things she could afford to buy did not last, had no beauty or style, and were absorbed by the dingy storefront. More and more she neglected her house, her children, her man—they were like the afterthoughts one has just before sleep, the early-morning and late-evening edges of her day, the dark edges that made the daily life with the Fishers lighter, more delicate, more lovely. Here she could arrange things, clean things, line things up in neat rows. Here her foot flopped around on deep pile carpets, and there was no uneven sound. Here she found beauty, order, cleanliness, and praise. (100)
  • The slightly reeking fish that she accepted for her own family she would all but throw in the fish man’s face if he sent it to the Fisher house. Power, praise, and luxury were hers in this household. They even gave her what she had never had—a nickname—Polly. (100)
  • 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 white baby dolls, Shirley Temples, and Maureen Peals. (149)


  • At some fixed point in time and space he senses that he need not waste the effort of a glance. He does not see her, because for him there is nothing to see. pg. 39
  • How can a fifty-two-year-old white immigrant storekeeper with the taste of potatoes and beer in his mouth, his mind honed on the doe-eyed Virgin Mary, his sensibilities blunted by a permanent awareness of loss, see a little black girl? pg. 39
  • She looks up at him and sees the vacuum where curiosity ought to lodge. And something more. The total absence of human recognition—the glazed separateness. pg. 39
  • She has seen it lurking in the eyes of all white people. So. The distaste must be for her, her blackness. All things in her are flux and anticipation. But her blackness is static and dread. And it is the blackness that accounts for, that creates, the vacuum edged with distaste in white eyes. pg. 39
  • The old one was learning the young ones about babies. Showing them how to do. When he got to me he said now these here women you don’t have any trouble with. They deliver right away and with no pain. Just like horses. pg. 98
  • The young ones smiled a little. They looked at my stomach and between my legs. They never said nothing to me. Only one looked at me. Looked at my face, I mean. pg. 98
  • I seed them talking to them white women: ‘How you feel? Gonna have twins?’ Just shucking them, of course, but nice talk. Nice friendly talk. pg. 98
  • The pains wasn’t as bad as I let on, but I had to let them people know having a baby was more than a bowel movement. I hurt just like them white women. Just ’cause I wasn’t hooping and hollering before didn’t mean I wasn’t feeling pain. What’d they think? That just ’cause I knowed how to have a baby with no fuss that my behind wasn’t pulling and aching like theirs? Besides, that doctor don’t know what he talking about. He must never seed no mare foal. Who say they don’t have no pain? Just ’cause she don’t cry? ’Cause she can’t say it, they think it ain’t there? If they looks in her eyes and see them eyeballs lolling back, see the sorrowful look, they’d know. pg. 98


  • She enchanted the entire school. When teachers called on her, they smiled encouragingly. Black boys didn’t trip her in the halls; white boys didn’t stone her, white girls didn’t suck their teeth when she was assigned to be their work partners; black girls stepped aside when she wanted to use the sink in the girls’ toilet, and their eyes genuflected under sliding lids. pg. 49
  • Even though he was light-skinned, it was possible to ash. 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. pg. 69
  • They transferred this Anglophilia to their six children and sixteen grandchildren. Except for an occasional and unaccountable insurgent who chose a restive black, they married “up,” lightening the family complexion and thinning out the family features. pg. 133

Whiteness as the Cultural Standard of Beauty

  • Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs—all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured. “Here,” they said, “this is beautiful, and if you are on this day ‘worthy’ you may have it.” (16)
  • I destroyed white baby dolls…But the dismembering of dolls was not the true horror. The truly horrifying thing was the transference of the same impulses to little white girls. The indifference with which I could have axed them was shaken only by my desire to do so. To discover what eluded me: the secret of the magic they weaved on others. What made people look at them and say, “Awwwww,” but not for me? The eye slide of black women as they approached them on the street, and the possessive gentleness of their touch as they handled them. (18)
  • 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. I learned much later to worship her, just as I learned to delight in cleanliness, knowing, even as I learned, that the change was adjustment without improvement. pg. 18
  • Each pale yellow wrapper has a picture on it. A picture of little Mary Jane, for whom the candy is named. Smiling white face. Blond hair in gentle disarray, blue eyes looking at her out of a world of clean comfort. The eyes are petulant, mischievous. To Pecola they are simply pretty. She eats the candy, and its sweetness is good. To eat the candy is somehow to eat the eyes, eat Mary Jane. Love Mary Jane. Be Mary Jane. (41)
  • …she went to the movies instead. There in the dark her memory was refreshed, and she succumbed to her earlier dreams. 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. (95)
  • She forgot lust and simple caring for. She regarded love as possessive mating, and romance as the goal of the spirit. It would be for her a well-spring from which she would draw the most destructive emotions, deceiving the lover and seeking to imprison the beloved, curtailing freedom in every way. (96)
  • She was never able, after her education in the movies, to look at a face and not assign it some category in the scale of absolute beauty, and the scale was one she absorbed in full from the silver screen. (96)
  • It was really a simple pleasure, but she learned all there was to love and all there was to hate. (96)
  • Them pictures gave me a lot of pleasure, but it made coming home hard, and looking at Cholly hard. (96)

