Tony Morrison became the prominent American writer of the second half of the 20th century mainly because of her novel “The Bluest Eye” published in 1970. The family relations, beauty and ugliness, cruelty and love are in the focus of the novel.
The novel is narrated by a young black girl, Claudia MacTeer and the reader realizes through her perception the atmosphere in the family of her friend Pecola Breedlove. The family relations in the Pecola’s family are very hostile.
The topic of racial inequality is one of the central topics.
The Pecola’s mother Pauline hates the entire family because she keeps comparing the life of the white family for whom she works as a maid with hers, watching some kind of ideal in the life of the whites. This is the manifestation of the lost identity of the Blacks, an identity which has been suppressed by the cultural development of America.
African Americans and their tragedy of the lost culture are in the center of the novel. The novel is built on the passionate desire of Pecola to be loved by her family and her school friends.
Pecola thinks that the reason of the hostile attitude towards her is her black skin and she wants to resemble the American idols like Shirley Temple. Shirley Temple is just an ideal created by the mass culture, an idol which is a part of American dream. The conventional American perception of beauty is connected with the blue eyes and white skin like those of Shirley Temple.
A talented young singer, dancer and actor, she no doubt deserves acclaim for her abilities, but as a cultural representation, she symbolizes far more than uncanny, childhood innocence.
Tony Morison studies the position of the blacks in America. She names the things which sometimes are not in public but in minds. American society is divided according to the racial principle and nobody can do anything with it.
The author states that America treats its black citizens like people of a lower grade, pariahs, “There are several levels of the pariah figure working in my writing. The black community is a pariah community. Black people are pariahs. The civilization of black people that lives apart from but in juxtaposition to other civilizations is a pariah relationship. In fact, the concept of the black in this country is almost always one of the pariahs. But a community contains pariahs within it that are very useful for the conscience of that community.”(The Bluest Eye. Review).
American culture has produced an utopian image of America, called “an American Dream”. It is not bad at all; it indicates, at least the standards to be reached and the goals to be gained. This collective image is an image of a rich country populated with the nice successful people. There is only one problem in this image. The country is rich and the society is successful, but people personifying this success are narrated with the blond hair and white skin. This is just what great American Martin Luther King said about. The racial inequity is in the very essence of the American society.
This racial inequity is indicated not in the hostile relations of the Whites and the Blacks but in a lack of the black standards of beauty. A color of the skin is given by God and it can not define the position in the society.
Pecola identifies her personal position in the community with the position of the black community in the American society, i.e. as soon as the Blacks are pariahs in the society; she feels herself a pariah within the community. What is more, she understands the position of the black community in the American society and naively associates it with her personal position in the black community. Her dream of blue eyes is a naïve attempt to break through the concept of the faceless, i.e. it is a protest against her position of a pariah.
Tony Morison intentionally uses a dream of a small girl which would never come true to underline the improbability of such a dream to resemble an American icon Shirley Temple in the same way as black community would never become an equal part of the society.
The values of the society imposed on the black children are destructive. Pecola is morally suppressed by the values she accepts. These values are dominant and black children are not able to evaluate them critically. Pecola is destroyed by the cultural values she has to adopt.
The white culture influences the personalities of the black people especially young ones. The Anglo Saxon standards of beauty follow the children outside the class. Movie blondes with blue eyes catch their sight from the cinema screens, billboards, newspapers and magazines.
There is no place to hide from the bluest eyes. These beauties keep telling the children that if they were white with blue eyes they would achieve success. This destroys the girl’s identity. She mistakenly associates her physical appearance with the wealth and happiness. White mass culture shows white skin, blue eyes and blonde hair in association with wealth, happiness and success and a young girl realizes erroneously that her life is defined by her appearance.
Pecola’s admiration of Sherley Temple is one of her personal tragic illusions. The success of the movie star Temple poisons the life of Pecola. The mass culture shows the physical beauty in the context of prosperity. This self humiliation develops the complex of inferiority of the girl. “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.”( Tirell, Lynne)
A utopian desire to resemble an American idol became an obsession for Pecola. “Each night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. …… She would see only what there was to see: the eyes of other people.”( Morrison, Toni, p.45)
Shirley Temple was extremely popular in America during the Depression. She helped to strengthen the spirit of the nation. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, speaking in 1935, praised Shirley: “During this Depression, when the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie, look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles”( The Bluest Eye, Review).
When the nation needs to raise its spirit the value of such idols like Shirley Temple is very high.
The Pecola’s aspiration to resemble the American idol drives the girl crazy. She looses the connections with the reality. As soon as the world does not understand her desire and does not want to give her a chance to become closer to her idol she decides to lock in herself and find a piece of mind keeping her dreams in herself without letting them out.
