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Joyce Weng May 4, 2009 Women Prose Writers Dr. Lewis Final Paper
Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eyes must be one of the most colorful pieces of writing ever to have been written both in the literal and figurative senses. The story’s in depth critique of subjective beauty is constructed of glaringly, vivid hues of words of imagery that challenges the most thoughtful of superior poetic language. Simultaneously, Morrison’s truly divine narrative is built of words of actual color that ranges the spectrum from “honey voices” (74) to “unsurprised flesh.” (43) Both of which are examples of how Morrison is capable of using color in the most particularly masterful way. However, the significance of color is also implicitly connected with one of the characters named Claudia MacTeer and a revelation she had with her sister Frieda concerning “the Thing” that was guilty of making the two girls “ugly.” The two sisters’ encounter with Maureen Peal brought on emotions that were both expected and unfamiliar. The Bluest Eyes shows the reader the colors of beauty, ugliness, how each color is socially represented, and the pain of seeing true colors. “The Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us.” (74) Along with colors being the on-going subject matter for Morrison in this novel, there is attached to it the references of eyes, emotions evoked from seeing, nature, and certain symbols like the reappearance of cats. Each color can hold one, if not several symbolic significances that could also differ slightly (though, remain related) from character to character. Pecola Breedlove believes she is ugly and attempts to use her imagination to make her body disappear during one of her parents’ fights but fails, as she always does, to complete the process when she finally attempts to visualize her eyes disappearing. Shortly after, the reader finds out, “Each night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes.” (46) Also, in Pecola’s delusions, she finally does become beautiful by successfully achieving blue eyes later on in the novel.
Therefore, the color blue represents beauty to many of the characters but most of all, to Pecola. It should be noted that blue may be the most complicated of colors within this novel, most likely because it is given the most weight. Although, being the most complicated, it is still not the most important color. Pauline Breedlove who is Pecola’s mother, also known as Polly or Mrs. Breedlove, equally believes in her own ugliness. In her account of when she first met her husband Cholly Breedlove, the colors purple, yellow, and green are mentioned in connections with the sensation of happiness. “When I first seed Cholly, I want you to know it was like all the bits of color from that time down home when all us chil’ren went berry picking after a funeral and I put some in the pocket of my Sunday dress, and they mashed up and stained my hips… I could feel that purple deep inside me… It be cool and yellowish, with seeds floating near the bottom… And that streak of green them june bugs made on the trees… (115) As Pauline tells of her emotional experience, Morrison incorporates many color-coded words, which signals to the reader that each color represents a meaning. While those three colors together may signify delight and love, each color by itself may mean something different. Green can mean “lonesomeness” as Pauline often thinks of “peeling green paint” and empty “green chairs.” (121, 122) Furthermore, “physical beauty” is linked with yellow. (115,122) Though, yellow also signifies youth because of Pauline’s account of Cholly when he was much younger and there is also a mention of “the little pink-and-yellow girl.” (109) All the while, purple is tied to “romantic love.” (115, 122) Purple, however, also has a secondary meaning of desire as represented by the berry cobbler that Frieda sees at a different point within the story. “The purple juice bursting here and there through
crust.” (108) Returning to Pauline’s ugliness, “a little brown speck” turns into the loss of a front tooth. (116) To put it simply, brown or a dark shade like black would represent ugliness or imperfection. On the other hand, the Fisher girl whom Polly is hired to take care of has pajamas that are pink, which shows of innocence and luxury. (127) Again, another three-color combination appears, this time in the form of pink, white, and blue to create the sense of wealth. “The child’s pink nightie, the stacks of white pillow slips edged with embroidery, the sheets with top hems picked out with blue cornflowers.” (127) This makes up a quick summary and context of many of the secondary colors that are mentioned throughout the novel. Some colors are left up to much interpretation. The colors that follow are particularly ugly and slightly more vague. “Grass wouldn’t grow where they lived. Flowers died. Shades fell down. Tin cans and tires blossomed where they lived. They lived on cold black-eyed peas and orange pop…” (92) It could be said that the green grass’ stunted growth is actually malnourished happiness or the complete lack of happiness altogether in the