Claudia recalls spring, and her memories sting, for whenever she was punished that spring, she was always whipped with fresh forsythia twigs that bent but never broke. Spring is a season often associated with sexuality, and Claudia remembers she and her sister being introduced ever more dramatically to the disturbing and deceptive world of adult sexuality. In an earlier episode, Mr. Henry, whom the girls trusted and adored, deceived them when he entertained prostitutes in their house. Now he touches Frieda's budding breasts, and Mr. MacTeer tries to kill him because Frieda might be "ruined," an adult term used to describe a girl or woman who has lost her virginity. The word is confusing to the girls; Mrs. MacTeer has used it to describe the prostitutes, and Claudia has mistakenly assumed it means "fat."
Seeking liquor, which the girls mistakenly believe will "eat up" fat, they go looking for Pecola, reasoning, "Her father's always drunk. She can get us some." They find her, far away on Lake Shore Park, where her mother, Pauline, works for a white family named Fisher. There, they witness Pauline unleashing a lifelong fury of hatred upon her daughter after Pecola accidentally drops a pan containing blueberry cobbler, burning her little legs severely. The girls are troubled when Pauline, who is bitter and rough with her own daughter, is loving and comforting with the Fishers' daughter. They know it is Pauline's own child who needs comforting most. In this scene, note that whereas Pecola calls her mother "Mrs. Breedlove," the little Fisher girl, assuming a superior attitude toward an adult servant of the family, condescendingly calls Pecola's mother "Polly."