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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
SPRING - CHAPTER 11
This chapter opens with the portion of the Dick and Jane primer which describes the dog playing with Jane.
A man lived in the community who loved old things that had been used by people. He hated contact with people and had always done so. During his education, he learned he was a misanthrope. He began to develop the practice of helping others in order to feel noble. When he saw flawed human nature, he came to regard himself as discriminating. He went into social work as a caseworker. After some misfortunes, he came to be a "Reader, Adviser, and Interpreter of Dreams." Before he was a caseworker, he lived in a monastery of the Anglican Church. Living alone was appropriate to his personality.
He was fond of things that were worn and used. "The residue of the human spirit" was what he loved of these used objects. He habitually examined the contents of trash barrels in alleys. He kept to himself except for his rare sexual cravings. He might have been a homosexual, but was impotent and lacked the courage to act. "He abhorred flesh on flesh." He couldn’t stand the idea of men or women, but he was moved by young girls.
He was West Indian. He was called Soaphead Church, though he had forgotten where he came by the name. He had been raised in a family of academics. The family as it came down to him was begun when Sir Whitcomb, a British nobleman, had an affair with a black woman in the early 1800s who conceived a child. Whitcomb gave the mother of the child three hundred pounds sterling and from then on the people in the family valued light skin. The bastard child married a girl of similar parentage. She did all she could to separate herself from her African ancestry. They had six children and sixteen grandchildren. They all married people with light skin and European features.
The people in this family did well at school. They studied abroad and returned home to lead corrupt lives. As the years passed, the whiteness of the family lessened. Some people in the family intermarried and produced eccentrics and fanatics. One religious fanatic married a half-Chinese woman who bore a son named Elihue Micah Whitcomb and then died. Little Elihue learned self- deception. He read a great deal, but "understood selectively." At seventeen, he met a woman three years older than he named Velma, who, unlike Elihue, had a zest for life. She married him and, when she realized he was determined to remain melancholy, she left him promptly.
Elihue never got over her desertion. His father helped him get back to his studies and Elihue studied even more vigorously. He came to the United States where he studied psychiatry, then sociology, then physical therapy. His father cut him off financially, and he drifted from job to job. He settled in Lorain, Ohio in 1931 calling himself a minister. The women realized he was celibate and decided that it meant he was supernatural. He accepted this idea and took up the name and the role they gave him. He rented a back-room apartment from a religious woman named Bertha Reese. She had an old dog named Bob, who was dying very slowly. Soaphead hated the dog intensely. He wished for the dog’s death, but couldn’t bring himself to kill it.
Soaphead counseled people who came to his door. He had very rare encounters with little girls. Soaphead had decided that God had made a mistake in making evil. God had designed an imperfect universe. There was no real neatness in the world. One afternoon, Soaphead was reflecting on these thoughts when Pecola Breedlove came to his door. She held out his card and asked him for blue eyes. Soaphead regarded this as "the most fantastic and the most logical petition he had ever received." He saw her as an ugly little girl who wanted beauty. He made the sign of the cross over her and told her he could do nothing for her because he only worked through God. He told her that if God wanted her wish to come true, He would grant it.
Soaphead walked to the window wondering what he could do with her. He looked out and saw Bob, the dog, sleeping on the porch. He told Pecola she should make an offering of "some simple creature." He gave her a packet of poison sprinkled over meat and told her to feed it to the dog. Pecola left and gave the meat to the dog. Soaphead watched her from the window. She pet the dog on the head, but after it ate the meat, it choked and then died. Pecola cried out and ran away.
Soaphead sat down and wrote a letter to God, telling Him of His mistakes in overlooking Pecola. He wrote to God about the breasts of little girls. He described what he did with the girls when he molested them. He reminded God that He had forgotten about the children. He told God he has changed Pecola’s eyes for her, acting in God’s place. He added that only Pecola would be able to see her blue eyes and that she would "live happily ever after."
Soaphead folded the paper he had written, then looked in his box of most precious things. He got so carried away looking in the box that he forgot what he was looking for. He went to bed and fell asleep so he did not hear when the old lady came out of her candy store and saw the carcass of her dog Bob.
In this chapter, Morrison introduces a new character who has only made a brief appearance at the store where Claudia and Frieda go to buy chips and candy early in the book. It is Soaphead Church, child molester who lives behind a candy store and poses as a spiritualist. Soaphead’s main function in the novel is to give Pecola the final push toward insanity. He accepts her request for blue eyes as logical and right and arranges a bizarre and cruel ceremony he calls a sacrifice which he tells her will give her blue eyes.
The depiction of Soaphead Church is bizarre and unfortunate. Morrison places in him all the degradation caused by internalized racism, in which lighter skin is regarded as superior and carrying sophistication in manners and morals. Unfortunately, she also mixes up homosexuality with child molestation, a common stereotype of homosexual men. In fact, the great majority of child molesters are heterosexual not homosexual. Her stereotype is clearly unthought out because as soon as Morrison hints that Soaphead had homosexual predilections, she says he was not interested in men at all and could not get an erection. It seems that Morrison has simply placed in Soaphead all the negative images of sexuality available to her.