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Title of the submission: Race, Psychoanalysis and Female Subjectivity in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye Names: Su-Lin Yu Affiliaton: National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan Address: Department of Foreign Languages & Literature, National Cheng Kung University, No1. Ta-Hsueh Road, Tainan City, Taiwan E-mail: email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
The abstract of paper: Toni Morrison’s works have generated much interest among psychoanalytic critics. In fact, a large proportion of her writings contain either implicit or explicit reference to the insights of modern psychoanalysis. As Linden Peach notes, “Psychoanalytic perspectives on Morrison’s fiction developed in the mid-1980s, but some of the initial studies did not have an especially strong theoretical base. It is only more recently that critics have pursued their psychoanalytic criticism within a postsructuralist framework” (205). In particular, Morrison, in her first novel The Bluest Eye, impresses her readers with the psychological complexity of her characters. The Bluest Eye’s initial feminist reviews and its preoccupation with mother-daughter relationship make it particularly amenable to a feminist psychoanalytic interpretation. Indeed, the work has attracted a number of psychoanalytic readings.1 The narrative portrays two contrary representations of the development of female subjectivity. While Claudia eventually negotiates her way into selfhood, Pecola is doomed to failure. This paper shall show how both Claudia and Pecola pass through the mirror stage, and then demonstrate why Claudia ultimately develops her subjectivity by submitting to the Symbolic, and why Pecola unfortunately loses her subjectivity by being trapped in the Imaginary. I will proceed to discuss the development of their subjectivity by combining cultural criticism and the Lacanian psychoanalytic theory.
The Full Essay: Race, Psychoanalysis and Female Subjectivity in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye With the recent intersection of postcolonial studies and psychoanalysis, particularly the revisionist studies of the works of Frantz Fanon, the issue of race has gained increasing critical attention in psychoanalysis. Christopher Lane’s The
Psychoanalysis of Race (1998) is a representative work that shows such a paradigmatic shift of psychoanalytic discourse to the emphasis on race. In the
introduction to the book Lane points out that “we cannot comprehend ethnic and racial disputes without considering the implications of psychic resistance“ (1). Aware of the need to revise classical psychoanalysis and conventional approaches to racism, psychoanalytic feminists have also infused questions of race into their discourse. Elizabeth Abel has called for psychoanalytic investigation of racialized
identification and desire: “psychoanalysis has been resistant to the social, but it need not always, uniformly, be. It is better for feminism to challenge that resistance than
to renounce psychoanalysis entirely or succumb to its seductions” (199). . In the field of African-American literary criticism, Claudia Tate’s Psychoanalysis
and Black Novels offers a racially contextualized model of psychoanalysis so that a combination of African-American textuality and psychoanalysis may contribute to a
“Psychoanalytic perspectives on Morrison’s fiction developed in the mid-1980s. and subjectivity. a large proportion of her writings contain either implicit or explicit reference to the insights of modern psychoanalysis. impresses her readers with the psychological complexity of her characters. in her first novel The Bluest Eye. It is only more recently that critics have pursued their psychoanalytic criticism within a postsructuralist framework” (205). Richard Wright.1 The narrative portrays two contrary representations of the development of female subjectivity.E. In fact. Morrison. B. Tate explores African American desire. but some of the initial studies did not have an especially strong theoretical base. Zora Neale Hurston. The Bluest Eye’s initial feminist reviews and its preoccupation with mother-daughter relationship make it particularly amenable to a feminist psychoanalytic interpretation. and Nella Larsen. alienation. As she recognizes the general absence of psychoanalytic readings in black literature.Yu 3 deeper understanding of African-American literature on the one hand and enrich the psychoanalytic paradigm on the other. “ psychoanalysis can tell us much about the complicated social workings of race in the United States and the representations of these workings in the literature of African Americans” (5). . Du Bois. W. In particular. the work has attracted a number of psychoanalytic readings. Analyzing the novels by Emma Kelley. Indeed. she argues. As Linden Peach notes. Toni Morrison’s works have generated much interest among psychoanalytic critics.
