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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
SPRING - CHAPTER 9
Chapter 9 opens with the section of the Dick and Jane primer concerning Dick and Jane’s nice and smiling mother.
It would be easiest to say Pauline Williams’s wounded and deformed foot were the cause of her low self-esteem. "But to find out the truth about how dreams die, one should never take the word of the dreamer." It was probably a cavity in Pauline’s front tooth. Unbeknownst to her, it rotted away and then fell out unexpectedly. Pauline was the ninth of eleven children and lived in Alabama seven miles from the nearest road. When she was two years old, a nail punctured her food and made her limp. Because of the limp, Pauline was left out of a number of things she never got a nickname, anecdotes were never told about her, no one ever thought of her favorite foods, in short, she never felt at home anywhere. She "cultivated private pleasures." She especially liked to arrange things. In school, numbers were her favorite subject, words her least favorite.
At the beginning of World War I, the Williamses moved to Kentucky. Pauline recalls that it was the last time she saw the green streak of a june bug. The family’s fortunes rose in Kentucky. The family lived in a town, they rented a five-room house, and the children began to move away, leaving less work to maintain the house. Pauline, the oldest girl living at home, took on the responsibility of housekeeping. She enjoyed housekeeping. She liked the quiet and solitude of the work. After the war, Pauline’s younger siblings left school to work and Pauline turned fifteen. She began to fantasize about men and love and became extremely melancholy. Church songs taught her to long for a kind savior who would take her hand and lead her to happiness. In her fantasies, she always passively waited and the vague man came along and noticed her.
When a stranger did come into Pauline’s life, she was prepared for him. He came down the road on the hottest day of the year. He had yellow eyes and he sang "a kind of city-street music where laughter belies anxiety, and joy is as short and straight as the blade of a pocketknife." She was leaning on the fence in her yard and was gazing off into space. The sound of the whistling made her smile. She did not turn around when the whistling got louder. Then she felt something tickling her foot and she laughed aloud, turned to see the whistler was tickling her broken foot and kissing her leg. She couldn’t stop laughing. The whistler looked up and she saw "the Kentucky sun drenching the yellow, heavy-lidded eyes of Cholly Breedlove."
Pauline remembers that when she first saw Cholly, she felt that all the bits of color from back home in Alabama--purple from mashed berries, yellow from lemonade, green of june bugs--was inside her and when Cholly tickled her foot, the colors came together. She and Cholly were very happy and in love. He liked her country ways and he treated her foot as an opportunity to care for her. They got married and went north where Cholly had heard there were steel mills needing workers. They moved to Lorain, Ohio and Cholly got a job, while Pauline began keeping house.
The problem occurred when she lost her front tooth. It must have been gradual, but she had not noticed it until it was too late. Lorain seemed like the best place ever. Its streets were paved with concrete, it sat on the edge of a blue lake. Pauline remembers that she and Cholly got along very well at first, but Pauline found it difficult to know people in the north. She wasn’t so used to living in such close proximity to white people and the black people she met were unfriendly, "no better than whites for meanness. They could make you feel just as no-count, ‘cept I didn’t expect it from them."
Because she was lonely, Pauline turned to Cholly for everything. However, he resisted her "total dependence on him." He didn’t have any trouble finding friends and he often went out at night with his friends. Pauline, on the other hand, couldn’t find friends among black women. They laughed at her un-straightened hair, her un-made-up face, and her southern accent. She began to want new clothes and so she got a job to pay for them. She took jobs as a day worker, but Cholly became unhappy with her purchases and they quarreled constantly. After a few months, Pauline took a job as a housekeeper for a fairly poor white family. She remembers her and Cholly fighting all the time.
Pauline remembers the unpleasant experience of working for this white family. The mistress of the house was constantly upset, worried, or complaining. She was always intriguing about her family. Pauline found her ignorant and difficult. The family also made her work difficult, much more so than Pauline’s own family had when she was still living at home. She found that "nasty white folks is about the nastiest things they is." Nevertheless, Pauline would have continued working for them had Cholly not come to her while she was working and caused a scene, scaring the white woman. The white woman insisted that Pauline leave Cholly or not come back to work. Pauline saw the illogic of "a black woman leaving a black man for a white woman," and so she refused. The white woman refused to give Pauline the money she owed her, but Pauline had no recourse.
One winter, Pauline became pregnant. Cholly was pleased by it and he started coming home more often and taking better care of his place in the family. Pauline stopped working and took up housekeeping again. Yet, she was still terribly bored and homesick. She began to go to the movies. There, she "succumbed to earlier dreams." At the movies, she was inculcated in the values of romantic love and physical beauty--two of "the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought." When she learned to equate physical beauty with virtue, she began feel contempt for herself. "She forgot lust and simple caring for. She regarded love as a possessive mating, and romance as the goal of the spirit."
Pauline remembers the only time she was happy was in the movies. She saw white men taking good care of white women. She saw big, clean houses. She began to be sad to come home to Cholly. Once, she fixed her hair like Jean Harlow’s and went to the movies. In the middle of the movie, her tooth fell out. "Everything went then." She let her hair go back and gave in to being ugly. She and Cholly began to fight again and she developed a rage against him. She had a baby boy and got pregnant again. She loved her children, but she had difficulty coping with them. She remembers, "Sometimes I’d catch myself hollering at them and beating them, and I’d feel sorry for them, but I couldn’t seem to stop."
