The heartbreaking story of the black girl, abused and ashamed of herself is as scattered as the girl’s identity itself. It consists of two simultaneous narratives: the memories of the girl’s childhood friend and the tale of the omniscient narrator who reveals to the readers what really happened. The first narrator is the woman named Claudia MacTeer, she is an adult woman already and she tries to remember the story that happened when she was only nine years old. After her reminiscences the second narrator enters, showing the story from the side of Pecola - that black girl. Claudia’s memories are divided in four parts: Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer. Each part describes one season of year 1940, right after the Great Depression that hit the town of Lorain, Ohio, really hard.
Claudia doesn’t remember much about that time. Her brightest memory is that no marigolds bloomed that year and her friend Pecola appeared in her life. In autumn Claudia saw Pecola Breedlove for the first time, she was just slightly older than her and the government care rented a room for her in the house of Claudia’s parents. Claudia and her sister Frieda befriended Pecola almost immediately: the shy black girl was genuinely nice, though aloof and socially awkward. Pecola adored Shirley Temple as an ideal of beauty considering her fair skin perfect and her own black and ugly. When the sisters learned her story, they grow even more sympathy towards her. Pecola’s father tried to burn down their house with her inside, that’s why she was temporarily transferred to the house of Claudia’s parents. Claudia remembers their games and adventures the girls had together and particularly the first Pecola’s menstruation that started unexpectedly and caused a lot of embarrassment to them all.
The second narrator interrupts, describing Pecola’s house (before it was burnt) and the Breedlove’s family life. Pecola’s family lives on the brink of complete poverty and her parents desperately try to make money for living. Such a life is unbearable for them both, so Mrs. Pauline Breedlove watches romantic movies on TV, convincing herself that only beautiful white actresses deserve real love and happy life, not such ugly black women as she is. She finds an eerie satisfaction in such self-humiliation, even encouraging her husband’s cruelty to solidify her role as innocent victim and martyr. Mr. Cholly Breedlove chooses a different way to escape the hard life: alcohol. Pecola’s parents always shout on each other and constantly argue. She and her brother Sammy make clumsy attempts to protect their mother from the drunken father, but of course they are just kids and they can’t do much fixing in the abusive relationship. The only thing that gives hope to Pecola is her prayers to God. Affected by her mother’s attitude, the girl prays for light skin and blue eyes, the bluest in the world. She hopes that if she were beautiful everything would fix itself and her mother would finally love her, because blue-eyed Pecola would become worthy of love and happiness.
Claudia’s narrative line starts again, now from winter. She, her sister and Pecola attended the same school and welcomed the new girl named Maureen. Despite Maureen had some flaws (protruding tooth and polydactylia that was surgically corrected but left scars) she was beautiful. Maureen had golden locks, flawless fair skin and sea-green eyes. She quickly became one of the most popular girl in her class. Unlike Pecola who is too shy to win someone’s attention. But Maureen wasn’t above everyone else - when two schoolboys cornered Pecola and started to mock her, Maureen stood between them and their victim and drove them away. She calmed Pecola and even bought her an ice-cream (you can imagine how much a single ice-cream can mean for a girl who often doesn’t have even sugar). Claudia and Frieda joined them and things seemed to be just fine, but Maureen suddenly cracked a very unpleasant joke about Pecola’s naked father. Claudia and Frieda rushed to defend her, their quarrel turned to a fight but when Claudia tried to hit Maureen she accidentally targeted Pecola. Offended, Maureen run away from them screaming that she was cute and Pecola was black and ugly. She didn’t know that her words hit home, triggering another episode of self-loathing for Pecola.
The second narrator continues, telling the readers a separate episode from Pecola’s life. They start from describing a respected and wealthy woman Geraldine, her son Junior and their black cat with beautiful blue eyes. Junior is a troubled child suffering from his neglecting and controllable mother. He sees a victim who he can vent on - Pecola, the most helpless girl around. Promising her to show kittens, Junior lures the girl into his house and then throws the panicking black cat into her face. The terrified animal scratches Pecola’s skin and the crying girl tries to escape, but Junior blocks the path. Instead of fighting back, Pecola suddenly notices the cat that now rubs her knees. Mesmerized with his blue eyes the girl stops. Seeing that she is interested in the cat, Junior catches it and starts swinging and hurling it around violently. Trying to save the cat, Pecola grabs the boy, but he just releases the poor animal letting it hit the window with full force. The cat dies at once. Both kids are shocked, but when Geraldine suddenly comes home, Junior quickly frames Pecola. Geraldine throws her out of the house calling the little black bitch. Of course, the poor girl, who is shocked enough already, hears only “black”, thinking that again the cause of her being hated is her dark skin.
