"Summer," first section
We return to Claudia's narrative. That summer, she and Frieda try to make money by selling packets of seed door-to-door in hopes that they'll be able to get a bicycle. Invited into house after house, listening in on the conversations of adults, they piece together what has happened to Pecola. Pecola, everyone is saying, is pregnant by her father. Cholly has left town. No one expresses real concern or sorrow for Pecola, and no one wants the baby to survive. Claudia and Frieda feel terrible sorrow for Pecola, all the more so because no one else does. Claudia also wonders about the poor, unwanted baby: "More strongly than my fondness for Pecola, I felt a need for someone to want the black baby to livejust to counteract the universal love of white baby dolls, Shirley Temples, and Maureen Peals."
Claudia and Frieda decide to try for a miracle. They give up on the bicycle and bury the money as a sacrifice. They plant the seeds in their backyard, singing a song, praying, and saying magic words, believing that when they marigolds flowers come up, they'll know that everything is fine. But the reader knows from the prelude that the flowers never bloom.
The girls glean Pecola's story from the dialogue of adults, returning us once again to the world of gossip. The language of these conversations is revealing: Claudia and Frieda accurately observe that there is no real sorrow for Pecola. We also hear about Pauline's reaction to Pecola's pregnancy: Mrs. Breedlove nearly beats her daughter to death. This reaction stands in sharp contrast to the protective reaction of the MacTeer's when a man makes an advance on their daughter. Mrs. Breedlove blames the victim, and the MacTeers rally around her. Once again, we are confronted by love's scarcity. The places where Pecola and Frieda sell their flowers are homes where people live in extreme poverty, and that offers some explanation for their lack of sorrow: in a time and place when people are barely scraping by, and in a world threatened by the Axis powers, people have little worry left to expend on a little girl.
The soil (which we know will not be fertile enough for the marigolds to grow) represents the hostile conditions that have conspired against Pecola. Although Frieda and Claudia attempt to make a difference, there is nothing they can do to make their flowers grow. This metaphor indicates that Pecola never had a chanceshe is not an active character at all. She does nothing, but instead has things happen to her. And like a flower, she is dependent on her environment for sustenance. Her baby, like the seeds in the backyard, dies before it has a chance to liveas Claudia tells it, it was up against all of the forces that call whiteness beautiful and blackness ugly. The preoccupation with ancestry from earlier sections takes on a sinister edge and the idea of inheritance is brought in and subverted: Pecola has inherited a legacy of shame and self-loathing, and she has also possibly inherited her insanity from Cholly's mother. Her father has impregnated her, twisting the normal growth of the family tree back on itself. Pecola is the end of a lineafter losing her baby and then her mind. In her generation, one possible line for the family tree comes to an end, and Sammy runs away from home and into an uncertain future.
"Summer," second section: LOOKLOOKHERECOMESAFRIENDTHEFRIENDWILLPLAYWITH
We see a conversation between Pecola and the "friend" mentioned in the section heading. This friend is a second personality, manufactured by Pecola in her madness. Pecola and her double admire Pecola's new blue eyes. Pecola frets about whether her eyes are the bluest of all, and her friend assures her that they are. They talk about Cholly, who, we learn, violated her twice before he ran off. We also learn that after the first time, Pecola told Mrs. Breedlove about the rape and was not believed. The second time it happened, Pecola didn't bother to try and tell anyone. Pecola also wonders why no one can see Pecola's new friend, and why no one has commented on Pecola's new eyes. The two of them decide that the reason for the latter phenomenon is jealousy.
We return to the first-person narrative of Claudia for the close of the novel. She reveals that Pecola became something painful to watch, completely insane and terrifying. The baby came too early and died. In all of the years since, Claudia and Frieda have avoided Pecola because she fills them with fear and guilt. Claudia says that one of the great sins of the townspeople is that they used Pecola like a handkerchief, cleaning themselves on her, making themselves feel beautiful by standing next to her ugliness. Even the people who loved her did so in a way that gave nothing: "The lover alone possesses his gift of love. The loved one is shorn, neutralized, frozen in the glare of the lover's inward eye." She returns to the image of the flowers that never grew, wondering about the barrenness of the land and insisting that not being able to grow in the soil does not mean that the victim had no right to live. The final words are pained and defeated, emphasizing that by now it's far too late to help Pecola.
Pecola, who has gone unnoticed by the eyes of others and so has been unable to see herself, i.e. to recognize herself and realize her own worth, now has manufactured a way to see herself. Her imaginary friend is the companion she has never had, as well as the devoted admirer of her blue eyes. Pecola, who could not figuratively see herself before, has remedied the problem. Now, she literally sees herself in the most twisted and tragic way possible.
Claudia's last words are dark and unhopeful. She insists that the people of her town, including her, failed and used Pecola. She also speaks skeptically about love, wary of its abuse, warning that there is a kind of love that is selfish and without real care for the beloved. She finishes with the image of the barren soil and the impossibility of growth. It is too late to bring back the marigolds, just as it is too late to help Pecola. By finishing with the image of the barren soil, she implies that the social forces which shaped Pecola's tragedy are still here, as real and omnipresent as the ground we walk on.