Spring arrives, and Claudia associates this event with being whipped with a switch instead of a strap. She lies in an empty lot ruminating and then heads home. She finds her mother singing and behaving strangely, absentmindedly doing the same chore twice. She finds Frieda upstairs crying. It turns out that Henry touched Frieda’s breasts. Frieda ran from the house to find her parents, who were in the garden, and told them what had happened. She returned with her parents to the house, but Henry was gone. When he returned, Mr. and Mrs. MacTeer attacked him. A neighbor, Mr. Buford, arrived and gave Mr. MacTeer a gun. He shot at Henry and Henry ran away. Rosemary Villanucci came out and told Frieda that her father would go to jail, and Frieda hit her. Then another neighbor, Miss Dunion, came in and suggested that they take Frieda to the doctor because she might be “ruined,” a fear that now makes Frieda weep.
Frieda and Claudia are confused about what “ruined” means and worry that Frieda will become fat like the Maginot Line. They understand that China and Poland are “ruined” as well but think that they are not fat because they drink whiskey. Frieda and Claudia decide to ask Pecola to get whisky from her father in order to keep Frieda from getting fat. They go to Pecola’s house, but no one is home. The Maginot Line is upstairs on the porch drinking root beer, and she tells the children that Pecola is helping her mother at her workplace. She invites the girls upstairs for a soda, but Frieda tells her that they are not allowed to visit her because she is “ruined.” The Maginot Line throws the root-beer bottle at the girls in anger, but then she laughs. Claudia and Frieda run away and decide that even though Pecola’s mother works on the other side of town, Frieda’s situation is dire enough that they should go find her.
Frieda and Claudia walk to the lakefront houses, in a beautiful neighborhood with a park that is for white children only. They find Pecola at the back of one of the prettiest houses. She is surprised to see them, and they ask her why she is not afraid of the Maginot Line. Pecola is confused and talks about how nice Miss Marie (that is, the Maginot Line) and her friends are. Mrs. Breedlove sticks her head out the door, is introduced to the girls, and tells them they can wait with Pecola for the laundry and then walk back to town with her. The inside of the house is beautiful, and a small white girl comes in and asks for “Polly.” Claudia is furious that the child calls Mrs. Breedlove by this name because even Pecola calls her mother “Mrs. Breedlove.” From upstairs, the little girl calls for Polly, and Pecola accidentally pulls a freshly baked berry cobbler off the counter. The cobbler splatters on the floor and burns her, and her mother comes in and beats her. Furious, Mrs. Breedlove sends the girls away and comforts the little white girl, who has begun to cry.
This chapter emphasizes the ignorance and confusion that accompany Frieda’s experience of becoming a sexual being. Frieda is not given the chance to step gradually into her sexual identity; instead, this identity is forced upon her by an adult. Frieda is uncertain how to describe what has happened to her. She knows that Henry’s actions are inappropriate, but she does not understand what they mean. Claudia wonders, almost enviously, how being touched in this way feels, but Frieda rejects this question—what is important is not how she feels but what has been done to her and how her parents react. She depends upon their interpretation of what has taken place in order to understand it herself. But they still do not know what “ruined” means, and not understanding what makes the prostitute distasteful to their mother, they focus on what makes the prostitute distasteful to them—her fatness. The Maginot Line’s nickname comes from the bulky defensive fortifications built before World War II to protect the border of France from Germany. The thinness of her companions is then connected to whisky (again based on something that they have heard their mother say, but which they misunderstood), and so they undertake a quest to procure whisky for Frieda. In a sense, the way the MacTeer girls read and misread the adult world echoes the Dick-and-Jane reader at the beginning of the novel.
This logical but mistaken chain of reasoning adds a rare note of humor to the story that is unfolding. Frieda’s experience is frightening and confusing, but she is quickly defended by her protective parents, and Henry is a foolish rather than a threatening figure. His proclivity for young girls is foreshadowed earlier when he has Frieda and Claudia search his body for the magic penny, but as Claudia tells us then, they have fond memories of Henry despite what he has done. Frieda is angered by her experience and ready to take action rather than remain ashamed and defeated. Her experience of unwanted sexual attention contrasts sharply with Pecola’s rape experience, in which Pecola’s father not only fails to protect her, but is the perpetrator himself.
The messages the girls hear about white superiority do not come only from the white media or light-skinned blacks like Geraldine. More scarring and memorable than any prior source in the novel, Pecola’s own mother reinforces the message the girls have been receiving about the superiority of whites. The white neighborhood in which Mrs. Breedlove works is beautiful and well kept, demonstrating the connection between race and class. The kitchen is spotless, with white porcelain and white woodwork. The little white girl is dressed in delicate pink and has yellow hair. In contrast, Pecola spills “blackish blueberries” all over the floor, underlining the connection between blackness and mess. Her mother reinforces this connection as well. Instead of worrying that her own daughter has been burned by the hot berries, she pushes Pecola down into the pie juice. She then comforts the little white girl and begins to clean the black stain off of her pink dress. When she speaks to Pecola and her friends, her voice is like “rotten pieces of apple,” but when she speaks to the white girl, her voice is like honey. Her desire to disavow her daughter is proved when the white girl asks who the black children were and Mrs. Breedlove avoids answering her. She has renounced her own black family for the family of her white employer.