Thus. I will proceed to discuss the development of their subjectivity by combining cultural criticism and the Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. This paper shall show how both Claudia and Pecola pass through the mirror stage. and then demonstrate why Claudia ultimately develops her subjectivity by submitting to the Symbolic. The Imaginary: Self-Other Mirroring According to Jacques Lacan’s theory. Pecola is doomed to failure. Lacan believes. “The mirror stage is a drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from insufficiency to anticipation-and which manufactures for the subject. order is thus best exemplified by the mirror stage. Italics mine). and why Pecola unfortunately loses her subjectivity by being trapped in the Imaginary. I. the succession of phantasies that extends from a fragmented body-image to a form of its totality” (Lacan 4. The mirror stage is important because it is a state in which the myth of a unified selfhood depends upon the child’s ability to identify with . the mirror stage not only marks the child’s first recognition of lack but also initiates the child into the two-person structure of imaginary identifications.Yu 4 While Claudia eventually negotiates her way into selfhood. Lacan uses the term “Imaginary” to designate the other of the The imaginary subject’s experience that is dominated by identification and duality. caught up in the lure of spatial identification. a normal subject must eventually move from the mirror phase (the Imaginary) to an acceptance of the function and power of the Symbolic.
Thus. For instance. Elizabeth Grosz. Pecola relates through desire to all identificatory .” Although both Claudia and Pecola are driven by the same desire to overcome this condition of “lack. Pecola. explains. “the majority other. what Pecola and Claudia lack is the ideal beauty reflected by the images of whites.” they react toward the white other in different ways. on the one hand. She attempts to fill her “lack” by identifying with the image of the other. Apparently. Seen in this theoretical Being context.Yu 5 objects in the world as “others. trying to discover what the secret of her ugliness is. they are born into a fundamental condition of “insufficiency” or “incompleteness” which they desire to understand. italics mine). “What was the secret? What did we lack?” (74. (45) Claudia also keeps questioning. the child must also learn to differentiate itself from “others” if it is to become a subject. Demanding love and gratification. Pecola and Claudia are psychologically involved in the Imaginary. in her reading of Lacan’s notion of the Imaginary. African-American girls. where the self sees itself reflected in the other”(Grosz 46). Imaginary relations are thus two-person relations. “Relations between self and other thus govern the imaginary order.”2 Nevertheless. This is the domain in which the self is dominated by images of the other and seeks its identity in a reflected relation with alterity. Pecola looks at herself in the mirror. sees the images of whites as objects of imaginary identifications.
In Pecola’s case.Yu 6 others. she is forever lost in desiring a presumptive unity with the (m)other. Breelove”(43). Throughout the novel. Claudia. on the other. Breedlove have never had Pauline spends all her energy on her a normal mother-daughter relationship. she never shows Pecola her maternal love. the infant recognizes the absence of the mother. as Morrison’s narrator tells us. Breedlove as “mother” implies the permanent existence of a void. like Sammy and Cholly always called her mother Mrs. According to Lacan. and then transfers its desire for union with its mother to the object around it. and ultimately acknowledged her differences from the other. The fact that Morrison does not designate Mrs. Mrs. she imposes a In her white employer’s kitchen. when she spills the blueberry pie on . potential force and violence on Pecola. and ugly place. First. Indeed. The contrasting attitudes toward the other between Pecola and Claudia actually result from their different relationships with their mothers. tries to understand her “lack”: “Why was it important? She manifests attitudes of jealousy and hatred toward the And so what?” (74) “completed” and “unified” image of the other. Instead. Pecola and Mrs. employer’s home and leaves her own home a cruel. Breedlove intensely reacts against her daughter. the mother is the first significant other with whom the infant is united in the pre-mirror stage. “Pecola. In the imaginary. the absence of a m(other) in Pecola’s psychic life. bleak.