Than Claudia tells us about spring. Another man who rented a room in their house, Mr. Henry, assaulted Pecola, touching her breasts and trying to molest her. After that the girl went to visit Pecola who now lived above her parent’s flat with the three prostitutes: Marie, China and Poland. They use swear words in every sentence, smoke, drink and, of course sleep with a plenty of men for money, but they do genuinely care for Pecola giving her sweets and sheltering her when her father became way too aggressive.
The second narrator reveals the biographies of Pecola’s parents. Cholly was an orphan, abandoned by his mother when he was only four days old. His grand aunt Jimmy raised him with love and care, but she was too old to really substitute a parent. Soon Jimmy died and the day of her funeral was also the day of first Cholly’s sexual encounter with a local girl named Darlene. But they are caught by two white men in the process and cruelly mocked. Afraid of disgrace that would follow and the possibility to impregnate Darlene, Cholly ran away to another town, Macon, where he hoped to find his father. He indeed found him, but the man was an old drunkard, barely able to speak and refusing to have anything in common with his own child. Cholly had no option than to go elsewhere and find a job. Once he was in Kentucky he met Pauline, married her and fathered two children: Sammy and Pecola. But still Cholly wasn’t happy in his marriage and he isn’t happy now.
The narrator than tells the readers a story about Pecola raped for the first time. Cholly returns home from his work, drunk as always and sees his daughter who already started transforming into a young woman in her eleven years washing dishes. Feeling a strange mixture of love, tenderness,lust and hatred, her father violently rapes the girl, leaving her unconscious on the kitchen floor and then covering her with a blanket. When her mother comes too and sees her lying, she asks Pecola what happened and the girl tells the truth. Pauline doesn’t believe her and beats her for lying and accusing her father of such a thing. The narrator implies that after it Pecola is raped at least one more time .
Later the narrator tells another story about a mystic of dubious origin, Micah Whitcomb, nicknamed Soapchurch. He is a self-proclaimed priest but he has nothing to do with Christian virtues. When he sees the eleven-year-old girl who is obviously pregnant and comes to him asking God to grant her blue eyes, he decides to use her. There is a dog, who annoys Whitcomb, so he uses Pecola to get rid of him. He gives her poisoned meat and tells to find that particular dog and feed him with the meat. If the dog starts behaving strangely than it will be the sign from God granting her blue eyes. Pecola gladly takes the meat and poisons the dog, watching him choking and howling in agony and hoping that it is indeed a sign.
The last part of the narrative is Claudia’s reminiscent of summer. She and her sister learned that Pecola is pregnant from her father. They felt ashamed of her but then sorry for the poor girl. Now Pecola had to skip school and everyone who knew about the situation wished the newborn baby to be dead. But Claudia and Frieda wanted them to live, thinking that wishing the kid to be dead was wrong. They spent all their pocket money to buy marigold seeds and plant them, believing in the mystic connection between flowers and babies: if the marigolds lived, so would the baby. But none of the seeds grew and Pecola prematurely delivered a stillborn baby.
Cholly finally understood what he had done and ran from the town again, as in the story with Darlene. He died somewhere in the working house. Sammy - Pecola’s brother - also left the town as soon as he was able to find a job. Pecola herself, when Claudia saw her for the last time, lived in a small and old brown house on the outskirts of the town. The girl went mad from the abusive treatment, pregnancy, loss of her child and her self-hatred. She tried not to leave her house without dire need, imagining that her wish became true and now she had the bluest eyes in the world. Assuring herself that everyone was just jealous of her new eyes and rationalizing her loneliness that way, Pecola imagined herself a new friend - just like in movies her mother used to watch - who was always with her, loving her, caring for her and adoring her bluest eyes.