Beauty and Ugliness

  • The Breedloves did not live in a storefront because they were having temporary difficulty adjusting to the cutbacks at the plant. They lived there because they were poor and black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly. pg. 30
  • 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 conviction. pg. 31
  • They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance. pg. 31
  • And Pecola. She hid behind hers. Concealed, veiled, eclipsed—peeping out from behind the shroud very seldom, and then only to yearn for the return of her mask. pg. 31
  • If she looked different, beautiful, maybe Cholly would be different, and Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they’d say, “Why, look at pretty-eyed Pecola. We mustn’t do bad things in front of those pretty eyes.” pg. 37
  • Each night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. Fervently, for a year she had prayed. Although somewhat discouraged, she was not without hope. To have something as wonderful as that happen would take a long, long time. pg. 38
  • I don’t believe I ever did get over that. There I was, five months pregnant, trying to look like Jean Harlow, and a front tooth gone. Everything went then. Look like I just didn’t care no more after that. I let my hair go back, plaited it up, and settled down to just being ugly.. pg. 97
  • But Pecola look like she knowed right off what to do. A right smart baby she was. I used to like to watch her. You know they makes them greedy sounds. Eyes all soft and wet. A cross between a puppy and a dying man. But I knowed she was ugly. Head full of pretty hair, but Lord she was ugly.” pg. 98


  • They slipped in and out of the box of peeling gray, 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. From the tiny impressions gleaned from one another, they created a sense of belonging and tried to make do with the way they found each other. pg. 28
  • Holding Cholly as a model of sin and failure, she bore him like a crown of thorns, and her children like a cross. pg. 99
  • When Cholly was four days old, his mother wrapped him in two blankets and one newspaper and placed him on a junk heap by the railroad. pg. 103
  • felt she was fulfilling a mother’s role conscientiously when she pointed out their father’s faults to keep them from having them, or punished them when they showed any slovenliness, no matter how slight, when she worked twelve to sixteen hours a day to support them. And the world itself agreed with her. pg. 101
  • But the aspect of married life that dumbfounded him and rendered him totally dysfunctional was the appearance of children. Having no idea of how to raise children, and having never watched any parent raise himself, he could not even comprehend what such a relationship should be. As it was, he reacted to them, and his reactions were based on what he felt at the moment. pg. 128


  • Love, thick and dark as Alaga syrup, eased up into that cracked window. (9)
  • So when I think of autumn, I think of somebody with hands who does not want me to die. (10)
  • Then Pecola asked a question that had never entered my mind. “How do you do that? I mean, how do you get somebody to love you?” But Frieda was asleep. And I didn’t know. (27)
  • What could a burned-out black man say to the hunched back of his eleven-year-old daughter? If he looked into her face, he would see those haunted, loving eyes. The hauntedness would irritate him—the love would move him to fury. How dare she love him? Hadn’t she any sense at all? What was he supposed to do about that? Return it? How? (129)
  • 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. (163)


  • Although she was the ninth of eleven children and lived on a ridge of red Alabama clay seven miles from the nearest road, the complete indifference with which a rusty nail was met when it punched clear through her foot during her second year of life saved Pauline Williams from total anonymity. pg. 86
  • Money became the focus of all their discussions, hers for clothes, his for drink. The sad thing was that Pauline did not really care for clothes and makeup. She merely wanted other women to cast favorable glances her way. pg. 93


  • 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. Jealousy we understood and thought natural—a desire to have what somebody else had; but envy was a strange, new feeling for us. pg. 59
  • Nobody paid us any attention, so we paid very good attention to ourselves. Our limitations were not known to us—not then. Our only handicap was our size; people gave us orders because they were bigger and stronger. pg. 150

Growing Up

  • The children gave her this need; she herself was no longer a child. So she became, and her process of becoming was like most of ours: she developed a hatred for things that mystified or obstructed her; acquired virtues that were easy to maintain; assigned herself a role in the scheme of things; and harked back to simpler times for gratification. pg. 99
  • But they had been young once…Then they had grown. Edging into life from the back door. Becoming. Everybody in the world was in a position to give them orders. pg. 108


