Analyze the two prologues to the novel. What is the significance of the Dick and Jane opening? How are the prologues similar and/or different?
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The passage from the Dick and Jane reader puts forward a representation of idealized white middle class life. Although the race of the Dick and Jane family is never specified in the text, the pictures in the readers have always depicted rosy-cheeked and smiling white people. The house is pretty, the mother is gracious, the father big, strong, and kind: the story stands in sharp contrast to Pecola's life. The idealized and white world of the Dick and Jane story could not be farther from the truth for Pecola. Morrison's repetition of the story, each repetition less readable than the previous one, can be read in different ways. The second and third version of the story take away the punctuation and then the spacing, turning the story into gibberishjust as the story, in terms of Pecola's life, is so far removed from reality that it becomes nonsense. Morrison, in a sense, is speeding up the machinery of the Dick and Jane story to show how it does not work, how it degenerates into meaninglessness under any kind of scrutiny. But in the descent into senselessness, it also parallels Pecola's descent into madness. Each repetition, through its form, speeds up the pace at which it must be read. Readers tend to go through the final repetition in a barely comprehended rush. Pecola clings to the standards of the white world, all the way to the end, even as her sanity deteriorates. So these representations of idealized white life, even when they can no longer be read in a normal way, hammer the reader in the same way that they hammer Pecola. Her madness is not an escape from the idealized forms of white life; in her madness, she feels most fully the force of white constructions of beauty, even as the normal flow of human interaction and language cease to have meaning for her.
Bits of this Dick and Jane story are used to name the sections of the novel about Pecola and her family; these are also the same sections not narrated by Claudia MacTeer. This makes the contrast between the idealized world of the Dick and Jane story and Pecola's life explicit and readily apparent.
In the second section of the prelude, we hear Claudia's narrative voice for the first time. The opening four words of Claudia's narrative are important, remarked upon by readers and Morrison herself: "quiet as it's kept" grounds the act of storytelling in a world of gossip, of talk between women, of secrets shared. The words create a sense of intimacy between the reader and the story, and the expression itself is a common phrase used by the black women of Morrison's childhood. Morrison is using spoken Black-American English to enrich America's literary language; here, specifically, the reader is being invited to learn about Pecola's tragedy, and the opening four words indicate that the story is both little-known and important enough to share.
The voice is that of the adult Claudia, and she lets the reader know from the beginning that in the course of the novel Pecola will be impregnated by her own father. The story of Pecola's tragedy, as in Greek tragedy, is known by the reader from the beginning. The power of the story will not come from the surprise. Claudia's opening remarks structure the novel so that the reader knows beforehand some basic plot elements and can concentrate on the questions Claudia wants answeredsince "why" is far too difficult to handle, the novel will attempt to ask "how," examining Pecola's life and the impact of social constructions and the role that these forces had in her tragedy. There is a deep determinism in the description of the landby suggesting that the soil itself might have been barren, and connecting that soil to Pecola's tragedy, Claudia is suggesting that individual agency was not a factor in the failure of the marigolds to grow (and the failure of Pecola to grow up healthily). The land itself made growth impossible, just as social and situational forces made Pecola's growth impossible. The year 1941 is significant, as it is the year that the United States entered the Second World War. The Nazi regime is used implicitly as a background for the events of the novelmore will be said on that in the analysis of the first section of "Autumn."