The hate of people, ideal dream on the movie star physical appearance, the hostile atmosphere at school and in the family and the rape by her father and the hate of her mother made the girl crazy. But is still dreaming of her ideal.
Pecola attempts to create her own imaginary reality opposing the real one. After Cholly raped Pecola the second time, even her imaginary friend is not able to bring the piece of mind for Pecola. “You didn’t need me before” a truth so threatening and painful to Pecola and so close to the psychological reality that it immediately adds, “I mean…you were so unhappy before. I guess you didn’t notice me before ( Morrison, Toni, p.205)
Her imaginary friend created by her imagination reassures her that she has the blue eyes. Still the attitude of people towards Pecola does not change. Her eyes do not produce the expected effect and Pecola finds the explanation in insufficient blueness of her eyes. The parallel between Pecola and Oedipus of Sophocles is marked by the author (Morrison, Toni, p.196 ).
The author introduces Claudia to contrast the Pecola’s perception of beauty imposed by the white culture. The white ideal of beauty neglects the self esteem of the black people. The white idols destruct the human dignity of both adults and children. These idols destruct Pecola completely. Claudia in her turn does not accept these idols unconditionally. The attitude towards the white culture defines the survival of Claudia and the demise of Pecola.
It is not the white community that has directly destroyed Pecola, but the black community and her parents. They should have insulated her from the white community’s values and have protected her (Hinda Barlaz).
The words of narrator about the destructiveness of the physical beauty and romantic love are given in the context when Pauline, pregnant black American woman was watching history of romantic love in the movie theatre. She broke her tooth then as if recapitulating the comparison of romantic love in the movie with her current position. The image of Jean Harlow from the screen destroys the Pauline’s identity as a woman, her belief in American dream and her own beauty. The broken tooth symbolizes her belief in happiness which is destroyed.
Toni Morrison and a great American Martin Luther King, Pecola and Pauline, Hero of the Doctorow’s Ragtime and The Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, all of them have the common feature. They are all looking for identity as well as other best representatives of the humanity. Martin Luther King and Pecola, no matter how strange it may seem had the same dream, a dream of equality for all disregarding the color of the skin. Hero of the Doctorow’s novel and Oedipus Rex were looking for their lost identity. John Lennon joined Great American King in his dream of “a brotherhood of men” in his “Imagine”.
Martin Luther King was looking for the identity of the black people of America and paid his life for it. Pecola was looking for her own identity and paid her mentality. John Lennon was looking for a “brotherhood of men” and paid his life for his search.
These principles can not come from the outside; they should be in the people’s mind which is an identity. A hero of one Russian classic (Bulgakov, The Heart of the Dog) kept threatening himself, “there is a devastation in the country!!!” and he got a respond “this devastation is in your mind”. The same could be said of identity. We create the identity in our minds and then we apply it to the entire society.
- “I Have A Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr, Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. Source: Martin Luther King, Jr: The Peaceful Warrior, Pocket Books, NY 1968, available at http://www.mecca.org/~crights/dream.html, retrieved 7.04.2005
- Tirell, Lynne. “Storytelling and Moral Agency.” Toni Morrison’s Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. Ed. David Middleton. New York: Garland, 2000. 3-25.
- Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Penguin, 1994.
- Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, Review, available at http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/lit_term.html#pv
- Hedin, Raymond. “The Structuring of Emotion in Black American Fiction.” Novel 16 (1982): 35-54.
- Edmund A. Napieralski, Morrison’s ‘The Bluest Eye.’, 1994 Heldref Publications, The Explicator, Fall 1994 v53 n1 p59(4), available at http://www.cofc.edu/~farrells/Farrell/oedipus.html, retrieved 6.04.2005
- Hinda A. Barlaz, A Reading Guide to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, available at , retrieved 6.04.2005
- Trudy Mercer. Female Childhood Icons in Toni Morrison’s
The Bluest Eye, available at http://www.drizzle.com/~tmercer/write/morrison/bluesteye.shtml
- Chris Booker, The Social Status of the African American Male: 1999, available at http://www.pressroom.com/~afrimale/status99.htm
- Gibson, Donald B. (1989), “Text and Countertext in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye”,
- Taylor, Paul C., Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism, “MALCOLM’S CONK AND DANTO’S COLORS; OR, FOUR LOGICAL PETITIONS CONCERNING RACE, BEAUTY, AND…” , , available at http://www.lib.tjfsu.edu.cn/ymwx/essay/The%20Bluest%20Eye1.htm
- Bjork, Patrick B. The novels of Toni Morrison: the search for self and place within the community. NY: P. Lang,1996.