History: Published in 1970, it is Morrison's first novel, written while Morrison was teaching at Howard University and was raising her two sons on her own.
Plot: Claudia and Frieda MacTeer live in Ohio with their parents. The MacTeer family takes two other people into their home, Mr. Henry and Pecola. Pecola is a troubled young girl with a hard life. Her parents are constantly fighting, both physically and verbally. Pecola is continually being told and reminded of what an “ugly” girl she is, thus fueling her desire to be a caucasian girl with blue eyes. Throughout the novel it is revealed that not only has Pecola had a life full of hatred and hardships, but her parents have as well. Pecola’s mother, Pauline only feels alive and happy when she is working for a rich white family. Her father, Cholly, is a drunk who was left with his aunt when he was young and ran away to find his father, who wanted nothing to do with him. Both Pauline and Cholly eventually lost the love they once had for one another. While Pecola is doing dishes, her father rapes her. His motives are unclear and confusing, seemingly a combination of both love and hate. Cholly flees after the second time he rapes Pecola, leaving her pregnant. The entire town of Lorain turns against her, except Claudia and Frieda. In the end Pecola’s child is born prematurely and dies. Claudia and Frieda give up the money they had been saving and plant flower seeds in hopes that if the flowers bloom, Pecola's baby will live; the marigolds never bloom.
In the afterword, Morrison explains that she is attempting to humanize all the characters that attack Pecola or cause her to be the way she is.
Ideas of beauty, particularly those that relate to racial characteristics, are a major theme in this book. The title refers to Pecola's wish that her eyes would turn blue. Claudia is given a white baby doll to play with and is constantly told how lovely it is. Insults to physical appearance are often given in racial terms; a light skinned student named Maureen is shown favoritism at school. There is a contrast between the world shown in the cinema and the one in which Pauline is a servant, as well as the WASP society and the existence the main characters live in. Most chapters' titles are extracts from a Dick and Jane reading book, presenting a happy white family. This family is contrasted with Pecola's existence.
Review: What’s it like to grow up in a society where the standard of beauty is dictated by a culture different from your own? This is the question that is central to the theme of this story; which recounts the life of a young black girl named Pecola Breedlove. Set in the 1940's, Pecola struggles for a sense of identity and worth against the backdrop of a blue-eyed, blond-haired “American ideal.” Along with her friends, Claudia and Frieda, Pecola endures the normal difficulties associated with being a young person, but must also struggle with the matter of race and her own deep longings for blue eyes and the acceptance and love which she assumes will follow. This is Toni Morrison’s first and probably most accessible novel, based on some of her own childhood experiences.
Opening Line: “Here is the house.”
Closing Line: “At least, on the edge of my town, among the garbage, and the sunflowers of my town it’s much much much too late.”
Quotes: "The line between colored and nigger was not always clear; subtle and telltale signs threatened to erode it, and the watch had to be constant."