Knowing that there was such a thing as outdoors bred in us a hunger for property, for ownership. The firm possession of a yard, a porch, a grape arbor. Propertied black people spent all their energies, all their love, on their nests.
When Claudia’s family takes in Pecola, Claudia explains that being put “outdoors” meant you were homeless and had nowhere to go. In the black community in this novel, there exists an important distinction between people who rent and people who own houses. Those who own houses feel safer and more secure because they do not face the possibility of being suddenly homeless. Even though all black people are seen as lower class, home ownership can help those who can afford to own a house to raise their status in society.
The Breedloves did not live in a storefront because they were having temporary difficulty adjusting to the cutbacks at the plant. They lived there because they were poor and black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly.
After describing the storefront that the Breedloves use as their home, the narrator clarifies that this living space doesn’t represent a temporary or unusual housing situation. The Breedloves are poor and do not even seem to aspire to be homeowners. Their situation demonstrates how race and appearances can affect a person’s class. The Breedloves cannot change the fact that they are poor and black, but their perceived ugliness makes them feel that they cannot change their status in society. Despite their misery and suffering, they simply accept how they live and never take action to change their situation.
The familiar violence rose in me. Her calling Mrs. Breedlove Polly, when even Pecola called her mother Mrs. Breedlove, seemed reason enough to scratch her.
When Claudia and Frieda go to find Pecola at the house where her mother works, the little girl that Mrs. Breedlove takes care of calls for her, and Claudia feels astounded, and quite angry, that the girl calls Mrs. Breedlove by her first name. As this little girl is white and a member of a wealthy family, she does not feel the need to address Mrs. Breedlove with the same respect expected of black people, and society seems to agree with her. Mrs. Breedlove could have asked the girl not to use her first name, but she knows she comes from a lower class and has no say in what the family calls her.