absence of green. Dandelions or marigolds, the two flowers previously mentioned earlier in the novel are yellow, implying “physical beauty” or youth was dead. Only a rusty brown (tin can) or black (tire) can thrive. Only “ugliness” can be seen. Along with the typical color associations between beautiful and ugly colors, there are dangerous colors like red. Claudia says, “… I had heard too many black and red words about her… to dwell on any redeeming features she might have.” (77) Meanwhile, white seems to have both positive and negative connotations. Pecola attempts to “avoid seeing the snowflakes falling and dying on the pavement.” (93) Could this really be hope that was being defeated before Pecola’s eyes? Though, Morrison gives another description later on and says, “angry faces knotted like dark cauliflowers.” (73) The color white then
turns a little menacing. At one point, Mrs. Breedlove laments over how she even lacked the companionship of a cat. (117) Pecola seems to have a similar affinity for cats, as she is lured into an encounter with Geraldine’s son named Junior and their black cat. It is unclear what this specific symbolic animal is given such an iconic image. She is caught off guard in a horrible situation only to come to an intense realization through observation. “The blue eyes in the black face held her.” (90) Something changes in Pecola after this. Obviously, Claudia and Frieda do not have this fascination with blue in common with Pecola. Reevaluating the two sisters’ emotions of “jealousy” and then “envy,” one would wonder what are the colors that represent the “natural” and what would represent the “strange, new feeling.” (74) Although, one thing is clear. Claudia fears the Thing, which at the very least for Pecola and most likely on a more subconscious level with Claudia and even Frieda, is the essence of color. Focusing briefly on Pecola alone, the color that causes her the most grief is blue. Therefore, in reality, blue is actually both beauty and ugliness. However, the color blue is also a physical mutation or deformity as it evidently relates to Mrs. Breedlove and her foot. In reality, blue eyes are a rather rare genetic mutation and Mrs. Breedlove’s rare “deformity” of her handicapped foot can be linked together. So, it can be said that blue is a color of duality, consisting of both the attractive and the “other.” “Whatever portable plurality she found, she organized into neat lines, according to their size, shape, or gradation of color. Just as she would never align a pine needle with the leaf of a cottonwood tree, she would never put the jars of tomatoes next to the green beans. During all of her four years of going to school, she was enchanted by numbers and depressed by words. She missed – without knowing what she missed – paints and crayons.” (111)
There always was this attempt to control blue and its slippery transformation from its façade of beauty to the ugliness that it brought out in people’s actions and responses to what they perceive as the ugly. It is important to highlight this excerpt here because of the emphasis on the revelation that colors are just shades on a continuing spectrum, even though each color can be seen as a single item. Furthermore, the seasons that construct a year can be seen as another on-going spectrum. Or rather, the nature of seasons can be seen as a cyclical spectrum instead of a continuing line. In the novel, autumn is related to the purple of “lust” and the rusty shade of being “drunken” as well as “sober.” (9) While, winter brings the mention of “cheerless yellow” and “black limbs of leafless trees.” (61) This could signify that the lack of green again means the lack of happiness. Springtime does bring green, which should mean happiness but there is also the mention of pain. (97) Lastly, summer reveals pink and red, which is left up for the personal interpretation that it was a season that should have been avoided like all references to the color red that came before. (187) Again, it is crucial to bring up another excerpt of Mrs. Breedlove’s insights. “… I begin to feel those little bits of color floating up into me – deep in me. That streak of green from the june-bug light, the purple from the berries trickling along my thighs, Mama’s lemonade yellow runs sweet in me… laughing gets all mixed up with the colors… And it be rainbow all inside… Only thing I miss sometimes is that rainbow…” (131) The reader finds out at last and it cannot be put into simpler language that the continuum of spectrum of colors, as a whole is what makes up happiness as a “single” color. It is the “rainbow” that creates “beauty” and not blue as Pecola had thought. Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eyes is beautifully colored with words and images that only all the colors of a rainbow can cover. No
single color can withstand the responsibility of holding up the title of beauty. Morrison’s message is clear. Despite the significance of color, there is a greater significance of inclusion of all colors. Therefore, blue eyes are pretty and so are green, hazel, brown and any other colors that anyone may have to offer.
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