We are once again within Claudia MacTeer's narrative, opening with a lyrical passage about the harshness of winter and her father's determination to keep his family warm and safe.
Claudia also confides her dislike of a new girl in school named Maureen Peal, a light-skinned and well-off black girl who has quickly become the new darling of teachers and children alike. On an unseasonably warm day, Maureen happens to choose to walk with Claudia and Frieda part of the way home. The three girls run into a group of boys who are tormenting Pecola Breedloveby chanting about her blackness and her father's supposed habit of sleeping naked. These are the insults of choice, even though many of the boys' fathers might also sleep naked and the boys themselves are all black. Led by Frieda, the MacTeer sisters stand up to the boys and get them to leave Pecola alone. The four girls then walk together, and initially Maureen is very friendly to Pecola, talking about movies with her and treating her to ice cream. The conversation turns to puberty and then Maureen asks if Pecola has ever seen a naked man. Pecola, for some reason, seems to think that she is being asked if she has seen her father naked, which she vehemently denies. The questions are clearly making Pecola uncomfortable, and Claudia and Frieda try to get Maureen to stop. The conversation quickly degenerates into a fight, and Maureen starts to tease all three girls, but Pecola especially, picking up on the boys' lead and saying that Pecola must have seen her own father naked. Claudia tries to hit Maureen but Maureen flees; safe on the other side of the street Maureen screams that she is indeed cute and the other girls are black and ugly. Claudia is clearly troubled by this possibility, but she also says that Maureen is not the real enemy. The real enemy is the "Thing" that makes Maureen beautiful and the other girls ugly.
Frieda and Claudia go home, where their boarder, Mr. Henry, greets them and gives them money to go buy ice cream. The girls decide to go get candybecause of Frieda's fear that Maureen might be at the ice cream shopand so they arrive home earlier than Mr. Henry expected. Playing outside, the girls look in through one of the windows and see Mr. Henry nibbling on the fingers of China and the Maginot Line (Marie). Frieda and Claudia recognize them, but wait until the prostitutes are gone to go back into the house. They ask Mr. Henry who the women were, and he tells the girls that the women are members of his Bible study class. He also asks the girls not to tell their mother. When the girls are alone and Claudia asks what they should do, Frieda decides that they don't need to tell their mother, because no plates have been used, and Mrs. MacTeer once said that she wouldn't let the Maginot Line eat off of one of her plates.
This section is structured by two main events: the girls' walk home, and the incident with the prostitutes and Mr. Henry. There is a passage early in the section where Claudia describes herself and Frieda metaphorically, using flower imagery to describe how she and her sister respond to their environment. This metaphor calls attention to the importance of nurture and environment for these young girls, especially in these formative years of their childhood. The theme of the oppressed internalizing ideas about their own ugliness is a strong element of the first part of the section. The worst insult the black boys can think of is to call Pecola black. Claudia, allowing herself to use her more grown-up voice, says that the insult has power because the boys and Pecola have a contempt for their own race and have learned self-hatred. The fight with Maureen reveals something importantPecola's desperate reaction to Maureen's question seems to indicate that perhaps she has not only seen her father naked, but has had experience with her father's nakedness in ways that are not normal.
The incident with Mr. Henry illustrates the girls' deep loyalty and respect for their motherit is Mrs. MacTeer's opinion of China and Marie that Frieda and Claudia hold to. Frieda literally interprets her mother's statements about Marie. This misunderstanding of her mother's words, as well as the literal observance of their mother's rules, reminds the reader of the extreme youth of Claudia and Frieda. The MacTeer sisters are themselves young and naïve, a fact which emphasizes Pecola's vulnerability even more. Pecola is the same age as the other girls, but she is less clever and does not have the healthy family life of the MacTeers.
"Winter," second section: SEETHECATITGOESMEOWMEOWCOMEANDPLAYCOMEPLAYWITHJANE
The omniscient third-person narrator returns. The section opens with a long descriptive passage about a certain kind of black girl, hailing from Southern towns like Mobile and Aiken, who grows to be a certain kind of woman, marries a certain kind of man, keeps a certain kind of house. The routine of homemaking is described lyrically. This type of woman also struggles to remove what is black about herself, a trait Morrison calls "funkiness." The description shifts quickly from the general to the specific, focusing on a woman named Geraldine. She lives in Lorain with her husband Louis and has a cat and a son named Junior. The cat is the object of her greatest affection, a clean and quiet animal that leaves no messes. Their family lives in a nice house next to the playground of Washington Irving school, which is also the school attended by Pecola and the MacTeers. Geraldine has explained to her son that there is a difference between colored people and niggers, and that their family belongs to the first category. Colored people have standards of behavior more in line with white bourgeois sensabilities, or, as Geraldine would put it, colored people are clean and quiet and niggers are dirty and loud. She has always encouraged her son to play with white children.
Sitting alone on the school playground, Louis Junior sees Pecola taking a shortcut through the yard. He gives her a hard time and then convinces her to come into his house, where he promises to show her kittens. Lured by the promise of a new kitten, Pecola follows him. Pecola is mystified by the size and beauty of the house, the clean furniture, the bits of decoration and evidence of care. Junior shouts out to get her attention and throws his mother's large black cat into Pecola's face. The cat scratches her and Pecola begins to cry and tries to leave, but Junior pushes her down and runs to the other side of the door, keeping her in the room. The cat rubs up against Pecola's leg, and Pecola, in turn, is fascinated by the cat, which has a black face but blue eyes. She begins to pet the animal. Junior comes back in because he can no longer hear Pecola crying. He grabs the cat and swings it around. Pecola tries desperately to get Junior to let the animal go, but in the struggle Junior lets go of the cat and the animal is flung against the window. The cat falls onto the radiator, dead.
Geraldine comes home, and Junior blames the cat's death on Pecola. Geraldine looks into Pecola's eyes and feels revulsion and unease. She calls Pecola a little black bitch and tells her to get out of the house.
The beginning of the section describes a certain class of black women and also alludes to the phenomenon of black migration from Southern town to places like Lorain. The passage is lyrical and fully sensory imagery, describing the routines of housekeeping and church-going respectability with a certain degree of beauty, but the marriages of these women are also described in terms of social arrangements rather than love. Men marry to have a woman take care of their house, and women marry so that they may come to have a place of their own. Geraldine and her family have fully internalized the white standard of beauty, and live their lives aspiring for bourgeois respectability. These internalizations are not without their cost. Geraldine's sex life with her husband is purely functional, and their marriage is described in the cool terms of a social arrangement. Geraldine does not show affection to her son but to her cat.
The cat's face foreshadows Pecola's future tragedythe black face with the blue eyes, coupled with the creature's destruction. Once again, Pecola is the victim of other blacks' cruelty, indicating that hatred of blackness often comes from other blacks. The moment when Geraldine looks into Pecola's eyes is an interesting passage to compare to the passage in which Pecola buys candy from Mr. Yacobowski. Unlike the shopkeeper, Geraldine does see something in Pecola's eyes, although what she sees fills her with revulsion and fear. Geraldine sees in Pecola a type of black: "She had seen this little girl all of her life. Hanging out of windows over saloons in Mobile . . . sitting in bus stations holding paper bags and crying to mothers who kept saying Shet up!'" But Geraldine has not seen Pecola"this little girl" refers to a type of poor black, a type that the text goes on to describe in detail. This type of dirty, poorly dressed black is exactly what Geraldine despises most. Note that while she does not see nothing, as Mr. Yacobowski did, Geraldine still does not see Pecola, the individual. Geraldine instead sees an abstracted representative of a whole social class, a social class she hates, and consequently she is merciless and cruel to Pecola.