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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
AUTUMN - CHAPTER 5
This chapter, like most in the novel, begins with a short, non- punctuated, excerpt from the Dick and Jane primer. This one lists the family members, describes their house, and is cut short before the word "happy."
The Breedloves live in the storefront not as a temporary measure, but because they believe they are ugly. They poverty was not unique to them. It was "traditional and stultifying." The ugliness was unique to the Breedloves. Except for Cholly, whose ugliness resulted from behavior, "despair, dissipation, and violence directed toward petty things and weak people," the other members of the family put their ugliness on even though it did not belong to them. When people looked at them to see what their ugliness came from, they realized it came from their own conviction that they were ugly. It was as if some powerful master had given them a cloak of ugliness and they had taken it on without question. All the images of their culture reinforced the message. Mrs. Breedlove used her ugliness in her role as martyr. Sammy used his to hurt other people. Pecola hid behind hers as if it were a mask.
One Saturday morning in October, the family begins to awake. Mrs. Breedlove rises and goes to the kitchen. The bones in her good foot creak and her twisted foot slides over the linoleum. As she moves about in the kitchen, she makes noises with a threat to them. Pecola stirs and sees that the furnace is unlit. Cholly awakes and goes back to sleep. Pecola can smell his whiskey breath. The noises from the kitchen get louder. Pecola becomes afraid of what she knows is imminent. Cholly had come home drunk, too drunk to fight, so the fight would take place this morning. It would be "calculated, uninspired, and deadly."
Mrs. Breedlove comes in the room and tell Cholly she needs coal in the house. She stands over him yelling at him about having to make breakfast in a cold house, about his not bringing in any money, about her refusal to get coal herself, and about his drunkenness. He answers her with silence and indifference, with a note of violence. Sammy pretends to be asleep and Pecola clenches her stomach muscles. When Cholly gets drunk, her parents always get into a fight. These fights punctuate Mrs. Breedloveís life with meaning and give her an identity. She considers herself a good Christian woman burdened by a worthless husband as punishment from God. She often speaks to Jesus about Chollyís sins. Once, during a fight, Cholly fell on the stove, and she yelled out for Jesus to take him. Mrs. Breedlove needs Chollyís sins for her sense of self.
Cholly also needs her. "She was one of the few things abhorrent to him that he could touch and therefore hurt." If he hated her, he could keep his own identity free. When Cholly was a boy, he had been intruded upon by two white men while he was fooling around sexually for the first time with a girl. The men shone their flashlight on his bottom and laughed. They ordered him to go on. They called him a "nigger" and told him to "make it good." He had not hated the men; he had directed his hatred toward the girl.
Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove fought silently and brutally, though they had somehow tacitly agreed not to kill each other. Sammy reacted to the fights by cursing and leaving or joining in. By fourteen years old, he had left home twenty-seven times. Pecola "experimented with methods of endurance. She either wished one would kill the other or that she would die. She called out to her mother, "Donít, Mrs. Breedlove. Donít."
That morning Mrs. Breedlove had threatened that if she sneezed, she would get Cholly out of the bed. When she did, she ran into the bedroom with a pan of cold water and threw it in Chollyís face. He jumped out of bed and tackled her. She hit him with the dishpan and he hit her in the face. At one point she ducked and he hit the metal frame of the bed hard. Mrs. Breedlove got outside his reach. Sammy began to hit his father in the head calling him a "naked fuck." Mrs. Breedlove picked up the dishpan and hit Cholly two blows to the head, knocking him unconscious. Sammy screamed, "Kill him! Kill him!" Mrs. Breedlove looked at him with surprise and then told him to get up and get some coal.
Pecola begins to breathe easy, but kept her head covered with the quilt. She has an urge to vomit. She prays to God to make her disappear. She squeezes her eyes shut and imagined parts of her body disappearing. She can get every part of her body to disappear but her eyes. This failure makes her despair since her eyes "were everything and everything was there, in them." She thought about running away, but she knew it wouldnít work anyway as long as she was ugly. She would sit for hours looking at her reflection in the mirror wondering what made her so ugly, an ugliness that made teachers and classmates at school ignore or despise her. She alone in her school sat alone at a double desk. Her teachers always avoided looking at her. When children wanted to upset each other, they said the other liked Pecola.
Pecola had realized that if her eyes were different, she would be different. She studied her other features and found them to be fine. She thought if she was different, maybe Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove would be, too. She thought up a rhyme about pretty blue eyes. Every night for a year she prayed for blue eyes. She didnít give up hope because she thought a miracle took a long time.
Pecola walks down Garden Avenue to a grocery store. She has three pennies in her shoe. She notices the familiar and loved images of her world, especially dandelions. She wonders why people donít like them. Some people take their leaves for making soup and wine, but no one wants the head of a dandelion. She also notices the sidewalk. She liked the old sidewalk better than the new one. These "were the codes and touchstones of the world." She owned all the parts, the crack in the sidewalk that made her stumble, the dandelions whose white heads she had blown away with her breath, the yellow heads she had peered into, all were a part of her.