She lets Pecola ask a crucial question. Pecola “gazed fondly at the silhouette of Shirley Temple’s dimpled face”(19).” Pecola shuffles away in abject humility. but to the image of Shirely Temple. Pecola’s gaze. therefore. “Hush. As the little white girl gets the benefit of magically soothing language. Shirley Temple.Yu 7 the floor. and decides that a pair . Pecola evokes in hallucinated form the feeling of contentment even in the absence of mother. Pecola metonymically shifts her desire for the mother not to the image of the breast. This contentment is ultimately insufficient for Pecola. Drinking milk out of the Shirley Temple cup. thus. who truly wants to be loved. the racial other. the icon of the ideal beauty. Fascinated with the blue-and-white Shirley temple cup. and then “took every opportunity to drink milk out of it just to handle and see Shirley’s face”(23). Morrison’s refusal to portray Mrs. Don’t worry none. She strikes out at Pecola and embraces the little white girl. Pecola’s pathetic desire for satisfaction is revealed in her first significant image of Imaginary identification—Shirley Temple. assumes a maternal image to Pecola. “how do you get somebody to love you?”(31) The answer comes to Pecola after she looks at herself in the mirror. Earlier in the novel. in psychoanalytic terms. signifies her desire for Shirley Temple. Morrison underscores Pecola’s lack of love. anticipates Pecola’s crazed desire for love and satisfaction in the identificatory other. Breedlove as a loving maternal figure.
annihilation. orgasmic. Love Mary Jane. she learns that the name of a young Pecola demands a love that paradoxically entails her own . Pecola She. sacrifices much of her pride to buy the candy for the blue eyes of the little blonde girl depicted on the package. Lovely Mary Jane. more than being the other. because she believes. “in Morrison’s texts. Yet. In particular. eat Mary Jane. then. diffusely erotic. uses Pecola’s experience of illusory jouissance to show that Pecola’s unrequited desire for the racial other severely lowers her own self-worth. Rigney has already indicated. Pecola’s desire to be Mary Jane is driven by a desire to be the other. emphasis mine). “To eat the candy is somehow to eat the eyes. finds her second object of imaginary identification—Mary Jane. Clearly. at this moment.Yu 8 of blue eyes would make her beautiful and change people’s attitudes toward her. Be Mary Jane”(50). is metaphoric. for whom a candy is named”(50). expressive of jouissance” (83. food.“Three pennies had bought her nine lovely orgasms Barbara with Mary Jane. like everything else in her worlds. A further step in Pecola’s fall into the Imaginary realm occurs in her inability to differentiate herself from the other—Pecola in the picture show Imitation of Life. When Pecola introduces herself to Maureen Peal. Pecola enacts an illusion of fusing with the other and thereby achieving an impossible plentitude—jouissance. Morrison. The experience of jouissance is sexual and The narrator tells us.
eased up into that cracked window. Claudia describes Pecola’s voice as “Pecola” in the picture show might be seen as her Or I would go further to argue that Pecola is eventually not able to distinguish herself from the other after she has maintained such an obsessive relation to the previous identificatory others. MacTeer. in spite of her painful rebuffs and unjust punishment of her children. with an edge of wintergreen in it base—everywhere in that . Mrs. While Mrs. She has already been caught in the MacTeer scolds her sickness. shapes Mrs. In contrast. “Love. Mrs. Morrison establishes a strong mother-daughter bonding between Claudia and her mother. Yet. marked by poverty and a bitter climate. MacTeer’s sometimes rough and cruel treatment of her children. “Where this mulatto girl hates her mother cause she is black and ugly. warm laughter and an abiding love. alter-ego. she also remembers her mother’s love. identificatory web of the Imaginary. The novel opens with a story of Claudia vomiting in her bed. musty.” Pecola responds with an “Oh. Note that when Maureen Peal tells Pecola about the picture show. The harsh condition of life. we do find that Pecola implicitly identifies with the girl. I could smell it—taste it—sweet.” Although we do not know Pecola’s conscious reaction toward this other in the picture show. MacTeer is capable of soft music.Yu 9 female character in Imitation of Life is also “Pecola” who is “pretty.” “no more than a sigh”(67). thick and dark as Alaga syrup.
