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The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye Summary


Here you will find a The Bluest Eye summary (Toni Morrison's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Bluest Eye Summary Overview

In the wake of the Great Depression in Lorain, Ohio, two young girls, Claudia and Frieda MacTeer, live with their economically-challenged parents. Their household is also home to a boarder, Henry Washington, and a troubled girl named Pecola, who finds refuge there after her father attempts to destroy their family home. Pecola, who worships the conventional beauty of the white actress Shirley Temple, perceives herself as unpleasantly unattractive due to her complexion. When Pecola reunites with her family, her circumstances remain harsh. Her parents' relationship is marred by domestic violence, her father a drunkard, her mother distant. She also has a frequently runaway brother, Sammy. Pecola yearns for blue eyes, associating them with love and a better life. Her self-esteem takes constant blows from her surroundings, from the indifference of a local grocer, to the mockery of her peers, including a temporary friend, the fair-skinned Maureen. Pecola is wrongly accused of causing a feline's death, leading to further derogatory insults. Both of Pecola's parents have endured challenging pasts. Her mother, Pauline, crippled with a lame foot, feels lonely and finds escape in films that only enhance her self-perceived ugliness and the beauty-centric nature of romantic love. Her father, Cholly, abandoned in his youth and shamed by white men during his first sexual encounter, detaches himself from life, feeling imprisoned by his marriage. Cholly sexually assaults Pecola, leading to her pregnancy. When Pecola's baby is prematurely born and doesn't survive, Cholly flees and eventually dies in a workhouse. Pecola, having descended into insanity, convinces herself that she has achieved her heart's desire - the bluest eyes.


The story starts with a seemingly childlike narration about a family - Mother, Father, Dick, Jane, and their pet cat. The tale centers around Jane who is constantly seeking companionship, but is often left alone. This narrative is repeated thrice but with variations in punctuation and spacing. The book then introduces an anonymous narrator who recalls the absence of marigolds in the autumn of 1941, when she was a nine-year-old. She and her sister thought that the lack of marigolds was due to their slightly older friend, Pecola, an African-American girl, becoming pregnant with her father's child. They thought if they could grow marigolds from their own seeds by saying the right words, Pecola's baby would be born safely. However, the seeds didn't grow, leading to mutual blame between the sisters to alleviate their guilt. The narrator initially believed she had planted the seeds too deep, but now she thinks that the soil was infertile, mirroring their futile hope and the despair of Pecola's father. The narrator reveals that their innocence, Pecola's baby, and even Pecola's father are gone, leaving only Pecola and the earth. Explaining why all this happened would be too complex, so she decides to describe how it happened instead.

chapter 1

Rosemary Villanucci, a Caucasian girl who lives near the MacTeer family, teases sisters Claudia and Frieda from her family's lavish car. The sisters, tasked with collecting coal from the railway, inhabit a sizeable yet decrepit home infested with pests. After one coal collecting venture, Claudia falls ill, angering her mother who directs her fury at the sickness, not Claudia. Frieda consoles Claudia with songs, creating warm memories of love. The MacTeers welcome boarder Henry Washington. Overheard conversations reveal Henry had been living with an increasingly senile Della Jones until her husband left her for another woman, oddly citing her cleanliness as the reason. Henry, a lifelong bachelor, is regarded as a reliable worker. The extra income his stay provides will benefit Mrs. MacTeer. The children quickly grow fond of Henry for his playful antics. Their household expands further with the addition of Pecola Breedlove, a young girl in county care after her father's arsonistic tendencies left them homeless. Pecola is pitied for her father's actions. She adopts a habit of drinking milk from the MacTeer's Shirley Temple cup. Claudia notes her own dislike of Shirley Temple and similar fair-skinned, blue-eyed dolls. Unable to comprehend their appeal, Claudia dismantles her doll to understand its charm but finds nothing beyond a plain metal core. Her frustration grows into a resentment for white girls and a misguided adoration of whiteness and cleanliness. One Saturday, Mrs. MacTeer is upset because Pecola has consumed a large quantity of milk. Later, Pecola starts to bleed and Frieda, recognizing it as menstruation, tries to help. Rosemary accuses them of indecent behavior and Mrs. MacTeer, initially intending to punish them, sees the evidence and instead aids Pecola. That evening, as Pecola curiously inquires about how babies are conceived, Frieda explains that love is a prerequisite. Pecola ponders on how one can make someone love them.