  • Pecola, on the other hand, restricted by youth and sex, experimented with methods of endurance. Though the methods varied, the pain was as consistent as it was deep. She struggled between an overwhelming desire that one would kill the other, and a profound wish that she herself could die. (35)
  • As long as she looked the way she did, as long as she was ugly, she would have to stay with these people. Somehow she belonged to them. Long hours she sat looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers and classmates alike. (36)
  • 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. (37)


  • Mrs. Breedlove considered herself an upright and Christian woman, burdened with a no-count man, whom God wanted her to punish. pg. 33
  • Cholly felt goose pimples popping along his arms and neck. He wondered if God looked like that. No. God was a nice old white man, with long white hair, flowing white beard, and little blue eyes that looked sad when people died and mean when they were bad. It must be the devil who looks like that—holding the world in his hands, ready to dash it to the ground and spill the red guts so niggers could eat the sweet, warm insides. If the devil did look like that, Cholly preferred him. pg. 105
  • He never felt anything thinking about God, but just the idea of the devil excited him. And now the strong, black devil was blotting out the sun and getting ready to split open the world. pg. 105
  • Tell me, Lord, how could you leave a lass so long so lone that she could find her way to me? How could you? I weep for you, Lord. And it is because I weep for You that I had to do your work for You. pg. 143
  • You have to understand that, Lord. You said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and harm them not.” Did you forget? Did you forget about the children? Yes. You forgot. You let them go wanting, sit on road shoulders, crying next to their dead mothers. I’ve seen them charred, lame, halt. You forgot, Lord. You forgot how and when to be God. pg. 145
  • That’s why I changed the little black girl’s eyes for her, and I didn’t touch her; not a finger did I lay on her. But I gave her those blue eyes she wanted. Not for pleasure, and not for money. I did what You did not, could not, would not do: I looked at that ugly little black girl, and I loved her. I played You. And it was a very good show! I, I have caused a miracle. I gave her the eyes. I gave her the blue, blue, two blue eyes. Cobalt blue. A streak of it right out of your own blue heaven. No one else will see her blue eyes. But she will. And she will live happily ever after. I, I have found it meet and right so to do. pg. 145

Intersectionality of Race and Gender

  • White women said, “Do this.” White children said, “Give me that.” White men said, “Come here.” Black men said, “Lay down.” The only people they need not take orders from were black children and each other. But they took all of that and re-created it in their own image. They ran the houses of white people, and knew it. When white men beat their men, they cleaned up the blood and went home to receive abuse from the victim. They beat their children with one hand and stole for them with the other. pg. 109
  • They were old enough to be irritable when and where they chose, tired enough to look forward to death, disinterested enough to accept the idea of pain while ignoring the presence of pain. They were, in fact and at last, free. And the lives of these old black women were synthesized in their eyes—a purée of tragedy and humor, wickedness and serenity, truth and fantasy. pg. 109


  • He was free to live his fantasies, and free even to die, the how and the when of which held no interest for him. In those days, Cholly was truly free. pg. 127
  • Abandoned in a junk heap by his mother, rejected for a crap game by his father, there was nothing more to lose. He was alone with his own perceptions and appetites, and they alone interested him. pg. 127
  • He thought rather of whatever had happened to the curiosity he used to feel. Nothing, nothing, interested him now. Not himself, not other people. Only in drink was there some break, some floodlight, and when that closed, there was oblivion. pg. 128

Sexual Violence

  • Cholly, moving faster, looked at Darlene. He hated her. He almost wished he could do it—hard, long, and painfully, he hated her so much. pg. 118
  • She appeared to have fainted. Cholly stood up and could see only her grayish panties, so sad and limp around her ankles. Again the hatred mixed with tenderness. The hatred would not let him pick her up, the tenderness forced him to cover her. pg. 130
  • His sexuality was anything but lewd; his patronage of little girls smacked of innocence and was associated in his mind with cleanliness. He was what one might call a very clean old man. pg. 132