experiences a moment of union with This moment is critical during the development of Claudia’s subjectivity. for it will enable her to distinguish the other from the mother. “is the point when we mature. Until she moves into it. in the recognition that the other can never replace the mother. Claudia’s hatred toward the other is born of a painful Therefore. her mother. Claudia will never learn to accept the other. In fact. part of Claudia’s life urge comes from the tactile memory of her mother’s hand on her feverish forehead in the middle of the night—a loving mother’s touch: “So when I think of autumn. She admits. unlike Pecola. Claudia. “Younger than both Frieda and Pecola. I would add that this juncture is when Claudia enters the realm of the Symbolic. Claudia’s hatred toward the other is intensified when the adults force her to love the white doll baby. domain of the Imaginary. as Macro Portales suggests. The turning point in development.Yu 10 house”(12). a mirror image that reflects her . when we accept the reality of the world around us and so learn to adjust to our physical and mental surroundings”(497). I think of somebody with hands who does not want me to die”(12). Claudia consciously rejects it in language and behavior full of bitterness and hatred. I had not yet arrived at the turning point in the development of my psyche which would allow me to love her. What I felt at that time was unsullied hatred”(19). converts her desire for the mother into a hatred toward the other. Rather than embracing the racial other as Pecola does. Claudia.
Yu 11 own unworthiness. Metaphorically. Yet. Claudia notes that “Adults. encounter with Maureen Peal. Morrison is aware that the difference between self and other is not only psychologically constituted but also socially constructed. shops. and not us” (74. Although no one tells her the origin of the belief In her system. “all the time we know that Maureen Peal was not the Enemy and not worthy of such intense hatred. . rather than the one watching. Claudia recognizes that she can never be as beautiful or loveable as the doll. italic mine). to discover the darkness. but apparently only me”(20). Claudia’s desire to dismember the doll is a deconstructive attempt to subvert the opposition between her fragmented body and the unified body of the racial other. newspapers. So. To see of what it was made. The Thing to fear was the Thing that mad her beautiful. Claudia refuses to accept the value that resides in the baby doll until she understands how it is produced. older girls. Since Claudia cannot understand the universal allure of the white baby doll. Claudia becomes a jealous child who wishes to be the one watched. which prefigures a unity that she lacks. she is possessed with an aggressive desire—“to dismember it. pink-skinned doll was what every girl treasured”(20). window signs—all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed. Nevertheless. Significantly. Claudia gradually realizes it as she journeys through the mirror stage. yellow-haired. the desirability that had escaped me. to find the beauty. Claudia says. magazines.
a third agency represents the Symbolic Father to them. the ruling Other. knowing. Thus the conversion from pristine sadism to fabricated hatred. Instead. It was a small step to Shirley Temple. The Symbolic Other One sign that forces Pecola and Claudia to enter the Symbolic order is the appearance of their fathers. learns to differentiate herself from the other. a third position beyond . I learned much later to worship her. that the change was adjustment without improvement. For her psychic evolution to occur. and accepts the social construction of the difference. The dual imaginary relation needs to be symbolically regulated or mediated. (23) Claudia’s small step to Shirley Temple indicated her small step toward the realm of the Symbolic. II. even as I learned. Eventually Claudia must surrender to the ruling Other that imposes the In order to survive as a normal subject. As adult Claudia records the account of her subjectivity. Claudia knows that she must ultimately move into the register of the Symbolic.Yu 12 Morrison implies that the “Thing” is the Phallus. As Grosz indicates. just as I learned to delight in cleanliness. she concept of white beauty on black people. the Name-of-the-Father. to fraudulent love. Yet. both of their fathers fail to take up their symbolic functions. This occurs with the help of a term outside this dual structure.