chapter 2

The Breedloves, once Cholly Breedlove is freed from prison, relocate to an apartment that was once a shop. The shop now lays deserted, leading the narrator to drift back in time. Previously, this location had been a pizza place, a Hungarian bakery, and a Gypsy family's residence. The narrator suspects that no one recollects the period when the Breedloves resided there, during which wooden planks divided the shop into two rooms. The front room contains two couches, a piano, and a plastic Christmas tree that hasn't been put away for a couple of years. The sleeping quarters accommodate beds for Pecola, her brother Sammy, and their parents, along with an erratic coal stove. The kitchen is in a detached room at the rear. The narrator scrutinizes the furniture, which is old but doesn't carry any memories as it wasn't frequently utilized. The furniture's origin story is tainted with thoughtlessness, avarice, and indifference. The only object that stirs any feelings is the sofa, which provokes fury in its owner due to a split down the center. Despite being new, the store declined to exchange it. The coal stove is capricious, its warmth inconsistent. One thing is for sure: the fire will always be extinguished by morning.

chapter 3

Informed by the narrator, the Breedloves live in a storefront due to their impoverished state and self-perceived ugliness, even though their physical features are not inherently unattractive. On a cold Saturday morning in October, Mrs. Breedlove stirs, initiating a routine argument with her hungover husband, Cholly, demanding his help with fetching coal. The narrator explains the dysfunctional dynamics between Mrs. Breedlove and Cholly. Mrs. Breedlove leans on him to add meaning to her life and play the part of a victim. Cholly's brutal behavior stems from a traumatic incident in his youth involving two white men who abused him. Their quarrels follow a predictable pattern with Sammy, their son, occasionally joining in, while Pecola silently endures the chaos. When Mrs. Breedlove sneezes, the argument erupts into a physical altercation. Following a violent exchange, Sammy and his mother manage to knock out Cholly, after which Sammy suggests killing him. Meanwhile, Pecola desires to become invisible, feeling sickened and plagued by her perceived ugliness, which she believes isolates her from peers and teachers. She dreams of acquiring blue eyes in hopes of transforming her life from bitter to beautiful. Pecola heads to the grocery store, pondering about the perceived ugliness of dandelions. Her interaction with the store owner, Mr. Yacobowski, leaves her feeling invisible and ashamed. She settles on buying Mary Janes candy, contrasting the blond, blue-eyed girl on the wrapper to her own self-image and the dandelions. Lastly, Pecola visits the whores - China, Poland and Miss Marie - who live above her apartment. Despite their profession, they shower Pecola with affection. Their male clients are referred to as 'boyfriends' by Pecola, while the women converse about them with a keen sense of disdain. Listening to their stories, Pecola contemplates the concept of love, comparing it to the silent, painful rituals of her parents' lovemaking.

chapter 4

The arrival of a new girl, Maureen Peal, shatters the winter monotony. Claudia and Frieda, finding her overly perfect, take solace in discovering her minor imperfections. Maureen, who has a locker adjacent to Claudia's, suggests they go home together. On their way, they encounter Pecola being ridiculed by a group of boys. They mock her for her dark color and inappropriate father. Frieda defends Pecola, and Claudia joins in. As the situation escalates, Maureen arrives. The boys depart, not wanting to fight in her presence. Maureen then engages Pecola in a conversation about movies and gym class, and treats her to ice cream. Claudia feels slighted when she doesn't get any. They discuss menstruation, and Maureen queries Pecola about her familiarity with naked men. Claudia and Frieda tell her to back off. The interaction ends with a quarrel. Maureen accuses them of being ugly, which hurts Pecola and makes Claudia uneasy. Returning home to find only Henry there, they opt for candy when offered money for ice cream, to avoid another encounter with Maureen. Upon returning, they discover Henry entertaining prostitutes China and the Maginot Line (Miss Marie). The girls are discomfited, knowing their mother's dislike for these women. After the women depart, Frieda confronts Henry, who insists they are his Bible-study buddies. The girls decide to keep his secret.