She steps into Yacobowskiís Fresh Veg. Meat and Sundries Store and looks at the candy behind the counter. She decides she wants all Mary Janes. Mr. Yacobowski looks over the counter at her. He has blue eyes. At some point in his looking at her, he realizes he need not "waste the effort of a glance." He cannot see her, a black little girl. She looks up at him and sees "the total absence of human recognition--the glazed separateness." She has seen this look in the eyes of all white people. Sometimes it moves to interest, disgust, or anger, but this indifference is at "the bottom lid of distaste." Everything inside Pecola is in flux, but her blackness is "static and dread." She points at the Mary Janes, but he cannot see her point of view and becomes impatient looking for what she wants. Finally he gives her three of the candies. He hesitates to take her money, not wanting to touch her hand.
When she gets outside the store, Pecola feels the shame fall away. She sees dandelions and feels affection for them. She realizes they are ugly weeds like people have said. She trips on the sidewalk crack and feels anger. It swallows up her shame. Anger is better than shame because it leaves her a sense of being and an awareness of worth. She thinks back on Mr. Yacobowski and her anger dissipates, leaving her with shame. Before she cries, she remembers the Mary Janes. Each wrapper has a picture of a smiling white girl with blond hair and blue eyes. To eat the candy is to eat the eyes, to eat Mary Jane, and somehow to become Mary Jane.
Three prostitutes lived in the apartment above the Breedloves, China, Poland, and Miss Marie. Pecola loved them and ran errands for them. They did not despise her. When Pecola enters, she hears Poland singing the blues about sleeping alone. Marie calls her dumpliní and asks her where her socks are. Marie always called her the names of things she loved to eat. Pecola greeted each woman and then answered that she couldnít find her socks. China chuckles and says something in her house must love socks, the same explanation she has for anything that gets lost. Poland and China were getting ready for their evening. Pecola starts a conversation with Marie because once started she doesnít stop talking.
Pecola asks Marie why she has so many boyfriends. Marie says she hasnít seen a boy since 1927 because after that year, everyone started being born old. China starts ribbing her about being old herself. Then they joke about the relative virtues of being fat or skinny. Pecola questions her again about why so many men love her. Miss Marie says they canít do anything else since they know how rich she is. Pecola asks where she got the money and Marie launches into a story about working for the F.B. and I. in search of a man named Johnny. During her story she gets stuck in describing a meal. At one point Marie exclaims, "Jesus and ninety nine." Pecola asks her why she says that and Marie answers that her mother taught her not to curse. China wants to know if her mother taught her not to drop her drawers and Marie says she never knew underwear existed until she was fifteen years old and worked for a white woman. The woman had given her some and she had put them on her head thinking they were a stocking cap.
This moves her to mention Dewey, a man she has never told Pecola about. She says she and Dewey ran away and lived together for three years when she was fourteen. When she exclaims over how much Dewey loved her, China wants to know why he let her "sell tail." Marie says she was totally shocked when she found out she could sell it. Poland tells of her first time finding out about prostitution. Her aunt had whipped her for not getting money. All the women laugh at their "long-ago time of ignorance." These women were nothing like the images of prostitutes in the movies and novels. They didnít long for their lost innocence and they didnít feel like fallen women. They hated men indiscriminately and cheated them whenever they could. They also hated women, whom they called "sugar-coated whores." They only respected "good Christian colored women." They were not the least concerned to protect the innocence of Pecola.
Pecola asks Marie if she and Dewey had any children. Marie says yes and then picks up a toothpick and becomes silent, a sign that she didnít want to talk anymore. Pecola goes to the window and wonders what love felt like. She remembers hearing Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove having sex. He made sounds as if he were in pain. More terrible was that Mrs. Breedlove made no noise at all, "as if she was not even there." Pecola wonders if love is "choking sounds and silence."
Pecola turns from the window and looks at the women. China is doing and re-doing her hair and make-up. Poland is singing another blues song about a boy who is soft-brown. Marie peels pecans and eats them. Pecola wonders if they are real.
In chapter five, Morrison provides the reader with a description of Pecolaís life at home. It is centered around the domestic violence of her parents and Pecolaís pinched and fearful response. Pecolaís primary response to her unbearable life is to wish for a different one. With a childís logic she imagines that if she werenít so ugly, she would be loved and cared for. With a childís clear-thinking, she sees that white little girls are prized above all, and blue-eyed girls were best among these. Pecola sees these messages all around her. Even her candy is named after a blue-eyed white girl.
After showing Pecolaís home life in action, Morrison takes Pecola out into the world on a walk to the store. The racialized gaze of Mr. Yacobowski reiterates what Pecola sees every time she is looked at by a white person. She is invisible, beneath contempt or notice. Her paralyzed response--the inability to voice her desire-- reinforces his contempt for her. The exchange produces shame in Pecola, released only momentarily by anger. The narrator notes that anger is better. It implies a self-righteousness, a sense of integrity that has been wrongly wounded. Pecola has so little sense of self-worth, however, that her anger quickly turns back to shame, an overwhelming, self-blaming, self-hating emotion. Pecola suffers from three-fold harm by her society as an African- American in a country based historically on racism, as a female in a patriarchal society, and as a child in a time when children are invisible if not scorned. She has taken in all these messages and believes them to be true.
The lightness of this chapter comes with the ways in which the three prostitutes, China, Poland, and Miss Marie cope with their own position as African-American women in this society. They tell stories, they sing the blues--a musical form which saturates this novel--and they joke with each other. They have managed, it seems, not to take in the voices of society which claim a single morality for all social and economic levels. They are unashamed of their method of making a living and they treat Pecola better than any child is treated in the novel.