The Bluest Eye
This isn't an easy book to read, and I found myself not being able to get through more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time. Then I would put the book away, disheartened and angry. Sooner or later, I would pick it back up, not only because Ms. Morrison's writing is that good, but because she demands to be read. Her writing grabs you by the scruff of your neck, throws you on the ground and lets you know you're not going anywhere. And you don't just read her books, you live them. You anguish over the things you've said, the ways you've acted (or not acted) and the injustices you may have committed over the years, wittingly or not. this isn't a novel for the squeamish. It's not a novel for those who want to maintain their distance from issues like race, gender, rape, ideals of beauty, poverty, and incest. Morrison drags you right down in the muck of Percola Breedlove's life and you're standing shoulder to shoulder with her through it all, which is an accomplishment in itself, since the point of view isn't even Pecola's, but her friend, Claudia's. And you will not only walk a mile in Pecola's shoes, but also in the shoes of the people who inhabit her life, and who play a part in her victimization. This is the story of an ugly black girl. She knows she's ugly because she sees in everyone else's eyes. Her ugliness is why boys taunt and bully her at school. Why little girls won't play with her. Why her life at home is brutal, violent, and unpredictable. Why can't she live the life of a white girl, as in the Dick and Jane books? Why can't she live in a nice home, with a dog and cat, pretty dresses, and happy parents who will protect her? Why can't she be someone else? Why can't she have blue eyes and the life that comes with those eyes? Teachers and adults will be kind to her. She will have many friends. A golden paved road will lay itself before her and all will be better, shinier, happier. "As long as she looked the way she did, as long as she was ugly, she would have to stay with these people. Somehow, she belonged to them. Long hours she sat, looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers and classmates alike. She was the only member of her class who sat alone at a double desk...Her teachers had always treated her this way. They never tried to glance at her, and called on her only when everyone was required to respond. She also knew that when one of the girls at school wanted to be particularly insulting to a boy, or wanted to get an immediate response from him, she could say,"Bobby loves Pecola Breedlove! Bobby loves Pecola Breedlove!" and never fail to get peals of laughter from those in earshot, and mock anger from the accused." And Pecola Breedlove clings to this ideal of beauty, nonsensical as it sounds, because she lives in a world where beauty is defined by how white you are. From the dolls that black children are given, to the kindness shown to those frail little white girls by adults who treat their own children like burdens. There is a heirarchy within the black community, and Pecola sees it. And not just Pecola, but her friends, Frieda and Claudia. When Maureen Peel, a "high yellow dream child" enrolls at their school, it becomes confirmed that whiteness is beauty. Teachers smile at her "enchantingly," black girls stepped aside when she needs to use the sink in the bathroom, boys don't tease her. Children flock to sit with her during lunch. Frieda and Claudia are filled with hate, envy, fury, and a passion of emotions they can't deal with all contained within this child with "sloe green eyes, something summery in her complexion, and a rich autumn ripeness in her eyes. " Her pretty dresses and fancy shoes "[threaten] to derange" the girls. How is it possible for them to deal with these message and remain sane and healthy in this context? How? In an important scene in the novel, Pecola is being bullied by a group of boys (see page above) and Frieda breaks up the gleeful group. Maureen (walking home with Frieda and Claudia that day) sweetly grabs Pecola's arm and starts talking with her like they're best friends. The two sisters believe perhaps they may have underestimated Maureen all this time, perhaps they too have judged her by her looks . When the girls bicker over some small thing, the girls are stunned when Maureen reverses herself and reiterates the very things said to Pecola by the boys. She scampers off, telling the girls she is beautiful and they are ugly. And here is where you can see the difference between the two girls: Pecola and Maureen. Where Pecola is brutalized by life, Maureen feeds off the anger and rage. She grows stronger with every attempt to squash her. When Maureen runs off after she's done a bit of bullying:"Pecola stood a little apart from us, her eyes hinged in the direction in which Maureen had fled. She seemed to fold into herself, like a pleated wing. Her pain agonized me. I wanted to open her up, crisp her edges, ram a stick down that hunched and curving spine, force her to stand erect and spit the misery out on the streets. But she held it in where it could lap up into her eyes."But Maureen and Pecola don't have the same life. Though Maureen's isn't a picture perfect home, Pecola's home life is worse. Her father is an alcoholic, her brother is a habitual runaway, her mother lives vicariously through the white family by which she is employed, and domestic violence is the norm. When Pecola is raped by her father, who is in a confused, drunken state of mind, any chance she may have had to survive is minimized exponentially. Pregnant, still black,, and still condemned, Pecola pins all her hopes and dreams on those blue eyes that hold the key to her happiness. How far will she go to get them? What will happen if she does? Why would a child believe herself to be ugly simply because she is black? Why would a community hold those same values? You will find yourself asking yourself these very questions and more with each turn of the page. You will think long and hard about the standards of beauty in America, and about the black women who are considered beautiful. Interesting how many of them seem to be half-white, or very light skinned blacks. Women like Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, and Thandie Newton. In 40 years, has it changed all that much? Oprah herself has covered racism within race many times. It is a pervasive issue that never seems to be resolved. And it makes itself at home, not only in the Black culture, but in the Mexican-American culture as well. Latinos regularly categorize beauty dependent on not only how white they are, but in the "whiteness" of their features. To possess Mestizo physical characteristics isn't a good thing. Another character in the novel, Geraldine, is a black woman who has consistently tried to dilute her blackness. She is determined to set herself apart from the rest:She has explained to [her son] the difference between colored people and niggers. They were easily identifiable. Colored people were neat and quiet; niggers were dirty and loud...The line between colored and nigger was not always clear; subtle and telltale signs threatened to erode it, and the watch had to be constant.The afterward written by Ms. Morrison is also a must read. In it, she tells of her inspiration of the novel (a friend of hers in middle school wanted blue eyes), the problems of executing the point of view, her struggle with technique and so on. She says:"The Bluest Eye was my effort to say something about that; to say something about why she had not, or possibly ever would have, the experience of what she possessed and also why she prayed for so radical an alteration. Implicit in her desire was racial self-loathing. And twenty years later I was still wondering about how one learns that. Who told her? Who made her feel it was better to be a freak than what she was? Who had looked at her and found her so wanting, so small a weight on the beauty scale? The novel pecks away at the gaze that condemned her."Toni Morrison was awarded the Novel Prize in Literature in 1993 and the national Book Award Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 1996. Some other books she has written: Beloved, Sula, Tar Baby, and Song of Solomon.