chapter 5

The narrative presents a distinct kind of African American woman who hails from the scenic rural South. Despite her specific care for her own body and attire, she dedicates herself to the service of white people, doing so with elegance and courtesy. She becomes a wife and mother, managing her home and personal self with an iron fist, but displaying a noticeable lack of sexual enjoyment. Her lone source of affection is her tidy, quiet house cat, who she treats with a tenderness she refuses to grant her family. Geraldine, a woman fitting this description, steps into the story. Married to Louis, they have a son, Junior. Despite Geraldine's diligent care for Junior's physical needs, he quickly realizes her genuine affection is reserved for the cat. As a result, he torments the cat and children who come to the play area near their home. Although Junior wishes to mix with the Black kids, Geraldine allows him to associate only with the upper-class "colored" people. One day, an unoccupied Junior chooses to antagonize Pecola, who is strolling through the playground. Although she declines his invitation to play, he successfully persuades her into his house with the promise of kittens. Awed by the house's immaculacy, Pecola is unexpectedly assaulted when Junior flings his black and blue-eyed pet cat at her. Trapped in the house and shaken, Pecola finds solace in the affectionate cat. As Pecola pets the cat, an envious Junior violently swings the cat by its leg, leading to its death after colliding with a radiator. Upon Geraldine's arrival, Junior blames Pecola for the cat's death, causing Geraldine to rebuke Pecola and drive her away.

chapter 6

With spring's arrival, Claudia links it to a change in punishment from a strap to a switch. Discovering her mother acting out of character due to repeating chores and singing, Claudia is left perplexed. She finds Frieda upstairs sobbing due to an encounter with Henry who inappropriately touched her. Frieda confides in her parents about the incident, inciting their wrath upon Henry. A neighbor, Mr. Buford, hands over a gun to Mr. MacTeer who fires at Henry, forcing him to flee. Rosemary Villanucci, another neighbor, warns Frieda about her dad's potential jail time, resulting in Frieda lashing out at her. Later, Miss Dunion suggests a doctor's visit for Frieda, fearing she may be "ruined." Confusion surrounds the term "ruined" for Claudia and Frieda. They fear Frieda might end up overweight like the Maginot Line. Associating "ruined" with China and Poland, they believe whiskey consumption keeps them from gaining weight. They plan to ask Pecola for her father’s whiskey to prevent Frieda from gaining weight. However, finding Pecola’s house empty, they end up having a tense interaction with the Maginot Line, eventually fleeing. They decide to find Pecola despite her being on the other side of town due to Frieda’s predicament. The girls traverse to the lakefront houses where they find Pecola. On inquiry, Pecola talks positively about the Maginot Line and her friends. Mrs. Breedlove invites the girls to join Pecola for laundry and return with her. Claudia is irked by a little girl referring to Mrs. Breedlove as "Polly". Following an accident involving a berry cobbler, Pecola gets punished by her mother, who then sends the girls away while comforting the little white girl.