Yet. but in any case these laws and prohibitions must be culturally represented or embodied for the child by some authority figure. for a long time” (157. Cholly wanders on the street. Cholly’s fetal position expresses his psychological return to the realm of the Mother. paralyzed.” Figuratively. to whom the child may relate. Cholly. Dangerously free. not the real. his fists covering his eyes. the Imaginary. because he hopes to regain the phallic power by identifying with his father. (47) In Pecola’s case. or rather. remains in the realm of the Mother. in fact. his journey of searching for the father turns out to After he is brutally rejected by his father. an other. italic mine). Cholly sets out on a journey to search for his father. the imaginary father. because his phallic power is deprived by the white culture. In Cholly’s sexual encounter with Darlene. Cholly has . which symbolically castrate Cholly. fails to take up the symbolic function. the cruel and malicious white men appear to threaten them with long guns. and finally makes a symbolic gesture under the pier: “He remained knotted there in fetal position. a representation of the phallus. The imaginary father usually takes on the symbolic function of law.Yu 13 the mother-child dyad. Claudia tells us. Cholly Breedlove. the ruling Other. her father. Afterward. who is a person. “Cholly was free. be a psychological regression. This “third term” is the Father. Right after this humiliating and frightening incident.
Yu 14 escaped the law of the Symbolic. Soaphead Church appears as a representation of the symbolic father. With anger and frustration. When Soaphead Church faces Pecola’s request for the blue eyes. Never before had he really wanted the true and holy power” (174). Not “giving” blue eyes to Pecola. “I gave her those blue eyes she wanted. Soaphead Church decides to play the role of God. in Lacanian terms. Soaphead Church attempts to justify his He writes. because he believes that he could regain the Name-of-the-Father by substituting the sexual organ.” his actual role is that of the symbolic father. Although the apparent role of Soaphead Church is that of “Psychic Reader. penis. and “he was free to live his fantasies”(159). Soaphead Church’s powerlessness. Soaphead Church is the character who seems a function appearing only at the end of the novel. imaginary other. “For the first time he honestly wished he could work miracles. he senses his own powerlessness. suggests his lack of the phallic power. the ultimate Father. and becomes merely a brutal. . performing the law of the Father. Cholly chooses to sexually join Pecola in an imaginary relationship. In his letter to God. he ironically violates his proper role. Since Cholly cannot take up the symbolic function in Pecola’s post-mirror subjectivity. whom Pecola undoubtedly will reject. Whereas Cholly ought to have remained in his proper place as the paternal agent to Pecola. But. for the symbolic phallus. to assume the role of father.
as Claudia describes. and is unable to register his daughter in the realm of the Symbolic. As a psychotic subject.” Pecola. Mr. Pecola’s madness also expresses the dominating authority of the ruling Other. I played You” (182. as a falsified father.” Mr. MacTeer. Soaphead Church assumes the Name-of-the-Father and gains the power of signification. Soaphead Church registers Pecola in the domain of the Imaginary rather than the Symbolic. could not. and not for money. the white culture. in Pecola’s psychic life can never be fulfilled in the domain of the Symbolic. I did what You did not. would not do: I look at that ugly little black girl. also lacks power of signification. totality. MacTeer has to spend most of his energy “to keep one from the door and the other from under the . Consequently. In Claudia’s case. She keeps looking at her “blue” eyes in the mirror. and I loved her. intent on the blue void it could not reach” (204. looks like “a winged but grounded Indeed.Yu 15 for pleasure. Pecola ultimately remains enmeshed in the Imaginary. her father. bird. offering her an illusion of Unfortunately. He validates Pecola’s wish for blue eyes. what Pecola can do is to take the Imaginary for the real. Although he acts as a protector of his family. italics mine). italics mine). and thus drives her into a wretched isolation and abandonment of self-worth through the Other’s neglect. “Wolf killer turned hawk fighter. the void So. Pecola’s attempt to deny the authority of the ruling Other devours her. and worries about that her eyes are not the “bluest.