She remembers when she had "the second one, the girl," she had planned to love it no matter what, but she saw only a "black ball of hair." While she had been pregnant, she had talked to the baby in her belly as if it were a friend. She had felt good about this baby. When she went to the hospital, she found herself in a "big room with a whole mess of women." When the pains came, a doctor came to examine her. He rammed his hand up between her legs. Then another doctor came and brought young doctors with him. When he got to Pauline he said, "now these here women you don’t have any trouble with. They deliver right away and with no pain. Just like horses." Pauline saw the young doctors smile, look at her stomach, look between her legs, and never say anything to her. Only one doctor looked at her and seemed embarrassed by what the older doctor had said. Then she saw the group of doctors go over to the white women and talk to them in a friendly way.
Pauline decided to moan loudly just to show them that "having a baby was more than a bowel movement. I hurt just like them white women." Pauline knew she felt just as much pain as those white women did. She also knew that contrary to the doctor’s assumption, horses feel pain when they give birth to their foals.
Pauline was surprised to see her baby. She had talked to it so much while it as in her womb that she had pictured it differently. When she first nursed Pecola, "she liked to pull my nipple off right away." She liked to watch her and to hear her baby sounds, but she knew right away that Pecola was ugly.
When Sammy and Pecola were young, Pauline went back to work. She gave up on the movies and became who she would always be. "She developed a hatred for things that mystified or obstructed her; acquired virtues that were easy to maintain; assigned herself a role in the scheme of things; and harked back to simpler times for gratification." She became the main breadwinner of the household and she returned to church. Among the women who had looked down on her, she became more moral than they. She joined a respectable church, joined women’s groups, and at prayer meetings, she brought up Cholly’s ways for prayer and lamentation. Another tooth fell out and she became outraged by women who wore make-up and only thought of men.
Pauline found a good job in the home of a wealthy white family. Pauline loved their house in which everything was clean and white. She became an ideal servant for the Fisher family. She loved taking care of the little Fisher girl, bathing her and drying her in fluffy towels. She combed her hair and the contrast to her own children with their "tangled black puffs of rough wool" was stark. She stopped taking care of her own house, her children, and her husband. Life at the Fishers was happier. She could arrange things in neat rows and enjoy the abundance of food. She enjoyed the authority her position as housekeeper gave her over creditors and service people, the same ones who humiliated her in her role as breadwinner for her own family. The Fishers even gave her a nickname, Polly.
Pauline never introduced the order and beauty of her work to her own household. She taught her children respectability and fear. She only thought about the old times with Cholly rarely. She remembered the times when Cholly would come home not too drunk and get in bed with her. She would remember his body which she loved, but she wouldn’t turn around to embrace him. He would begin to touch her and she would be still, enjoying it, but not acting on her pleasure. He would make love to her and she would feel "softer than I ever been before." When she felt him loving her, just her, she felt powerful, strong, pretty and young. When she had an orgasm, it was like all the colors of her home burst inside her. When it was over, she wanted to thank him, but couldn’t think of how, so she just patted him like he was a baby. Nowadays, things are very different. "Most times he’s thrashing away inside me before I’m woke, and through before I am." Pauline tells herself she doesn’t care about it anyway, because God will take care of her.
Morrison uses a different technique in this chapter. She mixes an omniscient narrator who describes Pauline with free indirect discourse, a kind of narration that seems as if it records a character’s inner thoughts. In this mix, Morrison accomplishes both the need to tell the story of Pauline’s life, from its beginnings to its present, and the need to let Pauline speak for herself.
It is important for the reader to speculate about the reason for Morrison’s choice of sequence in her depiction of Pauline’s character. First, the reader is given the picture of Mrs. Breedlove’s dilapidated house, then the reader sees a typical Saturday morning fight between Mrs. Breedlove and Cholly. Next, the reader sees Pauline as Polly standing in the kitchen of a wealthy white family beating her daughter for simple clumsiness and banishing her, then cooing softly to a white child. These images are hard to take because Morrison also lets the reader in on the tiny hopes and desires of Pecola. Mrs. Breedlove seems vicious for incomprehensible reasons. Polly seems to be a betrayer of her own tender-hearted daughter. After these de-humanized and incomprehensible views of the woman, Morrison introduces her reader to Pauline, tender-hearted in her own right and severely wounded in that tenderness. Thus, Morrison gives the reader the result, the consequences, and only then does she supply the causes.
Pauline was hurt in two primary ways. First, she was hurt by institutional racism, particularly the racism of the media which depicts European features as beautiful and consigns all other kinds of features as ugly and less than. Before her exposure to movies, Pauline did not think she was ugly. After she thinks she’s ugly, she gives up on self-respect and love of all sorts. Second, Pauline was hurt by internalized racism. This happens when people in the group targeted by racism begin to believe the lies about their inferiority, ugliness, lack of morality, and general lack of sophistication. The women in Pauline’s northern black community looked down on her. She was still wearing her hair natural, not having gotten the message yet that natural meant ugly. She was still speaking with her home dialect, not having acquired the sense that the dialect spoken in the movies was the dialect of sense and sophistication and all other dialects equaled ignorance and backwardness. In short, Pauline was rejected because she had not internalized all the messages that said she was not good enough as she was, and that she needed to do something to herself to look more like European Americans.
Morrison’s portrait of Pauline in this chapter is very poignant. It gives the reader insight into a very complex process whereby a person is stripped of a sense of self worth. This is the process which Pecola is undergoing, and it is the primary subject of the novel.