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The Bluest Eye

                   
The Bluest Eye  
BluestEye.JPG
1st edition
Author(s) Toni Morrison
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Publication date 1970
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 224 pp (Hardcover edition)
ISBN ISBN 978-0-375-41155-7 (Hardcover edition)
OCLC Number 43963986

The Bluest Eye is a 1970 novel by American author Toni Morrison. It is Morrison's first novel and was written while Morrison was teaching at Howard University and raising her two sons on her own.[1] The story is about a year in the life of a young black girl, named Pecola, who develops an inferiority complex due to her eye and skin appearance in Lorain, Ohio, against the backdrop of America's Midwest as well as in the years following the Great Depression. It is told from the perspective of Claudia MacTeer as a child and an adult, as well as from a third-person, omniscient viewpoint. Because of the controversial nature of the book, which deals with racism, incest, and child molestation, there have been numerous attempts to ban it from schools and libraries.[2]

Contents

  Plot summary

Claudia and Frieda MacTeer live in Ohio with their parents. They take two other people into their home, Mr. Henry and Pecola. Pecola is a troubled young girl with a hard life, whose parents are constantly fighting, both physically and verbally. Pecola is continually being told and reminded of what an “ugly” girl she is, thus fueling her desire to be white with blue eyes. Throughout the novel, it is revealed that not only Pecola but also her parents had a life full of hatred and hardships. Her mother, Pauline, feels alive and happy only when she is working for a rich, white family. Her father, Cholly, is a drunk who was left with his aunt when he was young and ran away to find his father, who wanted nothing to do with him.

Both Pauline and Cholly eventually lost the love they once had for one another. While Pecola is doing dishes, her intoxicated father rapes her. His motives are unclear and confusing, seemingly a combination of both love and hate. Cholly flees after the second time he rapes Pecola, leaving her pregnant. In the end, Pecola's child is born prematurely and dies. Claudia and Frieda give up the money they had been saving and plant marigold seeds in hopes that if the flowers bloom, Pecola's baby will live, but the marigolds never bloom.

Ideas of beauty, particularly those relating to racial and class characteristics, are a major theme in this book.[3] The title refers to Pecola's wish that her eyes would turn blue. Claudia is given a white baby doll to play with and is constantly told how lovely it is. Insults to physical appearance are often given in racial terms; a light-skinned student named Maureen is shown favoritism at school.

There is a contrast between the world shown in the cinema and the one in which Pauline is a servant, as well as the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant society and the existence the main characters live in. Most chapters' titles are extracts from a Dick and Jane reading book, presenting a happy, white family. This family is contrasted with Pecola's existence as she is.

