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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
Lorain, Ohio, Morrison’s home town. It is specifically set around Broadway Twenty-First and Thirty-Fifth Streets. The time is 1939-1941. Past time occurs in Alabama and Georgia.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
Protagonist of the novel, an 11 year old girl who is raped by her father and becomes pregnant as a result. Pecola gets the idea that if she can change her eyes from brown to blue, she will solve all her problems.
The narrator of the novel. She is 9 years old, almost the same age as Pecola during the action of the novel. The narration, however, occurs when Claudia is an adult, remembering back on her childhood.
Claudia’s 10 year old sister, who does everything with her and is kind to her when her mother is gruff.
Claudia’s mother, an overworked, very poor woman, who has little time for tender care of her daughters, but who does manage to fulfill her duties as a mother, providing shelter, food, and the amount of sick care for which she has the energy. Her dominant parental tool is to shame her daughters for being so much trouble.
Pauline "Polly" Williams Breedlove, Pecola’s mother, who moved to Lorain, Ohio from Kentucky, but was born in Alabama. She works as a housekeeper for the Fisher family and gets all her pleasure and all her self-esteem out of that work. She belongs to a respectable church and thinks of her husband as the cross she has to bear in life.
Pecola’s father, who was abandoned before he was born by his father and as an infant by his mother. He was raised by his great Aunt Jimmy who dies when he is fourteen years old. During his first sexual experience, occurring during his aunt’s funeral banquet, he is violated by two white men who force him to perform sex in front of them. He wanders until he meets and marries Pauline Williams and has two children with her. He becomes an alcoholic and an abuser of his wife. When his daughter is eleven years old, he rapes her, then he abandons the family.
An Italian American girl who lives next to Claudia and Frieda above her father’s cafe. Her family has more money than Claudia and Frieda’s and she calls their attention to her abundance of food from her father’s car. The girls beat her up.
A boarder at Claudia and Frieda’s house for five dollars every two weeks. A bachelor, Mr. Henry is a dandy, very concerned with his looks, he is run off by Mr. MacTeer when he attempts to sexually molest Frieda.
Miss Della Jones
An elderly woman from whom Mr. Henry rented a room before moving to Claudia and Frieda’s house to be a roomer. She was said to be addled and unable to maintain a house. Her husband left her to go live with Peggy because he said Miss Della used too much violet water and he wanted a woman to smell like a woman. After he left, Miss Della had several strokes.
Sister of Miss Della Jones, who is called "grinning Hattie," and is said not to be quite right.
Miss Della Jones’s aunt. She walks up and down Sixteenth Street talking to herself. The County would not take her in because she was not harming anyone.
Pecola’s fourteen year old brother.
Owner of Yacobowski’s Fresh Veg. Meat and Sundries Store, from whom Pecola buys Mary Jane candies.
A prostitute who lives in an apartment above the Breedloves. She spends much time creating new hairstyles and make-up styles.
Also called Maginot Line, a prostitute who lives in an apartment above the Breedloves. She tells Pecola long stories that get stuck when she narrates a good dinner. The church women especially scorn her. She was said to have "killed people, set them on fire, poisoned them, cooked them in lye."
A prostitute who lives in an apartment above the Breedloves. She sings the blues.
A "high-yellow dream child." She is from a moneyed family and has the light skin admired by other African Americans.
Woodrow Cain, Buddy Wilson, Junie Bug, four school boys who taunt Pecola Breedlove with the insult "black e mo."
Miss Bertha Reese
Proprietor of a small store that stocks candy, snuff, and tobacco, owner of a decrepit old dog named Bob, and landlady to Soaphead Church.
A woman who moved from Mobile, Meridian, or Aiken. A respectable African-American woman trained to avoid all manner of funkiness. She loves her cat more than anyone else. She calls Pecola Breedlove a black bitch.
Geraldine’s son, who knows his mother loves her cat more than she loves him and reacts to this fact by torturing her cat when she is away and by bullying other children who want to play on the playground. He lures Pecola into his house and then hurts her by throwing the cat on her.
A boy in Louis Junior’s school whom he admires along with Bay Boy, and then comes to believe is not as good as he is.
A boy two years younger than Louis Junior with whom he plays but who doesn’t want to do anything.
Ada and Fowler Williams
Pauline Williams Breedlove’s parents.
The white family for whom Pauline Williams works. Among them is a yellow-haired little girl much admired by Pauline.
Cholly Breedlove’s great aunt who rescued him when he was nine days old from abandonment by his mother and then raised him until she died.
Aunt Jimmy’s dead brother, after whom Cholly was named.
Cholly Breedlove’s probable father.
The drayman who worked for Tyson’s Feed and Grain Store, a nice old man who filled the place of father for Cholly Breedlove. He told him "old-timey stories" about the time of the Emancipation, ghost stories about white people, and tales of his sexual prowess with women. He is an alcoholic who is not available when Cholly most needs him.
Aunt Jimmy’s closest friend, who reads the Bible to her when she gets sick.
A healer woman who comes to diagnose Aunt Jimmy. She is six feet tall and she works with a cane.
One of Aunt Jimmy’s friends.
One of Aunt Jimmy’s friends who brings her the peach cobbler that is said to have killed her.
Aunt Jimmy’s brother, who comes to the funeral and helps make arrangements. Cholly is expected to live with O.V. and his family, but instead, he runs away.
Cholly’s fifteen year old cousin who attends the funeral of his Aunt Jimmy.
The girl who walks with Jake.
The girl who walks with Cholly and with whom he experiences his first sexual encounter. It is with Darlene that Cholly is interrupted by white hunters and forced to perform sex for the hunters’ perverse pleasures.
Church, Elihue Micah Whitcomb, a man about the neighborhood of whom Claudia is afraid. He poses as a spiritualist in his present life. He is a misanthropist, a person who hates people, and he is a child molester, a man who sexually desires little girls. He acts out his sexual impulses on little girls whom he bribes with candy. He is the man who makes Pecola Breedlove believe that she can have blue eyes.
A British nobleman who in the early 1800s had a sexual affair with a woman of African descent and began the family that would culminate in Soaphead Church.
A woman who was briefly married to Soaphead Church in his youth. She left him when she realized his intense antipathy toward life.