at best. Claudia. we are polite. Thus. language. it is the ruling Other who instills in Claudia the sense of lawfulness and willing submission to social rules. not good. every glance. but well . ‘You are ugly people. “we were not free. smiling when the family boarder admires his daughters as “Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers. merely licensed. The signifiers of that register constantly appear in aspects of what Lacan calls the gaze. the look. we were not compassionate.” Instead. The master had said. As adult Claudia herself notes. is subordinate to the ruling Other. Aware of her own submission to the Law of the Symbolic. support for it learning at them from every billboard. and they had each accepted it without question. a paternal agent in his quiet way. Claudia recognizes that the phallus lies only in the ruling Other. Mr. like the rest of the community. and the stare throughout the novel. Claudia finally learns to accept the register of the Symbolic. Claudia says. along with the metonymically imagery associated with it such as the eye. “the master” is the ruling Other who is the locus of law. and the symbolic. and that she comes at last under its authority in order to survive as a normal subject. Under such a threatening and harsh reality. in fact. (39) Apparently. saw.’ They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement. MacTeer is. It was though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear.Yu 16 windowsills” (61). every movie.
in relation to those dominant images of which Lacan so frequently speaks: the mother. under the dominance of the ruling Other. Claudia does not accept her socially designated identity As a speaking subject registered in the Symbolic. psychoanalytic theory helps to explain the psychological complexity of Toni Morrison’s characters in The Bluest Eye. Demetrakopoulos points out. Pecola.Yu 17 behaved” (205). In some sense. a revisionist psychoanalytic reading can pathological subject. “In a way Claudia does do the sisterly act of avenging Pecola by telling what she can of the story”(34). especially Pecola and Claudia. identificatory object. should not . Morrison. Claudia represents a “normal” as opposed to a Indeed. images associated with her. Each of the stages—the Imaginary and the Symbolic—clearly exhibits the Both Pecola and Claudia develop their subjectivity constitution of their subjectivity. As a speaking subject. and the symbolic presence of the father. As Jean Walton advocates that psychoanalytic feminism. Psychoanalytic feminists should start to question what limitations and possibilities psychoanalysis provides for racial subjectivity. Yet. To some extent. as a means of rewriting female subjectivity. to speak for the oppressed African Americans. makes a gesture of transgressing the Law by telling Pecola’s story. uses Claudia. provide a better understanding of the development of racial subjectivity. a normal subject. Claudia also As Stephanie without resistance.
.” 2 This essay will emphasize Lacan’s different usages of “otherness”: identificatory objects as “other” in the Imaginary and the symbolic father as “Other” in the Symbolic.Yu 18 remain silent about race. and J. Brooks Bouson’s exploration of trauma in “’Quiet As It’s Kept’: Shame and Trauma in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Notes 1 See Portales’s discussion on the “demented personality” in “Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye: Shirley Temple and Cholly”.
J. Christopher. Stephanie. 1999. Politics of Age. Toni Morrison. 1990. “’Quiet As It’s Kept’: Shame and Trauma in Toni Morrison’s Scenes of Shame: Psychoanalysis. and Psychoanalysis? Opening Questions?” Conflicts in Feminism. Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction. The Psychoanalysis of Race. Shame. New York: St. Class. “Race. Albany: State U of New York P. . ed. Demetrakopoulos. 1998. ed. Brooks. Martin’s. Linden. 1977. Women. The Bluest Eye. Bouson. 1990. Ecrits: A Selection. Lane. Alan Sheridan. Lacan. Marianne Hirsch and Evelyn Fox Keller. Toni. New York: Routledge. Morrison. 1970. and Writing. Ed. 207-36. New York: Norton. Elizabeth. 184-204. New York: Plume. The Bluest Eye. Politics of survival as Embodies in the Novels of Toni Morrison” Grosz. Peach.Yu 19 Works Cited Abel. “Remembering Our Foremothers: Older Black W Ed. Jacques. New York: Columbia UP. New York: Routledge. Women& Politics 6 (1986): 13-34.” Joseph Adamson. 1998. Trans. Elizabeth.
“Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye: Shirley Temple and Cholly” The Centennial Review 30 (1986): 496-506. Jean. “Re-placing Race in (White) Psychoanalytic Discourse: Critical Inquiry 21 (1995): 775-804. 1998. 1991. Macro. Walton. Psychoanalysis and Black Novels: Desire and the Protocols of Race.” .Claudia.Yu 20 Portales. Columbus: Ohio State UP. New York: Oxford UP. Tate. Founding Narratives of Feminism. Barbara Hill. The Voices of Toni Morrison. Rigney.
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