The Bluest Eye is the novel written by the Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison in the year 1970. All Morrison’s texts have the subject matter similar to The Bluest Eye. Her novels discuss the experiences of the oppressed black minorities in isolated communities and the dominant white culture discouraging the healthy African American self-image. Generally, the major characters in Toni Morrison’s novel are black. Her writing is about the black experience and about the black minority, whose ethnic existence is threatened by the white society. Eventually, her main concern is to bring back black issues into general awareness (Racialization of Black Aesthetic in Toni Morrison’s Bluest Eye). ‘The issues of ethnic inequality, black community and individual’s struggle in white society, as well as the empowerment of blacks through the realization of their rich inheritance continue to represent themselves in the author’s novels’. (Sugiharti, pp. 2-3).
Beauty is a characteristic of person, animal, place, object, or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure or satisfaction. If this thing of pleasure or satisfaction is idolized, or constructed or politicized, the implications would be horrible. It seen in the novel The Bluest Eye how the beauty attributed to one on the basis of color leaves its adverse effect on the other. In the novel, beauty as constructed by one turns into bitter pills for others. The interference of the so called beauty standards into the human community create disharmony and produce an unhealthy attitude towards each other and self (Roddannavar, 2013, p. 2). The novel reveals the implications of white beauty standards on black community through the protagonist of the novel Pecola, who goes under her own black societal ill treatment in the name of color and eventually becomes insane. ‘In the novel she suffers the confusion, the start of puberty, bitter racial harassment, and the tragedy of rape. Through Pecola, Morrison exposes the power and cruelty of white, the definitions of beauty of middle-class American, for which Pecola will be driven mad by her consuming obsession for white skin and blonde hair and not just blue eyes, but the bluest ones. Pecola believes that people would value her more if she were not black. If she were white, blonde, and very blue-eyed, she would be loved. It is this kind of self-hatred and admire of whiteness as the standard of beauty that makes her became a victim of popular white culture and at the same time ruins her.’ (A miserable Black Girl-Analysis of the Theme in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye)
The Bluest Eye opens with a short ‘Dick and Jane’ primary reader story that is repeated three times. The first time the story is written clearly. In second telling, however, the text loses its capitalization and punctuation. By the third time the story has also lost its spacing. The novel then shifts to a short, italicized preface in the voice of Claudia MacTeer as an adult. She looks back on the fall of 1941 (The Narrative Strategies Used by the Writer in ‘The Bluest Eye’, p. 1). We find that this book will be the story of Claudia, her sister, Frieda, and their involvement with a young black girl named Pecola, pregnant with her father’s child.
Claudia MacTeer recounts the events of the year that lead up to her best friend’s, Pecola Breedlove’s, rape and the death of her baby. The year is 1941, and Claudia remembers that no marigolds bloomed that year. She thought it was because of Pecola’s rape by her father Cholly Breedlove that no marigolds bloomed.
In Part II: Autumn, Claudia’s memories go back to the fall of 1940 (one year before the marigolds did not bloom). Claudia and her older sister, Frieda, live in a home that takes in borders. Mr. Henry moves in and flatters the young girls by telling them they look like Ginger Rogers and Greta Garbo. Soon after that, a young girl named Pecola moves in with them, as ordered by the country. She will live there until the country can find a better home for her as her father, Cholly, burnt down her old home. Pecola and the two girls become friends and go through many experiences together, including Pecola’s first biological period.
In Pecola’s family, her parents, Pauline and Cholly Breedlove, have a bad marriage. Her mother always works hard, but Cholly always comes home drunk and beats Pauline. They yell and fight, and Pecola and her brother, Sammy, each look for an escape in their own ways. Sammy will frequently run away to get away from his family. Pecola, meanwhile, prays that her eyes will turn into a beautiful blue color. She thinks that if her eyes were blue, things would be different- they would be pretty and more than that she would be pretty. Pecola becomes obsessed in her quest for blue eyes.
In Part III: Winter, Claudia tells of a new girl, named Maureen Peal, who comes to their school. At school, children tease Pecola by calling her ‘Black e mo’ because she is dark skinned (Morrison, 1999). They mean that Pecola is even blacker than they are. It is absolutely a Black’s attack on another Black who shares brotherhood in his own community. Another same sort of incident takes place when Maureen meets Pecola. Maureen, the half white ‘high yellow dream child’ according to Claudia, befriends with Pecola and becomes kind to her in the beginning, but later turns into hostile due to some reasons. She yells from across the street,
‘I am cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly black e mos. I am cute!’ (Morrison, 1999)
The next section of the novel describes Geraldine, her son Junior, and their blue eyed black cat. The Bluest Eye, also talks of the ‘Mobile girls’, women who attempt to control and modify their blackness (Morrison, 1999). These are women who in order to hide their blackness, they straighten their hair, control their body odors, and learn to behave in a way to ‘do the white man’s work with refinement’.’ (Morrison, 1999). Geraldine is one such woman who moves to Lorain with her husband and son. She doesn’t nurture her son, rather cares for him. One day, her son Junior manages to get Pecola into his house and then throws a cat at her. The cat gets hurt because of his mischievous acts. He puts the blame on Pecola when his mother Geraldine enters the house. Geraldine takes a glance at Pecola,
‘She had seen this little girl all her life’ Hair uncombed, dresses falling apart, shoes untied and cakes with dirt. They had started up at her with great uncomprehending eyes. Eyes that questioned nothing and asked everything’ (Morrison, 1999)
Pecola reminds Geraldine her own black community in which she never wants to be existed. To her, blacks are ‘niggers’ (Morrison, 1999). Having well comfort middle class life, Geraldine does not want to slip down from the social hierarchy. She teaches her son how to deal with blacks and wants him not to risk their [her family’s] positions by having an association with ‘niggers.’
