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Society and Class
It never occurred to either of us that the earth itself might have been unyielding. We had dropped our seeds in our own little plot of black dirt just as Pecola's father had dropped his seeds in his own plot of black dirt. Our innocence and faith were no more productive than his lust or despair. (from second Prologue)
This raises the question of who is to blame with regard to Pecola's fate.
There is a difference between being put out and being put outdoors. If you are put out, you go somewhere else; if you are outdoors, there is no place to go. The distinction was subtle but final....Knowing that there was such a thing as outdoors bred in us a hunger for property, for ownership. (1.1.19)
This passage illuminates a central difference between the MacTeers and the Breedloves. The MacTeers are striving, and since they have never owned property, it is a symbol of economic and racial independence for them. The Breedloves, in contrast, are constantly on the verge of losing and/or destroying their home.
Outdoors, we knew, was the real terror of life. The threat of being outdoors surfaced frequently in those days. Every possibility of excess was curtailed with it. (1.1.28)
Homelessness is an ever-present reality for working-class blacks in Lorain.
The Breedloves did not live in a storefront because they were having temporary difficulty adjusting to the cutbacks at the plant. They lived there because they were poor and black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly. (1.2.1)
Morrison continually stresses that the Breedloves' poverty is not just temporary. Here she highlights that it is multidimensional: not only their race but their self-hatred and psychological issues keep them down.
This disrupter of seasons was a new girl in school named Maureen Peal. A high-yellow dream child with long brown hair braided into two lynch ropes that hung down her back. She was rich, at least by our standards, as rich as the richest of white girls, swaddled in comfort and care. The quality of her clothes threatened to derange Frieda and me. (2.4.3)
Maureen's skin color and class status are both deemed oppressive to other blacks here. Her hair is described as "two lynch ropes," presenting a loaded image of racial oppression. The passage suggests that the success of Maureen's family goes hand-in-hand with the oppression of poorer, darker-skinned families.
We saw her sometimes. Frieda and I – after the baby came too soon and died. After the gossip and slow wagging of heads. She was so sad to see. Grown people looked away; children, those who were not frightened by her, laughed outright. (4.11.2)
The town reacts to Pecola's madness by ignoring her, expressing shame and sadness.
The birdlike gestures are worn away to a mere picking and plucking her way between the tire rims and the sunflowers, between Coke bottles and milkweed, among all the waste and beauty of the world – which is what she herself was. All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. (4.11.5)
The constant use of the word "us" here implicates the whole town in Pecola's madness.
She, however, stepped over into madness, a madness which protected her from us simply because it bored us in the end. (4.11.7)
Claudia admits to being bored with Pecola's madness and feels somewhat guilty about this.
Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. (4.11.7)
The passage seems to suggest that the town blames Pecola for her rape because they cannot come to grips with the senselessness of it all. It is almost too scary, too difficult, to think about how random and unfortunate Pecola's fate is.
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