  Characters

  • Pecola Breedlove - The protagonist of the novel. A poor, black girl, she believes that she is ugly because she and her community base their ideals of beauty on "whiteness." The title The Bluest Eye is based on Pecola's fervent wishes for beautiful blue eyes. She is rarely developed during the story, which is purposely done to underscore the actions of the other characters. Her insanity at the end of the novel is her only way to escape the world where she cannot be beautiful and to get the blue eyes she desires from the beginning of the novel.
  • Cholly Breedlove - Pecola's abusive father and an alcoholic. Rejected by his father and discarded by his mother as a four-day-old baby, Cholly was raised by his Great Aunt Jimmy. After she dies, Cholly runs away and pursues the life of a "free man" but cannot escape his painful past or live with his mistakes of the present. Tragically, he rapes his daughter in a gesture of madness mingled with affection. He realizes he loves her, but the only way that he can express it is to rape her. The source of some of his sexual violence is explained in a flashback scene in which his first sexual encounter is interrupted by two white men, who force Cholly to continue while they watch.
  • Pauline Breedlove - Pecola's mother. Mrs. Breedlove is married to Cholly and lives the self-righteous life of a martyr, enduring her drunk husband and raising her two awkward children as best she can. Mrs. Breedlove is a bit of an outcast herself with her shriveled foot and Southern background. Mrs. Breedlove lives the life of a lonely and isolated character who escapes into a world of dreams, hopes and fantasy that turns into the movies she enjoys viewing. After a traumatic event with a foul tooth, however, she relinquishes those dreams and escapes into her life as a housekeeper for a rich white family.
  • Sam Breedlove - Pecola's older brother. Sammy is Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove's only son. Sam's part in this novel is relatively low-key. Like his sister Pecola, he is affected by the disharmony in their home and deals with his anger by running away from home.
  • Claudia MacTeer - Much of the novel is told from the perspective of Claudia.
  • Frieda MacTeer - Claudia's older sister and close companion. The two MacTeer girls are often seen together and while most of the story is told through Claudia's eyes, her sister Frieda plays a large role in the novel.
  • Henry Washington - A man who comes to live with the MacTeer family and is subsequently thrown out by Claudia's father when he inappropriately touches Frieda.
  • Soaphead Church (aka Elihue Micah Whitcomb) - A pedophile and mystic fortune teller who "grants" Pecola her wish for blue eyes. The character is somewhat based on Morrison's Jamaican ex-husband.
  • Aunt Jimmy - Cholly's aunt, who takes him in to raise after his parents abandon him. She dies when he is a young boy.
  • Della Jones- Henry Washington's landlady before the Macteers.
  • Hattie- Della's sister.
  • Aunt Julia- Della and Hattie's aunt.
  • Peggy- The woman having an affair with Della's husband.
  • Old Slack Bessie- Peggy's mother.
  • Maureen Peal - A light-skinned, wealthy mulatto girl who is new at the local school. She accepts everyone else's assumption that she is superior and is capable of both generosity and cruelty. She changes her attitude throughout the novel towards Pecola.
  • Bay Boy- One of the black boys from school who teases Pecola about her daddy.
  • Woodrow Cain- One of the black boys from school who teases Pecola about her daddy.
  • Buddy Wilson- One of the black boys from school who teases Pecola about her daddy.
  • Junie Bug- One of the black boys from school who teases Pecola about her daddy.
  • Mrs. MacTeer- Claudia and Frieda's mother. She houses Pecola when her family is "put out."
  • Mr. MacTeer- Claudia and Frieda's father.
  • China- One of the prostitutes who live above the Breedlove residence. Physically, she is extremely skinny.
  • Poland- One of the prostitutes who live above the Breedlove residence. She speaks the least out of her, China, and Miss Marie.
  • Maginot Line (aka Miss Marie)- One of the prostitutes who live above the Breedlove residence. She is known for being very plump.
  • Dewey Prince- An old boyfriend of the Maginot Line.
  • The Fishers- The rich, white couple who employs Pauline as their servant.
  • Geraldine- A socially-conscious black woman in the community who tries to overexaggerate the fact that she is above traditional black stereotypes and is more "civilized" than other black families in Lorain, Ohio.
  • Louis- The husband of Geraldine.
  • Louis Junior- Geraldine's son who picks on Pecola and blames her for the killing of his mother's favorite cat.
  • Rosemary Villanucci- The little girl of the MacTeers' next door neighbor who constantly tries to get Claudia and Frieda in trouble.
  • Blue Jack- Cholly's boyhood mentor.
  • M'Dear- Medicine woman in Cholly's hometown who tends on Aunt Jimmy.
  • Essie Foster- Aunt Jimmy's neighbor whose peach cobbler is blamed for her death.
  • Miss Alice- One of Aunt Jimmy's friends.
  • Jake- Cholly's cousin that he first meets at Aunt Jimmy's funeral.
  • Darlene- Young girl from Cholly's home town with whom he shared his first sexual experience.
  • Mr. Yacobowski- The immigrant grocery story owner where Pecola goes to buy Mary Janes.
  • Chicken and Pie- The nicknames of Pauline's younger, twin siblings.
  • O.V.- Aunt Jimmy's half brother.

