Summary and Analysis
Section 1 - My daddy's face is a study.
The chapter begins with Claudia's homage to her father, describing him with winter metaphors and similes. His steely, intimidating eyes become a "cliff of snow threatening to avalanche," and "his eyebrows bend like black limbs of leafless trees." Mr. MacTeer is a stark contrast to the previous chapter's description of Cholly Breedlove. MacTeer is a no-nonsense, hard-working man who, like his wife, shows his love for his family more through his deeds than through his words. He works night and day to keep the family safe and financially secure.
In addition to Mr. MacTeer, this section introduces Maureen Peal, a light-skinned black girl who seems to personify enviable white qualities. Maureen is lauded by teachers; Pecola is ignored. Like Jane in the primer, Maureen, the "high-yellow dream child with sloe green eyes," is considered pretty and perfect; in contrast, Pecola is black, flawed, and ugly. Most of Maureen's black schoolmates are blindly enslaved by Maureen's "whiteness"; we know this because of Morrison's description of how Maureen's brown hair is styled: It looks like "two lynch ropes [hanging] down her back." In other words, to worship blindly that which is white is to put your head in a noose.
These black children have been so thoroughly taught to revere whatever is white, or even white-ish, that they are blindly in awe of a black girl who is not even white. She is only "high yellow." Maureen's eyes are not round, blue Anglo eyes; they are described as "sloe," meaning very dark and slanted. In Maureen's case, hers are dark green — certainly not blue. Moreover, Maureen has a "dog tooth," a pointed tooth on the side of the upper jaw, near the front, that has been pushed forward by the teeth on either side growing behind it and toward one another until the dogtooth is prominent, fang-like. In short, Maureen is not really pretty because she has yellowish skin, dark and slanted green eyes, and a fang-like tooth exposed when she smiles. However, being much lighter than all the other black children, she is prized and envied by most of them.
Claudia and her older sister, Frieda, do not adulate Maureen. Claudia relates to her in much the same way that she related to a white baby doll that was given to her one Christmas. At first, she tries to rob Maureen of her power by dismembering her name and calling her "Meringue Pie." Maureen screams at them, "I am cute! And you ugly!" and Claudia and Frieda are momentarily stunned before retaliating with a full arsenal of insults.
The black boys who torment Pecola do so because of their lack of self-worth. They see their own blackness and their own ugliness in Pecola. Because they have been successfully brainwashed by ubiquitous and subtle pro-white propaganda to despise all that is black, they set upon Pecola as if they were trying to exorcise their own blackness.
References to the icons of Hollywood's white standards of beauty abound: Betty Grable's appearing at the Dreamland Theater is mentioned, and Hedy Lamarr's name is casually thrown into a conversation when Maureen insults black females who would dare to request a hairstyle like Hedy Lamarr's when they know they'll never have hair like that. Mr. Henry uses the names of Ginger Rogers and Greta Garbo as pet names for Claudia and Frieda, as if being called by the names of these famous white beauties would be perceived as a great compliment.
In addition to the all-pervasive white notion of what constitutes beauty, we hear about adult deception in this chapter. Both Claudia and Frieda are disappointed in Mr. Henry when he demonstrates that adults lie to children. First, he tricks them into leaving the house by giving them money for candy. Upon their unexpected and hasty return, he lies about his female guests, telling the children that the prostitutes are really members of his Bible reading class. The girls must then pretend that they believe Mr. Henry's absurd explanation. We see that children are far more perceptive than adults believe them to be.