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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
SPRING - CHAPTER 8
Claudia’s voice narrates this chapter. Her memories of spring are tinged with the painful memory of switches cut from the thin, green, and supple first twigs. Even today, she takes no pleasure in the sight of forsythia. Claudia had been sitting outside in an empty lot one Saturday lost in mediation. When she came to herself again, she got up and went into her house. She found it very quiet. She saw her mother acting strangely, cleaning with her hat still on, for instance. Claudia went upstairs to find Frieda crying pitifully, clearly coming down from heavy sobbing. Frieda told her finally that Mr. Henry had touched her sexually. She had gone out to the garden and told her parents. Her father and mother beat Mr. Henry up, her father even shooting at him as he ran away down the road.
Claudia wants to know how it felt. She feels left out to be the last one to experience everything. Frieda’s main worry is that she’s been ruined like Maginot Line. Claudia wants to cry thinking of Frieda so fat and heavy. She consoles her by telling her she could exercise and drink whiskey, their mother having told them that China and Poland were not fat because whiskey ate them up. They try to figure out where to get whiskey when it occurs to them to find Pecola since Pecola’s father drinks all the time.
When they get to Pecola’s they see Maginot Line sitting up on the balcony above. She is friendly to them and asks them up to wait for Pecola who has gone to her mother’s work. When Frieda tells her they are not allowed in her house, she throws a root beer bottle at them and it shatters at their feet. They run to escape and decide to walk the distance to where Pecola is. As they walk, the houses get better and better and the sky becomes bluer, being further from the smog of the factory.
Pecola is glad to see them. She tells them the woman they had talked to was named Miss Marie and that she was very nice. She says Miss Marie gives her nice gifts and tells her good stories. Mrs. Breedlove calls the girls inside. Claudia is amazed at how good Mrs. Breedlove looks in the sparkling clean interior of the kitchen. Mrs. Breedlove tells the girls to stand "stock still" while she goes downstairs to get the laundry. When she’s gone, a white girl comes in with yellow hair and pink fluffy bedroom slippers. She is afraid when she sees three black girls and asks where Polly is. Claudia feels anger and thinks it is worth a scratch for this girl to call Mrs. Breedlove Polly when even Pecola calls her Mrs. Breedlove. The girls see a berry cobbler sitting on the cabinet. Pecola feels it to see if it’s hot and knocks the pan off the shelf where it shatters on the floor, splattering Pecola’s legs with hot liquid. When Mrs. Breedlove comes in she grabs Pecola and knocks her to the floor and begins to hit her. She calls her crazy and a fool for messing up her floor and tells the girls to get out with the laundry. The white girl begins to cry and Mrs. Breedlove talks soothingly to her, calling her baby and promising to make another cobbler for her. The girl keeps asking who the other girls are and Mrs. Breedlove just hushes her.
Three major encounters with adults occur in this chapter. First, Frieda is sexually molested by Mr. Henry. Second, Maginot Line (whom we later realize is Pecola’s beloved Miss Maria) throws a glass bottle at Claudia and Frieda when they reject her offer of hospitality as unsuitable or prohibited. Third, Mrs. Breedlove is shown in her other identity, as Polly, beloved and essentially owned by the little white girl of the house she works for. Each encounter involves an adult treating a child as if she were an adult or as if she were a non-entity. In each of the encounters, the girls respond with the small amount of information they’ve been given, information, in fact, which links the three scenes. First, they’ve been told a woman can be ruined by sexual contact. Second, they logically deduce that ruined women all look like those they’ve seen, either extremely obese or made thin by alcoholism. They cannot know what else being ruined might entail, so they work on the one sign of it they can identify--obesity. This information leads them to Pecola’s house where they see Maginot Line and then Mrs. Breedlove’s place of work, where they see a mother abuse her daughter and give all her love to a white girl. A too early exposure to sexuality ends up being the lesser of the kinds of damage that can be done to young girls. Their rejection by mothers damages their sense of self more deeply.