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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
WINTER - CHAPTER 6
Claudia’s father’s face closes in the winter time. He works night and day and, at home, he is the one who guards the heater, instructing the girls on how to know which doors to open and close, how to rake, feed and bank the fire. He does not speak until spring. Everyone in the house is tightened by the cold of winter.
Winter was loosened from its "hateful knot" when a new girl came to the school, Maureen Peel, "a high-yellow dream child with long brown hair braided into two lynch ropes." She has green eyes and she enchants the entire school. Teachers are delighted with her, boys were not cruel to her, white girls were not unhappy when assigned work partners with her, and black girls moved aside for her. Only Frieda and Claudia hate her. They try to find things wrong with her. First they "ugly up her name," calling her Meringue Pie. Then, they discover she has a dog tooth and that she was born with an extra finger on each hand and still had little bumps where they were removed. They call her "Six-finger-dog- tooth-meringue-pie."
Maureen was assigned a locker next to Claudia’s. One day, she asked Claudia to walk home with her. It was a false spring day outside. As they got outside, they saw a group of boys circled around Pecola Breedlove, making fun of her. They called out, "Black e mo. Black e mo. Yadaddysleep nekked." They were acting out of their contempt for their own blackness, their self- hatred. Pecola was crying. Frieda suddenly threw her coat down and ran up to the circle and hit Woodrow Cain on the head with her books. Frieda took Pecola’s hand and led her away. Claudia taunted Bay Boy and he held up his fist as if he would hit her. Maureen came up and the boys dissipated, acting as though they had no time for girls.
As the girls walk away, Maureen puts her arm through Pecola’s and introduces herself. She asks if she got her name from a movie, "Imitation of Life." She describes its plot as featuring a mulatto girl who hates her black mother and then cries at her funeral. The girls come upon Isaley’s ice cream parlor. Maureen asks them if they want to get some ice cream. Claudia begins to like her a little and tries to decide what flavor she will get. At the door, however, Maureen makes it clear she is only buying for Pecola. Claudia and Frieda act as though they don’t want any. Maureen and Pecola emerge dripping scrumptious-looking ice cream.
Maureen tells them her uncle sued Isaley’s in Akron because he was falsely accused to disorderly conduct in the store. She adds that her family believes in suits. As they pass the theater, they see a poster of Betty Grable. Maureen and Pecola agree she is wonderful. Claudia thinks Hedy Lamarr is better and Maureen agrees. Maureen asks Pecola if she menstruates yet. She is proud to say she does too. She describes the operation of the uterus for giving the embryo blood when it is being formed. She tells Pecola the embryo gets blood through the "like line."
Then Maureen asks Pecola if she had ever seen a naked man. Pecola is very bothered by the question. She says no girl’s father would be naked in front of her because that would be dirty. Maureen pushes the question and Claudia comes in with "dog tooth." She is glad to have a chance to show her anger not only about the ice cream but also because she and Frieda had seen their father naked one night as he passed their room from the bathroom. Frieda joins in the fight against Maureen. Maureen tells them they are "Mammy made." They accuse each other of having seen their fathers naked. As the fight continues, Pecola "tucked her head in-- a funny, sad, helpless movement." Claudia swings at Maureen, but misses. She accuses Maureen of thinking she is cute. Maureen runs across the street and taunts them "I am cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly black e mos. I am cute!"
As she runs down the street, her green stockings look like dandelion stems that had somehow lost their heads. The girls yell out to her their made-up name for her "Six-finger-dog-tooth- meringue-pie." Pecola stands apart from them. "She seemed to fold into herself, like a pleated wing." Claudia is antagonized by her pain. She wants to "open her up, crisp her edges, ram a stick down that hunched and curving spine, force her to stand erect and spit the misery out on the streets."
Claudia and Frieda say good-bye to Pecola and head for home. As they walk home, they "sink under the wisdom, accuracy, and relevance of Maureen’s last words." They are still young enough to love themselves, so they cannot understand why people think Maureen is cute and they are not. When they arrive, they smell turnips cooking on the stove and call out for their mother. Mr. Henry comes down in his bathrobe and tells them their mother will be home later, but left instructions for them to turn down the turnips and eat graham crackers. In a while, he comes back down and gives them a quarter for going to get ice cream. Frieda, however, doesn’t want ice cream. She convinces Claudia to get candy at Miss Bertha’s store. They make their purchases and hurry home to sit under the lilac bushes on the side of the house. There, they do their "Candy Dance" so Rosemary will see and get jealous.
They hear laughter from within the house and look in the living room window. They see Mr. Henry with two women, China and Maginot Line. He’s licking China’s fingers.
the girls are shocked to see these women in their house, especially Maginot Line, who was talked about by all the church women as the worst sort of woman in the world. After the women leave, the girls go inside. Frieda asks Mr. Henry who the women are. He laughs an adult "getting-ready-to-lie laugh" and says they were over for a Bible study. He tells the girls not to tell their mother since she doesn’t like him to have visitors. The girls decide not to tell because they know it will cause their mother to fuss for a whole day.
Then they turn their attention to the turnips cooking. Since they hate turnips, they try to figure out if they should let them burn so they won’t eat them and get spanked or turn them down so they won’t get spanked but will have to eat them. They decide to let them half burn, so their parents will eat them, but they won’t have to. Claudia asks Frieda what she bribed Woodrow with to make him stop abusing Pecola. Frieda says she had found out he wet the bed. Claudia says, "Old nasty."
In this the first chapter of the winter section, Morrison shifts back to the point of view of her first person narrator. The view of the protagonist, Pecola, then, is given from the point of view of another child, but one who has a more stable home life and has not been taught so directly that she is ugly. Claudia and Frieda have yet to believe the lies of their society, lies which devalue them for their skin color, and highly prize light-skinned African Americans and white people. They respond to the internalized racism of their community in its treatment of the light-skinned Maureen Peel with plans to sabotage her perfection, reveal her faults.
Pecola standing in the playground surrounded by boys calling her ugly because of her skin color is an image that carries a great deal of weight with any reader who remembers witnessing or participating in the cruelty of children who learn who to hate from adults and act it out on each other. Pecola is helpless to stop the boys and, worse, she believes them.
When Maureen offers to buy ice cream for Pecola and acts as though she does not realize that Claudia and Frieda have no money of their own with which to buy ice cream, the reader witnesses what internalized racism does to those privileged with light skin color. Her condescension lasts only a brief while, until it grows boring, then she becomes hateful and brings up the same taunts the boys hurled at Pecola. With her, too, Pecola is helpless and does nothing to take up for herself. She has been taught disempowerment, that she has no power to oppose these taunts. The contrast between her response and that of Claudia and Frieda is stark.
Morrison also includes another encounter with adult illicit sexuality in this chapter. Mr. Henry bribes the girls with a quarter to get them out of the house. The sweetness of the candy, the abundance it brings them as contrasted to the deprivation they suffered by the lack of a single penny for ice cream only moments before, seems telling. Being virtuous leaves them with nothing while participating in vice gives them abundance. The chapter ends on the girls negotiating a way to reduce their misery--get a spanking or eat turnips--and finding a likely solution. This playing around the borders of following the rules seems akin to Mr. Henry’s mode of living.