Bluest Eye Essay

Toni Morisson’s novel The Bluest Eye is about the life of the Breedlove family
who resides in Lorain, Ohio, in the late 1930s. This family consists of the
mother Pauline, the father Cholly, the son Sammy, and the daughter Pecola. The
novel’s focal point is the daughter, an eleven-year-old Black girl who is trying
to conquer a bout with self-hatred. Everyday she encounters racism, not just
from white people, but mostly from her own race. In their eyes she is much too
dark, and the darkness of her skin somehow implies that she is inferior, and
according to everyone else, her skin makes her even “uglier.” She
feels she can overcome this battle of self-hatred by obtaining blue eyes, but
not just any blue. She wants the bluest eye. Morrison is able to use her
critical eye to reveal to the reader the evil that is caused by a society that
is indoctrinated by the inherent goodness and beauty of whiteness and the
ugliness 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 how
pervasive and destructive social racism is. Narration in novel comes from
several sources. Much of the narration comes from Claudia MacTeer as a nine year
old child, but Morrison also gives the reader the insight of Claudia reflecting
on the story as an adult, some first person narration from Pecola’s mother, and
narration by Morrison herself as an omniscient narrator. Pecola’s experiences
would have less meaning coming from Pecola herself because a total and complete
victim would be an unreliable narrator, unwilling or unable to relate the actual
circumstances of that year. Claudia, from her youthful innocence, is able to see
and relate how the other characters, especially Pecola, idolize the
“ideal” of beauty presented by white, blue-eyed movie stars like
little Shirley Temple. In addition to narrative structure, the structure and
composition of the novel itself help to illustrate how much and for how long
white ideas of family and home have been forced into black culture. Instead of
conventional chapters and sections, The Bluest Eye is broken up into seasons,
fall, winter, spring, and summer. This type of organization suggests that the
events described in The Bluest Eye have occurred before, and will occur again.

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This kind of cycle suggests that there is notion that there is no escape from
the cycle of life that Breedloves and MacTeer live in. Further, dividing the
book are small excerpts from the “Dick and Jane” primer that is the
archetype of the white upper-middle class lifestyle. Each excerpt has, in some
way, to do with the section that follows. So the section that describes Pecola’s
mother 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 and
Jane” snippets show just how prevalent and important the images of white
perfection are in Pecola’s life; Morrison’s strange typography illustrates how
irrelevant and inappropriate these images actually are. Names play an important
part in The Bluest Eye because they are often symbolic of conditions in society
or in the context of the story. The name of the novel, “The Bluest
Eye,” is meant to get the reader thinking about how much value is placed on
blue-eyed little girls. Pecola and her family are representative of the larger
African-American community, and their name, “Breedlove,” is ironic
because they live in a society that does not “breed love.” In fact, it
breeds hate; hate of blackness, and thus hatred of oneself. The MacTeer girls
are 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 girls
feel they will never reach. Soaphead Church represents, as his name suggests,
the role of the church in African-American life. “I, I have caused a
miracle. 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 worship
God and pray to Him that everything will be alright is no better than Soaphead’s
promise to Pecola that she will have blue eyes. Morrison reveals the
significance of Pecola’s name through the character of Maureen Peal. Maureen
confuses Pecola’s name with the name of a character in the movie Imitation of
Life. By this allusion, Morrison illustrates that Pecola’s life is an imitation
of the real experiences of black women. Morrison also uses metaphors to describe
the conditions under which African-Americans in general and Pecola in particular
are forced to live. There are two major metaphors in The Bluest Eye, one of
marigolds and one of dandelions. Claudia, looking back as an adult, says in the
beginning 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 marigolds
would grow and survive, so would Pecola’s baby. Morrison unpacks the metaphor
throughout the book, and, through Claudia, finally explains it and broadens its
scope to all African-Americans on the last page. “I even think now that the
land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. Certain seeds it
will not nurture, certain fruits it will not bear . . .” The implication is
that Pecola, like so many other African-Americans, never had a chance to grow
and succeed because she lived in a society (“soil”) that was
inherently 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, she
wonders, do people call them weeds? She thought they were pretty”. After
Mr. Yacobowski humiliates her, she again passes the dandelions and thinks;
“They are ugly. They are weeds”. She has transferred society’s dislike
of her to the dandelions. In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison tells the story of a
little black girl who thinks that if she can live up to the image of the
blue-eyed Shirley Temple and Dick and Jane that she will have the perfect life
that they have. The importance of this book goes beyond its value as a work of
literature. Morrison speaks to the masses, both white and black, showing how a
racist social system wears down the minds and souls of people, how dominate
images of white heroes and heroines with blue eyes and wonderful lives show
young black children that to be white means to be successful and happy, and then
they look around at their own lives of poverty and oppression and learn to hate
their black heritage for keeping them from the Dick and Jane world. Morrison
does not solve these problems, nor does she even try, but she does show a
reflection of a world that cannot call itself right or moral.


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