  Background

Toni Morrison, began writing The Bluest Eye in a writing group she joined while teaching at Howard University. She said it was “fun with colleagues. But then they stopped letting us bring in ‘high school essays,’ etc; so I would have to write something new.”[4] There, she wrote a passage that was later incorporated into the novel. When Morrison moved to Syracuse, New York, she would work on the novel in the evenings.

Morrison commented on her motivations to write the novel, saying, “I felt compelled to write this mostly because in the 1960s, black male authors published powerful, aggressive, revolutionary fiction or nonfiction, and they had positive racially uplifting redirect with them that were stimulating and I thought they would skip over something and thought no one would remember that it wasn't always beautiful, how hurtful racism is. I wrote The Bluest Eye because someone would actually be apologetic about the fact that their skin was so dark and how when I was a kid, we called each other names but we didn't think it was serious, that you could take it in, so the book was about taking it in, before we all decide that we are all beautiful, and have always been beautiful; I wanted to speak on the behalf of those who didn't catch that right away. I was deeply concerned about the feelings of being ugly.”[4]

  Themes

  Whiteness is beauty

In this book whiteness stands for beauty. This is a standard that the black girls can not meet, especially Pecola, who has darker skin than the others. Pecola connects beauty with being loved and believes that if only she had blue eyes, all the bad things in her life would be replaced with love and affection. This hopeless desire leads her to madness by the end of the novel.

  "Love is never any better than the lover"

The novel contains several relationships, and the relationships never end pleasantly. Morrison sees love as a dynamic force that can be extremely damaging depending on who is doing the loving. The biggest example of this is the relationship between Cholly and his daughter, Pecola. Cholly is the only character who can see past Pecola's supposedly revolting shell enough to touch her. While that sounds like a beautiful thing, it leads to the violent rape that serves as the climax of the story. As Claudia points out in the final chapter, "Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly."

While Cholly definitely loves, he manifests this love in violent ways. Because he had extremely damaging experiences as a child, his love is extremely tainted. The reader can look at this in two ways. The pessimistic view claims that true love can be achieved only if the lover is a good, honest person. However, the reader can also see this as uplifting. Even though love can be distorted, Morrison makes the point that everyone can in fact love. Even evil persons who love in an evil manner can still love.

  Gender disparity

The Bluest Eye is based on the lives of black women as it is written by a black woman. Toni Morrison has described the worldwide gender disparity by her characters like Pecola, Frieda, Pauline and the narrator Claudia, who once mentions in the novel that three things have greatly affected her life: being a child, being black, and being a girl. All the women characters are abused by both white women and men and by black men.

  Motifs

  Dirt and cleanliness

Morrison continually places the idea and image of dirt and impurity, both figuratively and literally, in each new setting. In the beginning, she introduces an ill Claudia plagued with bronchial and flu-like symptoms, cooped up in an "old, cold, green" house. The Breedloves' own appearance and home is poor and ugly. Pecola befriends the prostitutes living above her, who are impure in their own nature.

They sleep around, refute religion, are caked with makeup, surround themselves with smoke, and are overweight. Altogether, the characters live in a dusty, hot town, separate from the upper-class whites. They themselves are dark and not pristine in appearance. Pecola is especially insecure about her differences and imperfections. Morrison uses this repetitive concept to emphasize the severity of their lifestyles and their desperation to keep up appearances.

  Sacrifice

Most of Morrison's characters are martyrs to some cause or some person. Claudia and Frieda's mother gave up youth and her own life to stay at home and care for a family. Pecola believes that she is ugly so that others may be beautiful. Her body is sacrificed to Cholly for his self-fulfillment. Claudia and Frieda gave up their bike money and flower seeds to “make magic” for Pecola and her baby.