The Cycle of Oppression

  • Like a sore tooth that is not content to throb in isolation, but must diffuse its own pain to other parts of the body—making breathing difficult, vision limited, nerves unsettled, so a hated piece of furniture produces a fretful malaise that asserts itself throughout the house and limits the delight of things not related to it. pg. 30
  • If Cholly had stopped drinking, she would never have forgiven Jesus. She needed Cholly’s sins desperately. The lower he sank, the wilder and more irresponsible he became, the more splendid she and her task became. In the name of Jesus. pg. 34
  • No less did Cholly need her. She was one of the few things abhorrent to him that he could touch and therefore hurt. He poured out on her the sum of all his inarticulate fury and aborted desires. Hating her, he could leave himself intact. pg. 34
  • As he grew older, he learned how to direct his hatred of his mother to the cat, and spent some happy moments watching it suffer. pg. 69
  • Pecola slid in the pie juice, one leg folding under her. Mrs. Breedlove yanked her up by the arm, slapped her again, and in a voice thin with anger, abused Pecola directly and Frieda and me by implication. pg. 85
  • Pauline kept this order, this beauty, for herself, a private world, and never introduced it into her storefront, or to her children. Them she bent toward respectability, and in so doing taught them fear: fear of being clumsy, fear of being like their father, fear of not being loved by God, fear of madness like Cholly’s mother’s. Into her son she beat a loud desire to run away, and into her daughter she beat a fear of growing up, fear of other people, fear of life. pg. 101
  • Sullen, irritable, he cultivated his hatred of Darlene. Never did he once consider directing his hatred toward the hunters. …Such an emotion would have destroyed him. They were big, white, armed men. He was small, black, 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. He was, in time, to discover that hatred of white men—but not now. Not in impotence but later, when the hatred could find sweet expression. pg. 119
  • For now, he hated the one who had created the situation, the one who bore witness to his failure, his impotence. The one whom he had not been able to protect, to spare, to cover from the round moon glow of the flashlight. pg. 119-120

Cleanliness and Orderliness

  • Occasionally some living thing will engage her affections. A cat, perhaps, who will love her order, precision, and constancy; who will be as clean and quiet as she is. pg. 68
  • One such girl from Mobile, or Meridian, or Aiken who did not sweat in her armpits nor between her thighs, who smelled of wood and vanilla, who had made soufflés in the Home Economics Department, moved with her husband, Louis, to Lorain, Ohio. pg. 68
  • Restricted, as a child, to this cocoon of her family’s spinning, she cultivated quiet and private pleasures. She liked, most of all, to arrange things….Whatever portable plurality she found, she organized into neat lines, according to their size, shape, or gradations of color. pg. 86-87
  • He abhorred flesh on flesh. Body odor, breath odor, overwhelmed him. pg. 132
  • He responded to his father’s controlled violence by developing hard habits and a soft imagination. A hatred of, and fascination with, any hint of disorder or decay. pg. 135


  • The damage done was total. She spent her days, her tendril, sap-green days, walking up and down, up and down, her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so distant only she could hear. Elbows bent, hands on shoulders, she flailed her arms like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely futile effort to fly. Beating the air, a winged but grounded bird, intent on the blue void it could not reach—could not even see—but which filled the valleys of the mind. pg. 162
  • She, however, stepped over into madness, a madness which protected her from us simply because it bored us in the end. pg. 163

Top Quotes

  • He thought it was at once the most fantastic and the most logical petition he had ever received. Here was an ugly little girl asking for beauty. A surge of love and understanding swept through him, but was quickly replaced by anger. Anger that he was powerless to help her. Of all the wishes people had brought him—money, love, revenge—this seemed to him the most poignant and the one most deserving of fulfillment. A little black girl who wanted to rise up out of the pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes. (138-9)
  • And I believe our sorrow was the more intense because nobody else seemed to share it. They were disgusted, amused, shocked, outraged, or even excited by the story. But we listened for the one who would say, “Poor little girl,” or, “Poor baby,” but there was only head-wagging where those words should have been. We looked for eyes creased with concern, but saw only veils. (149)
  • Please. If there is somebody with bluer eyes than mine, then maybe there is somebody with the bluest eyes. The bluest eyes in the whole world. (161)
  • But suppose my eyes aren’t blue enough? Blue enough for what? Blue enough for…I don’t know. Blue enough for something. Blue enough…for you! (161)
  • A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment. (162)
  • We tried to see her without looking at her, and never, never went near. Not because she was absurd, or repulsive, or because we were frightened, but because we had failed her. Our flowers never grew. I was convinced that Frieda was right, that I had planted them too deeply. How could I have been so sloven? So we avoided Pecola Breedlove—forever. (162)
  • 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. All of us—all who knew her—felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. (163)
  • Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used—to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength. (163)
  • I talk about how I did not plant the seeds too deeply, how 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 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. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. At least on the edge of my town, among the garbage and the sunflowers of my town, it’s much, much, much too late. (163)



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