The Bluest Eye Autumn: Nuns go by as quiet...
Nuns go by as quiet as lust, and drunken men and sober eyes sing in the lobby of the Greek hotel.
Claudia MacTeer talks about her life and her surrounding environment in the fall of 1940. She and her sister, Frieda, live next door to Rosemary Villanucci. Rosemary is white and Claudia and her sister are black. They want what Rosemary's white privilege gives her: good food, arrogance, and ownership.
"We stare at her, wanting her bread, but more than that wanting to poke the arrogance out of her eyes and smash the pride of ownership that curls her chewing mouth." pg. 9
Claudia and Frieda live in an old, one-room, run-down green house. As children, they are to be seen and not heard. If Claudia becomes ill, she is told it is her fault and that she should have been more considerate because now, she cannot help around the house with the work that needs to be done. People, including Claudia's own mother, Mrs. MacTeer, are very cold, and Claudia resents this. She sobs at her mother's anger towards her becoming sick. However, despite her mother's anger, Claudia knows that her mother desperately and selflessly loves her.
During that fall, a man named Mr. Henry Washington moves in with the MacTeers. He previously lived with Della Jones, who was left by her husband. Della's husband apparently ran off with a woman named Peggy, Old Slack Bessie's daughter. Della also had a sister, Hattie, and an Aunt Julia that were thought to be crazy. Claudia and Frieda eavesdrop on conversations about people while they clean the dishes. This is how Claudia came to know all of this gossip.
Mr. Henry arrives and amuses the children by giving them a penny and telling them they look like Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers. The girls are pleased with the attention he pays to them. Claudia even notes that they felt so strongly for him that they in fact loved him: "We loved him. Even after what came later, there was no bitterness in our memory of him." pg. 16
Claudia's mom tells her and Frieda that a young girl, named Pecola, is coming to stay with them in their house for a while. The county placed Pecola in the MacTeer house until they can find a permanent home for her. Pecola's drunkard father burnt down Pecola's house and everyone was put outdoors. Claudia thinks that being put outdoors is the worst condition that could happen to a person, and so she feels bad for Pecola. Pecola's father is in jail, her mother, Pauline Breedlove is living with the people she works for, and Pecola's brother, Sammy is living with some other family. When Pecola arrives, Claudia and Frieda are thrilled to have a playmate. They treat Pecola as a guest in their house.
Frieda brings Pecola a cup of milk. The cup has Shirley Temple on it. Claudia goes into a discourse about how she hates Shirley Temple. She tells the story of her childhood when she received a blue-eyed white-faced doll for Christmas. Instead of adoring the doll, like most other children would do having received such a lovely gift, Claudia hated the doll.
"Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window sign - 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.'" pp. 20-21
Claudia destroyed the doll by dismembering it. She knew that this was violent and that there was something inherently wrong with behaving in such a way, but she could not help herself. She hated white baby dolls and she felt shame for feeling and behaving in such ways.
Mrs. MacTeer is upset over how much milk was drunk (three quarts). She yells at the girls without mentioning names. Pecola is the one to blame. She keeps drinking milk because she just wants a chance to admire Shirley Temple on the cup. The girls listen as Mrs. MacTeer goes on and on about how she is going to be in the poor house. Claudia says that eventually her mother will start to sing, and that is what she loves the most. She almost wishes for hard times, just so she can hear her mother sing about them. The girls are bored on this slow Saturday afternoon. They are sitting outside on the steps and cannot agree on anything to do. Pecola stands up and blood runs down her legs. Frieda says that it is Pecola's first menstrual period. Frieda tells Claudia to get some water to wash off the steps. Frieda gets napkin and pins it to Pecola's dress, only to be seen by Rosemary. Claudia grabs her nose and Rosemary screams to Mrs. MacTeer that the girls are doing something nasty. Mrs. MacTeer runs out of the house and hits Frieda. Just as she is about to hit Pecola, the bloody napkin falls out from under her dress. Claudia explains everything and Mrs. MacTeer feels badly about the whole thing. She takes Pecola into the bathroom to wash her off.
That night, the girls are lying in bed. Claudia and Frieda are jealous of Pecola's transformation into a woman. Pecola asks if having your period means that you can have a baby and Frieda says that someone has to love you first. Pecola asks how do you get someone to love you. Frieda is asleep and Claudia does not know the answer to that question.