Book: The Bluest Eye
Author: Toni Morrison
11-year-old Pecola Breedlove believes she’s ugly. And nothing can change that. Nothing at all. Unless … unless she could trade in her eyes for beautiful blue ones. Now if she had those blue eyes, things would be different; because then, everyone would love her.
The boys at school would stop harassing her.
The pretty girl with long brown braids would befriend her.
The neat little coloured lady wouldn’t call her a ‘black bitch’.
Most importantly, her mom would perhaps begin to love her as much as she loved the white girl whose family she worked for.
And so Pecola goes out and finds a mystic who promises to give her her heart’s desire.
Thoughts about The Bluest Eye
This book, written in 1970 is Toni Morrison’s debut work. Though Pecola’s tragic desire rests at the centre of the story, it is but a small part of the narrative. Woven along with her are a host of other characters, with their own stories, their own motivations and their own life experiences that make them behave the way they do.
There is no linear narrative. Instead, there are independent montages woven together in a powerful story giving an insight of a mainly black society as it was in the 1970s.
11-year-old Claudia, is part narrator of the story. She’s Pecola’s friend and lives with her sister and parents. Though part of the same community, her experiences (and hence her reactions to situations) are diametrically different from those of Pecola’s.
Takeaways from The Bluest Eye
Not all blacks are alike
When we talk of the black community we often make the error of clubbing them together as a single homogeneous race. Morrison breaks that thought and introduces us to at least four different families, all black and all very different.
There’s of course Pecola and her family, a violently dysfunctional unit; an alcoholic father, an overworked ill-tempered mother and a brother who has run away from home multiple times.
Then there’s Caludia. Her family is as poor as Pecola’s and yet because they’re close-knit she behaves and thinks very differently. Morrison modeled Caludia a bit like herself and her sister.
There’s Maureen who comes from a wealthy family. She’s black but light skinned hence ‘beautiful’. And she’s ever so aware of her beauty deigning to dish out kindness and meanness as she pleased.
And there’s Geraldine – a middle class, respectable woman who copies the ways of the whites to a tee and as a result of that believes she’s better than the ‘niggers’.
Accepted standards of beauty
The one thing that binds all the characters, except Claudia, is Whiteness as the standard of beauty that they all aspire to. While Pecola wants blue eyes, her mom, Pauline, watches films with white charcaters and tries to dress and behave like them too. She finds work in a white family and almost adopts it as her own. In one of the most heart-breaking moments ofthe book Pecola comes to visit her at her place of work and drops hot pie on her foot. Even as she’s hopping in pain, Pauline is lamenting her messed up floor and trying to soothe the white girl who has walked into the kitchen and is distressed at the scene. It’s as if her own daughter doesn’t exist.
The one exception to this rule is Claudia. White skin and blue eyes evoke in her no envy. Contrarily, they fill her with a strange anger. An anger that makes her want to tear the person down, to open them, destroy them because perhaps then she could see what was it in them that made them beautiful.
There’s so much more that I have to say about the book and even more about Toni Morrison as an author. Do look up her interviews if the issue of racism interests you.
When I talked about my last read, The Book of Negroes, a friend suggested this one as extended reading. However I kept pushing it down on my TBR list till it came up once again in one of the Book Clubs I am part of. And I’m so very glad and grateful I got to it.
Last thought: Not an easy read by any means. It’s disturbing and tragic but it’s worth every bit of it.