Mother Geraldine, Father Louis, and son Junior epitomize the black middle class, which has become far distanced from its black roots. Geraldine consciously removes herself from, and looks down on, black people who do not have white middle-class aspirations. According to Morrison, Geraldine is one of those blacks who “when they wear lipstick . . . never cover the entire mouth for fear of lips too thick . . .” Geraldine is obsessed with white “things”: a manicured lawn, an overly decorated house, straightened hair, and a silent communal vow to banish anything lustful, lively, or passionate from her life. Her quest for upward social mobility encompasses a self-hatred that makes her avoid all reminders of her African heritage.
Geraldine measures out her emotions: Her son, Junior, is bathed and slathered with white lotion, and her husband, Louis, is granted a finite amount of sex, as long as he doesn’t touch her too much. Only the blue-eyed black cat kindles any real affection within her. Thus Junior develops a malignant jealousy, a cruel sibling rivalry toward the cat. Not allowed to play with blacks, and not accepted by whites, he has learned to vent his frustration by bullying young girls and abusing his mother’s blue-eyed black cat.
On a rare day when Geraldine is out of the house, Junior spies Pecola walking alone and invites her in to see some kittens. Once she is inside the house, he hurls his mother’s black cat in her face. Scratched and terrified, Pecola turns to leave, but Junior blocks the door, grabs the cat, and begins to swing it in circles. As Pecola tries to save the cat, she falls on Junior, who lets go of the cat, flinging it against the window. Geraldine arrives home, and Junior blames the cat’s death on Pecola.
Geraldine is afraid and repulsed by Pecola’s presence in her house. Her precious and perfect house has been invaded by a creature with matted hair and a dirty, torn dress. Pecola represents everything that Geraldine despises — disorder, black poverty, and filthy ugliness. Pecola’s humiliation takes place in the pretty house with the pretty lady’s grisly words — “nasty little black bitch” — filtered through the fur of the dead, blue-eyed black cat. The last image Pecola sees as she is absorbed into the cold March wind is the sad and unsurprised gaze of Jesus, the same Jesus whom she prays to every night, begging for blue eyes.
“Imitation of Life” a black-and-white film released in 1934, in which a white woman becomes rich through the pancake recipe of her black servant; meantime, the black servant is deeply saddened when her light-skinned daughter chooses to pass for white. This version of the Fannie Hurst novel starred Claudette Colbert.
Claudette Colbert An American stage and film actress (1903–1996) born in Paris, she won an Academy Award for best actress in It Happened One Night.
Betty Grable An American actress and film star (1916–73), she was the most popular pin-up girl of World War II; she co-starred with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee (1934) and later appeared in such films as Moon Over Miami (1941) and The Pin-Up Girl (1944).
Hedy Lamarr An American film actress born Hedwig Kiesler in Vienna, Austria (1913–2000), she co-starred with Judy Garland in Ziegfield Girl (1941) and later starred in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949).
Maginot Line a system of heavy fortifications built before World War II on the eastern frontier of France; it failed to prevent invasion by the Nazi forces.
Shet up! a dialectic pronunciation of “Shut up!”
incorrigival a youthful mispronunciation of “incorrigible,” unable to be corrected, improved, or reformed.