Summary and Analysis
Autumn: Section 3
The excerpt from the first-grade primer talks about Mother and Father, Dick and Jane; the happy white family living in their green and white house. The narrator then introduces the Breedlove family — poor, black, unhappy, and convinced of their ugliness. Father Cholly, a habitual drunk, and Mother Pauline are locked into a violent marriage, while the children, Pecola and Sammy, daily brace themselves to endure their parents' fighting. In this dark world, Pecola prays fervently for blue eyes, believing that if she were pretty and had blue eyes, ugly things wouldn't happen. However, what Pecola doesn't realize is that there are two kinds of ugliness here — real and imagined. The real ugliness of one character's words and deeds is juxtaposed to another character's imagined ugliness; for example, Maureen's behavior toward Pecola, Claudia, and Frieda could truly be described as "ugly"; on the other hand, Pecola no doubt imagines herself far more uglier than she actually is.
Pecola imagines that she is ugly because of the actions and remarks of people like Mr. Yacobowski, who owns the neighborhood candy store. His unwillingness to touch Pecola's hand is reminiscent of the black dirt metaphor used earlier to describe her. The tension between the two people is taut. Pecola's palms perspire, and for the first time she is aware that she and her body are repulsive to another human being. Morrison emphasizes that the storekeeper does not touch her. Only his nails graze her damp palm, like disembodied claws scratching symbolically at the soft underbelly of a vulnerable target — a little girl's outstretched palm. Once outside the store, utterly convinced of her ugliness, Pecola insatiably consumes Mary Jane candies, staring at the perfect and pretty, blond, blue-eyed girl on the pale wrapper.
Not only Pecola but everyone in the Breedlove family imagines that they are ugly because they are black; they have accepted the slave master's dictum: "You are ugly people." Everything they are familiar with confirms it. Morrison's description has biblical overtones: "And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it as a mantle over them, and went about the world with it."
All of the Breedloves cope with their "ugliness" differently. Cholly and Sammy act ugly, while Pauline escapes into the fantasy world of the movies and her white employer's household. Pecola dreams of blue eyes, a gift that she thinks will suddenly transform her into a thing of beauty; to comfort herself, she snuggles in the warmth of memories and music of the three prostitutes. The phrases "Morning-glory-blue-eyes" and "Alice-and-Jerry-blue-storybook-eyes" comfort her. Later, she will descend into madness in order to rid herself of the ugliness she feels is indelible, and she will embrace a new, imaginary, blue-eyed beautiful self.
eating bread and butter Butter was a treat not often enjoyed by the poor.
Black Draught a liquid, over-the-counter laxative; sometimes it is used to combat colds.
Vick's salve a widely used medication to treat colds; sometimes it is taken internally, although directions on the jar warn against doing so.
take holt a dialectic pronunciation of "take hold of."
Alaga syrup a brand of cough syrup popular in black communities, especially in the South.
our roomer People sometimes rent rooms within their houses (or even apartments) in order to supplement their incomes.
Mason jars glass jars used for canning homegrown fruits and vegetables.
Nu Nile Hair Oil a hair product used by black men.
Sen-Sen a breath freshener made of aromatic dried particles.
Greta Garbo This Swedish-American actress (1905–1990) began her career in silent films and successfully switched to "talkies" in the 1930s. Her most famous films include Mata Hari, Anna Karenina, and Ninotchka.
Ginger Rogers Best known for the movie musicals she made as Fred Astaire's dance partner, Rogers (1911–1995) received a 1940 Academy Award for best actress for her role in Kitty Foyle.
Shirley Temple Adored by everyone, Shirley Temple, with her hallmark dimples, corkscrew golden curls, and twinkling blue eyes, was the highest-paid child actress of the 1930s and early 1940s.
Jane Withers A 1930s-40s tomboy actress with dark eyes and dark hair, she was the antithesis of the Shirley Temple icon.
Big Mama and Big Papa Claudia and Frieda's grandmother and grandfather.
Henry Ford a car manufacturer; one of America's richest men during the 1940s.
CCC camps the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal jobs program during the 1930s and '40s.
Ministratin' a youthful mispronunciation of "menstruating."
Lucky Strike a brand of cigarettes.
Chittlin' here, a nickname; chitterlings, the small intestines of pigs, are a soul food staple-battered, deep-fat fried, and served with lots of catsup, along with corn sticks and cooked greens.