Toni Morisson’s novel The Bluest Eye is about the life of the Breedlove familywho resides in Lorain, Ohio, in the late 1930s. This family consists of themother Pauline, the father Cholly, the son Sammy, and the daughter Pecola. Thenovel’s focal point is the daughter, an eleven-year-old Black girl who is tryingto conquer a bout with self-hatred.
Everyday she encounters racism, not justfrom white people, but mostly from her own race. In their eyes she is much toodark, and the darkness of her skin somehow implies that she is inferior, andaccording to everyone else, her skin makes her even “uglier. ” Shefeels she can overcome this battle of self-hatred by obtaining blue eyes, butnot just any blue. She wants the bluest eye. Morrison is able to use hercritical eye to reveal to the reader the evil that is caused by a society thatis indoctrinated by the inherent goodness and beauty of whiteness and theugliness of blackness.
She uses many different writing tools to depict how”white” beliefs have dominated American and African American culture. The narrative structure of The Bluest Eye is important in revealing just howpervasive and destructive social racism is. Narration in novel comes fromseveral sources. Much of the narration comes from Claudia MacTeer as a nine yearold child, but Morrison also gives the reader the insight of Claudia reflectingon the story as an adult, some first person narration from Pecola’s mother, andnarration by Morrison herself as an omniscient narrator. Pecola’s experienceswould have less meaning coming from Pecola herself because a total and completevictim would be an unreliable narrator, unwilling or unable to relate the actualcircumstances of that year.
Claudia, from her youthful innocence, is able to seeand relate how the other characters, especially Pecola, idolize the”ideal” of beauty presented by white, blue-eyed movie stars likelittle Shirley Temple. In addition to narrative structure, the structure andcomposition of the novel itself help to illustrate how much and for how longwhite ideas of family and home have been forced into black culture. Instead ofconventional chapters and sections, The Bluest Eye is broken up into seasons,fall, winter, spring, and summer. This type of organization suggests that theevents described in The Bluest Eye have occurred before, and will occur again.
This kind of cycle suggests that there is notion that there is no escape fromthe cycle of life that Breedloves and MacTeer live in. Further, dividing thebook are small excerpts from the “Dick and Jane” primer that is thearchetype of the white upper-middle class lifestyle. Each excerpt has, in someway, to do with the section that follows. So the section that describes Pecola’smother is started with an excerpt describing Dick and Jane’s mother, and so on. The excerpts from “Dick and Jane” that head each “chapter”are typeset without any spaces or punctuation marks.
The “Dick andJane” snippets show just how prevalent and important the images of whiteperfection are in Pecola’s life; Morrison’s strange typography illustrates howirrelevant and inappropriate these images actually are. Names play an importantpart in The Bluest Eye because they are often symbolic of conditions in societyor in the context of the story. The name of the novel, “The BluestEye,” is meant to get the reader thinking about how much value is placed onblue-eyed little girls. Pecola and her family are representative of the largerAfrican-American community, and their name, “Breedlove,” is ironicbecause they live in a society that does not “breed love.
” In fact, itbreeds hate; hate of blackness, and thus hatred of oneself. The MacTeer girlsare flattered when Mr. Henry said “Hello there. You must be Greta Garbo,and you must be Ginger Rogers”, for the names ring of beauty that the girlsfeel they will never reach.
Soaphead Church represents, as his name suggests,the role of the church in African-American life. “I, I have caused amiracle. I gave her the eyes. I gave her the blue, blue, two blue eyes,”Soaphead says.
The implication is that the church’s promise that if you worshipGod and pray to Him that everything will be alright is no better than Soaphead’spromise to Pecola that she will have blue eyes. Morrison reveals thesignificance of Pecola’s name through the character of Maureen Peal. Maureenconfuses Pecola’s name with the name of a character in the movie Imitation ofLife. By this allusion, Morrison illustrates that Pecola’s life is an imitationof the real experiences of black women.
Morrison also uses metaphors to describethe conditions under which African-Americans in general and Pecola in particularare forced to live. There are two major metaphors in The Bluest Eye, one ofmarigolds and one of dandelions. Claudia, looking back as an adult, says in thebeginning of the novel, “there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941”. She and her sister plant marigold seeds with the belief that if the marigoldswould grow and survive, so would Pecola’s baby. Morrison unpacks the metaphorthroughout the book, and, through Claudia, finally explains it and broadens itsscope to all African-Americans on the last page.
“I even think now that theland of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. Certain seeds itwill not nurture, certain fruits it will not bear . . .
” The implication isthat Pecola, like so many other African-Americans, never had a chance to growand succeed because she lived in a society (“soil”) that wasinherently racist, and would not nurture her. The other flower, the dandelion,is important as a metaphor because it represents Pecola’s image of herself. Pecola passes some dandelions going into Mr. Yacobowski’s store.
“Why, shewonders, do people call them weeds’she thought they were pretty”. AfterMr. Yacobowski humiliates her, she again passes the dandelions and thinks;”They are ugly. They are weeds”.
She has transferred society’s dislikeof her to the dandelions. In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison tells the story of alittle black girl who thinks that if she can live up to the image of theblue-eyed Shirley Temple and Dick and Jane that she will have the perfect lifethat they have. The importance of this book goes beyond its value as a work ofliterature. Morrison speaks to the masses, both white and black, showing how aracist social system wears down the minds and souls of people, how dominateimages of white heroes and heroines with blue eyes and wonderful lives showyoung black children that to be white means to be successful and happy, and thenthey look around at their own lives of poverty and oppression and learn to hatetheir black heritage for keeping them from the Dick and Jane world.
Morrisondoes not solve these problems, nor does she even try, but she does show areflection of a world that cannot call itself right or moral.