chapter 7

Pauline Williams, later known as Mrs. Breedlove, comes of age in Alabama. As a two-year-old, she injures her foot on a nail which causes a lifelong limp. She believes this incident influences her destiny. Rather isolated during childhood, Pauline spends her time organizing and decluttering. Her family moves to Kentucky, into a big house with a garden. Here, Pauline takes on the responsibility of the home and her younger siblings. However, as she hits fifteen, she becomes dissatisfied and daydreams about a man sweeping her off her feet. A young man, Cholly Breedlove, eventually comes into her life. They fall in love, marry and shift to Lorain, Ohio, hoping to find better job opportunities. However, life proves tough. Pauline feels lonely and alienated, and misunderstandings over money and Cholly’s growing alcoholism strain their relationship. Pauline starts working as a housemaid for a wealthy but insensitive white woman. Problems escalate when a drunken Cholly visits her workplace demanding money, leading to Pauline losing her job. When offered her job back, on the condition she leaves Cholly, Pauline declines, leaving her without money for basic necessities. Pauline discovers she's pregnant, which briefly improves her relationship with Cholly but does not relieve her loneliness. She immerses herself in movies, developing unrealistic expectations about beauty and romance. An incident where she loses a front tooth while eating candy at a movie makes her feel unattractive. The birth of her first child does little to fill the void in her life. Yet, when pregnant with her second child, she promises to love her newborn despite her circumstances. Giving birth to her daughter Pecola, despite a doctor’s insulting comment about black women's capacity for pain, brings her joy, even if she considers Pecola unattractive. Adopting the role of a martyr, Pauline joins the church and becomes the family's primary earner, working for a wealthy family, the Fishers. She enjoys keeping their house orderly and beautiful, but this results in her neglecting her own home and family. Her relationship with Cholly deteriorates further, with their intimate moments occurring only when he is intoxicated and she is half-asleep.

chapter 8

Cholly Breedlove's backstory is revealed in this passage. Abandoned by his mom as a newborn, he was rescued by his Great Aunt Jimmy who later helps him discover his father's identity. During his early working years, Cholly encounters Blue Jack, whose kindness and tales leave a lasting impression. When Aunt Jimmy falls ill, M’Dear, a local healer, is consulted. Her presence and treatment initially rejuvenate Aunt Jimmy, but she eventually dies after consuming a peach cobbler. Cholly is left under the protection of Aunt Jimmy's brother, O.V., and his family. Cholly's first sexual encounter is with a girl named Darlene, which they are forced to perform under the watchful eyes of two white hunters. This incident leaves him angry, not at the men, but at Darlene. Fear of her pregnancy prompts him to seek out his father. He travels to Macon, Georgia, using Aunt Jimmy's hidden money. His father, Samson Fuller, mistakes him for a debt collector, leading to a harsh rejection. Grief for Aunt Jimmy hits Cholly for the first time. Cholly's life from then on is unpredictable and harsh. He is abusive, erratic, and largely indifferent to life. His marriage to Pauline, though initially endearing, becomes a trap. He struggles to connect with his children and takes to drinking. In the present, a drunk Cholly returns home and assaults his daughter Pecola. After the incident, he covers her with a quilt. Upon regaining consciousness, she finds her mother standing over her.

chapter 9

Soaphead Church, a proclaimed “Reader, Adviser, and Interpreter of Dreams” in Lorain’s Black society, has a mixed-race West Indian heritage. His lineage is full of academic and political ambition, but also corruption, with a history of marrying within their light-skinned community, sometimes even choosing to wed each other. Soaphead, originally named Elihue Micah Whitcomb, was born to a cruel schoolmaster father and a half-Chinese mother who died shortly after his birth. He developed a habit of self-deception and a peculiar obsession with dirt and decay. Soaphead's wife, Velma, left him two months into their marriage. His attempts to join the ministry proved unsatisfactory. After studying psychiatry, taking on various jobs, he finally settled in Lorain. He lodged in a backroom rented from an elderly woman, Bertha Reese. Her elderly dog, Bob, posed his only discomfort, its runny eyes repulsing him to the extent of purchasing poison. When Pecola approaches him with a request for blue eyes, Soaphead is moved, given his own fascination with whiteness. Unable to fulfill her wish, he gives her the poisoned meat, instructing her to feed it to the dog. He assures her that if the dog reacts to it, her desire would come true. The dog dies, leaving Pecola to flee the scene. Following this, Soaphead pens an erratic letter to God, revealing more about his complex life. He still harbors feelings of rejection from Velma’s departure, “the way people leave a hotel room.” He admits to his attraction to young girls, referring to two, Doreen and Sugar Babe, who allowed him to touch them for cash and candies. He swears that he did not touch Pecola, but boasts of rivaling God by making her believe that her wish was granted. He ends his letter and drifts into sleep, leaving his landlord to discover her dead dog.

