He fought her the way a coward fights a man—with feet, the palms of his hands, and teeth. She, in turn, fought back in a purely feminine way—with frying pans and pokers, and occasionally a flatiron would sail toward his head.
The narrator describes the routine fights between Mr. and Mrs. Breedlove, explaining that even as they hurt each other, they embody traditional gender roles. Although beating one’s husband doesn’t seem like a typically feminine thing to do, Mrs. Breedlove uses kitchen and cleaning products to take such action. Her weapons of choice show how women of the time internalized the roles they were supposed to perform in the household, using the tools of a housewife even when in the midst of a fight.
In none of her fantasies was she ever aggressive; she was usually idling by the river bank, or gathering berries in a field when a someone appeared, with gentle and penetrating eyes, who—with no exchange of words—understood; and before whose glance her foot straightened and her eyes dropped.
Here, the narrator describes Pauline’s life before meeting Cholly. As she grew up, she started to fantasize about meeting a man and falling in love. In what would be considered a historically feminine fashion, she never imagined actually pursuing a man herself. Rather, she would wait for him to find her. Even though her life and appearance were far from those of characters in romantic movies, she still longed to be swept off her feet and saved by some Prince Charming.
Everybody in the world was in a position to give them orders. White women said, “Do this.” White children said, “Give me that.” White men said, “Come here.” Black men said, “Lay down.” The only people they need not take orders from were black children and each other.
While Cholly’s Aunt Jimmy is sick, the black women around her reflect on how they have had to take orders from nearly everyone in their lives. Even white children had the power to order them around simply based on their race. While being maternal is seen as a positive feminine quality, the fact that black children were the only group of people who had no power over them makes these women want to exert control over these black children, which readers see them do throughout the novel.