Mrs. Breedlove gave up her family, wealth, and status for Cholly and the trouble he brings economically, physically, and emotionally. Even Maginot Line and China gave up their bodies and social position to have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. The constant discussion of sacrifice, sin, and an unattainable redemption stresses a larger idea of life's real purpose and the struggle to make it through something that yields no reward.

  Blue eyes and vision

Believing a new pair of eyes will change the way she sees things as well as the way she is seen, Pecola's one deep desire is to have the bluest eyes in the world. The young girl's innocent wish is marked by her perception of a world where the cruelty and hardships she suffers are a result of her appearance as an ugly black girl with dark eyes. She imagines that having blue eyes will earn her respect and possible admiration. This is demonstrated when Pecola is teased by the little boys on the playground: when Maureen approaches staring at them with her light eyes, the boys back down and behave in a more respectable manner.

Furthermore, Pecola wishes specifically for new eyes rather than lighter skin because she also hopes to literally view the world in a better way. At home and all around her, Pecola is tortured by the cruelty and dirtiness she constantly witnesses; if she were blessed with new eyes, she would be able to see herself and her world in a new, beautiful way. Pecola's desire for blue eyes makes a connection between how a person is seen and what he or she sees.

  Whiteness

Throughout the novel, white skin is identified with beauty and purity. There are many recurring implications to the superiority of whites over blacks, specifically in women. The novel questions concepts of blackness and whiteness and describes the negative impact of white cultural domination on both black and white cultural identity.[3] The adoration of Shirley Temple (Frieda and Pecola in particular), the white baby doll given to Claudia, light-skinned Maureen being cuter than the other black girls, and Pauline Breedlove's preference for the little white girl she cares for demonstrate the prevailing dominance of whiteness.

As a result, women learn to hate themselves for being black and in turn relay this disgust to their daughters. This is most apparent within the Breedlove family, where Mrs. Breedlove despises the ugliness she sees in her own daughter. Pecola is most affected by this connection of beauty with whiteness, believing that beauty is associated with love and is necessary for affection and respect. Her hopeless desire to be identified as a white girl eventually drives Pecola to insanity.

  Hegemony

Black women of this novel are presented as the victims of the white beauty standards of society and some of them, like Pauline and Geraldine, are greatly affected by cultural hegemony and start loving and adopting the ways of white people.[3] Not only Pauline and Geraldine, but many of the black characters fall prey to this and love white people more than themselves. We can find a better example of it when Pauline beats Pecola for spilling a pie on the floor of the Fishers' house and when schoolboys tease Pecola and stop it when Maureen goes to rescue her from those boys. Boys tease Pecola for her ugliness due to her blackness, but run away after seeing Maureen, as they don't want to do bad things in front of her.

  Adaptation

The Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, Illinois commissioned Lydia R. Diamond to adapt the novel into a full-length stage production. This play was developed through the Steppenwolf for Young Adults and the New Plays Initiative, where it received its world premiere in February 2005. The play was reprised in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theatre in October 2006 by popular demand. The Bluest Eye received its off-Broadway premiere at the New Victory Theater in New York in November 2006.

In 2010, Phantom Projects Educational Theatre Group will present the Lydia R. Diamond adaptation at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, California.

It is also in the process of being adapted into a French version.

Rapper Talib Kweli used the book as an inspiration for his song "Thieves in the Night" with Mos Def on the Blackstar album.

  Notes

  References

  • Bump, Jeromo. "Family Systems Therapy and Narrative." Reading the Family Dance:Family Systems Therapy and Literature Study. Ed. Womack Kenneth and

John V Knapp. Newark: UP, 2003. 151-70. Print.

  • J, Lucy Crystal. "A Journal of Ideas." Proteus 21.2 (2004): 21-26. Print.
  • Waxman, Barbara Frey. "Girls Into Women: Culture, Nature, and Self-Loathing." Women in Literature:Reading Through The Lens of Gender. Ed. Jerilyn Fisher and Ellen S Silbert. Wesport: Greenwood, 2003. 47-49. Print.
   
               

 

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