There seems to be a certain part, a certain role that every male plays in this novel. Whether it be the kind, loving, hardworking father such as Mr. Macteer, or the lowdown no good evil men, like Cholly Breedlove, Soaphead Church, Mr. Henry, and the rest of the little hellion boys in the local school. In the novel, the role that most of the male characters seem to play is dark, evil, and despicable. Is there a reason for this? Is Tony Morrison sexist, biased toward women?
What are the male characters’ roles in the story? The answer to these questions lie in one simple statement: The function of the men in this story is to act exclusively evil, in order to produce other character’s development. From the beginning of this book, Morrison tells us of an evil act committed by a male character. “We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father’s baby that the marigolds did not grow” (Morrison 3). Morrison comes right out and lets us know that an act of incest with impregnation has occurred between father and daughter.
Reading deeper into the story, we’re introduced to the main characters, and we find out just how evil Morrison’s male characters turn out to be. Cholly Breedlove is depicted as a no good dog who burnt his house down, and therefore caused his family to be “outdoors”, which in the narrator’s eyes, is one of the worst, if not the worst possible thing that could happen to somebody. Later on, we get to know the present day Cholly when he and his wife have on of their “encounters”. Cholly attacks his wife after she throws a dishpan full of cold water in his face, because he wouldn’t get any coal to heat up the house.
After some more of the story progresses, we read about Cholly’s past. He is abandoned as an infant by his mother, who takes off and is never heard from again, his father took off before he was born, and he is raised by an aunt, who dies when he is just 14. “Abandoned in a junk heap by his mother, rejected for a crap game by his father, there was nothing more to lose” (Morrison 160). Before he leaves to go find his Dad however, Cholly has an incident happen to him that will affect him for the rest of his life.
He is surprised in the woods by two white hunters while he’s having his first sexual experience. This coupled with his aunt’s death drive him to go find his father, because he figured he had nothing left to do. When he is rejected by his father, it plunges him into a deep depression that seemingly, he never recovers from. He falls into a life of crime and drifting, “He could go to jail and not feel imprisoned, for he had already seen the furtiveness in the eyes of his jailer, free to say, “No suh,” and smile, for he had already killed three white men” (Morrison 159).
Then one day by chance, he meets and seduces his future wife on some farm in Kentucky. They end up with two kids, and the rest is history. The book says Cholly ends up treating his family so bad because he wasn’t raised properly, and because he didn’t have a real family to grow up in, and that only in the bottle did he find enough comfort to ease the pain of his very existence. Right after the book states that, it goes into lurid detail of Cholly raping his eleven year old daughter, Pecola. Then it shifts view point and tells the fate of Cholly, who takes off and eventually dies in a workhouse.
What a character Cholly Breedlove was. He did absolutely almost nothing good or right, yet he had such a profound impact on a lot of characters in this story. “The tiny, undistinguished days that Mrs. Breedlove lived were identified, grouped, and classed by these quarrels. They gave substance to the minutes and hours otherwise dim and unrecalled. ” (Morrison 41) “To deprive her of these fights was to deprive her of all the zest and reasonableness of life. ” (Morrison 41/42)
What Morrison in effect is saying, is that Mrs. Breedlove wanted, depended on, and needed to fight Cholly on a daily basis just to survive. The point of all this history on Cholly is to give one example of Morrison using a negative character to produce large amounts of character development in the story, sometimes good, and sometimes bad. Cholly affected characters in different ways, take his kids for example, “Sammy cursed for a while, or left the house, or threw himself into the fray. He was known, by the time he was fourteen, to have run away from home no less than twenty-seven times” (Morrison 43).
Pecola dealt with the pain her father brought in a different way. “She struggled between an overwhelming desire that one would kill the other, and a profound wish that she herself could die” (Morrison 43). Of course we know the end result of Cholly’s influences on his kids. Sammy takes off, this time probably for good, and Pecola goes insane. The rest of the male characters in the story do not play as significant a role as Cholly Breedlove did, however Morrison still uses them to instigate character development.
For example, Claudia and Frieda’s dad, Mr. Macteer, is mentioned rarely, but from what is said about him, we can decipher that he is an honest, hardworking, loving father who tries hard to make ends meet and to make his family unit work. He is the one male character in this book that goes against the grain. I think that Morrison thought that one positive male character in the story wouldn’t be so bad, after all the ratio of negative male characters to positive ones in the novel is about one hundred to one.
He, unlike his other male counterparts, is very protective of his family, which is illustrated when he beats up Mr. Henry and shoots at him with a gun after he fondles Frieda. He truly was the only male character with a positive purpose, or role in this story. He played the part of a real role-model, someone you could look up to, or go to in times of trouble, and definitely produced positive character development in other characters. Soaphead Church however was another story. A perverted West Indian with light brown skin from the islands, he’s a closet homosexual who also has a fetish for young girls to satisfy his sexual appetite.
I gave them mints, money, and they’d eat ice cream with their legs open while I played with them. ” (Morrison 181) This guy was probably just as, if not more evil than Cholly Breedlove. Cholly had his past to blame for his sins. This guy was brought up right from what I read. Plus he molested more girls than Cholly did, and took great pleasure in it. For Cholly, it was more of a spur of the moment thing. Soaphead Church is also a cruel man as well. He has Pecola poison a dog, and promises her that if the dog dies, she will get blue eyes. “And mark how well he behaves.
If nothing happens, you will know God has refused you. If the animal behaves strangely, your wish will be granted on the day following this one” (Morrison 175). Finally, he is critical of God, and actually claims that he plays God better than God plays himself. His role in the story was to try to bring some sense of religion into the setting, as well as influence character development. He does a fine job of that, telling God himself that he’s wrong, and having little girls poison dogs under the pretense that they’ll get blue eyes if the dog dies.
Again, another example of a male character being used to stimulate developments in characters, and in the story itself. The rest of the male characters in this story are minor on the scale of evilness. Mr. Henry is also a sexual predator, who gets his butt in a ringer when he feels up Frieda one afternoon at the Macteer household. He narrowly escapes with his life after old man Macteer misses with the rifle. Junior, the son of the prim and proper “Aiken” woman Geraldine, assaults Pecola with a cat, takes her as his prisoner, murders or seriously incapacitates the cat, and then blames it all on Pecola, who ends up taking the rap.
And then there were the schoolyard bullies, Bay Boy and all the rest who gang up on Pecola and hold her at bay while they verbally assault her. All these male characters played the role of regulating the usual evils in a person’s everyday life. Unlike Cholly and Soaphead Church, whose evils were on a grandiose scale, and do not happen to people often, these characters represented the regular hardships and conflicts people go through everyday, and therefore they stimulate minimal development compared to the major evildoers in this story.
To sum up this paper, I think that every male character in this novel played the important role of either positively, or aversely affecting the way the rest of the characters in this story developed. While most of the influencing was negative, there was the occasional bright spot shining through, such as Mr. Macteer, or some heroic or humorous act that pulled this story together. Overall the book was depressing, and I thought the plot line needed some fine tuning, but Morrison executed some good character development and conflict, and that combined with some creative point of view shifts made for an interesting chronicle of human life.
I think Morrison made the male characters the way she did, because she wanted to portray this story in a way as real as possible. She based the story loosely on some of her childhood experiences, and don’t forget, she was around in the racist period of time that was in this country, so you can see where all this negativity comes from. So in short, Morrison essentially used male characters to stimulate character development, and to basically tell her story of someone’s poor, unfortunate childhood.