chapter 10

As summer sets in, Claudia reminisces about a storm in 1929 that swept half of South Lorain, as told by her mother. Claudia and Frieda peddle marigold seeds across the town to save for a new bicycle. During their rounds, they unintentionally eavesdrop on adult conversations and start forming a narrative about Pecola. The sisters discover Pecola is expecting a child from her father, Cholly, who has since absconded. Locals are appalled, blaming both Cholly and Pecola. They argue for Pecola's expulsion from school and express wishes for the unborn child's death. Pecola's mother has physically punished her severely upon finding out. Claudia and Frieda empathize deeply with Pecola, and their sadness deepens as no adults seem to share their feelings. Claudia visualizes the unborn child as beautiful and hopes for its survival as a defiant stance against the societal preference for white dolls and white girls. The girls are oblivious to the incestuous implications of the situation, as they are ignorant of the process of conception. Claudia and Frieda resolve to aid Pecola by praying and offering a sacrifice. They decide to relinquish their seed selling earnings and plant the remaining marigold seeds. They plan to bury the money near Pecola's home and plant the seeds in their yard for nurturing. Claudia will sing, and Frieda will utter the magic words as part of their wholehearted efforts.

chapter 11

Pecola is engaged in conversation with a make-believe companion, whose comments are italicized. Her friend teases her for constantly admiring her blue eyes in the mirror, although she cannot resist the temptation. Her friend suggests playing outside, to which Pecola reluctantly agrees after claiming the friend is envious. She boasts about her ability to stare at the sun without blinking. Pecola shares that people, including her mother, no longer pay attention to her due to her blue eyes, and she believes it's jealousy. She questions why her imaginary friend took so long to appear but is told that she wasn't needed before. Pecola shares her school experiences and her feeling of discrimination due to her new eye color. She seeks reassurance about the blueness of her eyes and questions about her friend's home, which the friend dismisses. Her mother's unawareness of her new friend concerns Pecola. The conversation shifts to discussing Cholly, Pecola's father. The friend suggests Mrs. Breedlove misses Cholly, but Pecola argues that he forced himself on her. The friend mentions that Cholly sexually assaulted Pecola, which she denies at first. However, she admits that it happened again while she was reading. She didn't report it to her mother because she didn't believe her the first time. Cholly and Sammy, her brother, have vanished. The friend hints that Pecola liked Cholly's advances the second time, which angers her. They switch back to discussing Pecola's eyes. She fears someone else might have bluer eyes and requests her friend to compare. She wonders whether her eyes are "blue enough," without specifying for what. Her friend dismisses her and takes a momentary leave. The narrative is taken over by Claudia, who portrays Pecola's deteriorating mental state. Pecola is seen in the streets, flailing her arms as if to fly. Claudia and Frieda blame themselves for the unsuccessful growth of their flowers and the premature stillbirth of Pecola's baby. After Cholly's death in a workhouse, Pecola and her mother relocate to a house on the outskirts. Claudia expresses her belief that the town has dumped its rubbish onto Pecola, tarnishing her beauty. For the townsfolk, Pecola's unattractiveness makes them feel superior. Claudia admits to using Pecola as a scapegoat. She feels that both the Maginot Line and Cholly loved Pecola, but ultimately, love is as good as the lover, so Cholly's love resulted in Pecola's ruin. She concludes that it's futile to entirely blame the town's hostile environment. In Claudia's final words, "it's much, much, much too late." The love of a free man is unpredictable. Wicked, violent, weak, or foolish people love in their own way.

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