Geraldine takes an opportunity to release her anger. She abuses Pecola because she hates darker skinned blacks.
‘Geraldine, a representative of blacks who wish to ‘move up’ in the world and assimilate into white culture and acorn anything or anyone that reminds them they are black. Morrison sees this kind of person as problematic in the wake of the Civil Right Movement.’ (The Quest for an Ideal Beauty in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye)
In Part IV: Spring, Claudia tells of how Mr. Henry touched Frieda’s breast and then was beaten by their father. The two girls go to visit Pecola in her new house, a downstairs apartment. Above, there are three prostitutes, Marie, China, and Poland, whom Pecola often visits and talks with.
Then, Pauline Breedlove’s younger years are described. It explains how she would often go to the movies; Because of this, eventually, she became fascinated with Hollywood ideals of beauty. She saw famous movie stars like Jean Harlow as true representations of beauty, and anything straying from that was not deemed beautiful. In the novel, we see Paulin’s fondness for the white world. Paulin always wanted to live in her own ideal world: the world of white. She used to work at the white peoples house, cleaned their house and loved their children, but she never loved her own children because they were black in color who would remind her, her own color: the ugly color that would cut in her ideal white world. In one of the incidents, Paulin slaps and abuses Pecola for dropping the pie on the floor at Fisher’s home because she disturbs her clean, white world. She goes a step forward to console the weeping Fisher girl,
‘Hush, baby, hush. Come here. Oh, Lord, look at your dress. Don’t cry no more. Polly will change it.’ (Morrison, 1999, p. 107)
On the contrary, the treatment for Pecola was different; she,
‘Yanked her up by the arm, slapped her again and in a voice thin with anger abused Pecola directly’.’ (p. 107)
Pecola was deprived of all the love and affection that she had to deserve. She herself was a witness for shifting of love and affection to a white girl, who was, in fact, none to Pecola’s mother. Pauline always dreamt of having a light skinned child when she was pregnant. Before Pecola’s birth, she would talk to her in the womb and treat her as a mother should do. The close bond of mother and daughter comes to an end when Paulin gives birth to Pecola, who is ugly in color. She abandons Pecola as soon as she sees her,
‘But I knowed [sic] she was ugly. Head full of pretty hair, but Lord she was ugly.’ (p. 124)
Paulin doesn’t give her daughter unconditional love since she judges her daughter from physical beauty. Color stands as an obstacle between a mother and daughter’s relationship.
Then, the narration focuses on Cholly Breedlove’s background. He is abandoned by his mother and father and is raised by his great Aunt Jimmy, who later dies. Cholly has hatred against white people. This is so because, when Cholly was having sexual pleasure with a girl named Darlene, he was cut in by the two white men who forced him, a fourteen old boy, to perform the act of sex on Darlem for their entertainment. Since he was powerless then to encounter those men, he turned to the powerless Darlene, who was a witness for his humiliation. He thought Darlen might be pregnant, so he ran away to Macon, Georgia, to try and find his real father. He finds him, but discovers that his father is a drunkard and a gambler who wants nothing to do with Cholly. Cholly runs to Kentucky where he meets and marries Puline. They eventually have two children, Sammy and Pecola.
Once, Cholly comes home drunk one afternoon and sees Pecola in the kitchen washing dishes. She reminds him for a moment of his wife, Pauline, and in a bit of confusion and love, he rapes his daughter. He leaves her on the kitchen floor feeling ashamed and alone.
The character of Elihue Micah Whitcomb (Soaphead Church) is introduced. ‘Soaphead, like Geraldine, is struggling with blackness and finds Pecola an easy target for his self-loathing’ (Fultz, 2003). Pecola visits him one day, and asks him to make her wish come true of having blue eyes; Thinking that he is the only one to help her, Soaphead, born half white (a black with light white skin), feels superiority complex and would like to play God to give justice to a helpless black girl. He tricks her into poisoning an old, sick dog that he hates. He tells Pecola that if the dog behaves strangely, then that is a sign from God that her eyes color would turn into blue the next day. After Pecola feeds the dog the strange meat (poisoned), she sees that the dog chokes, falls down and dies. Horrified, she runs out of the house.
In Part V: Summer, Claudia tells of how she and Frieda learned from rumors and gossip that Pecola was pregnant by her father. They overhear adults talking about the child and how it will probably not survive. Claudia and Frieda seem to be the only ones who want the baby to live. They make a promise to God to be good for a whole month and plant marigold seeds that will serve as a sign for them; when the seeds sprout, they will know that everything will be all right. However, the readers already know that ‘there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941’ and that nothing turns out right for Pecola (Vaidyanathan, p. 144).
The next chapter is a deranged dialogue carried out between Pecola and herself in which she discusses her new blue eyes, questioning if they are the ‘bluest eyes’ in the world. We also discover that Cholly has raped his daughter more than once. Her madness, then, appears to be a defense against the pain of living her life.
The last voice in the novel is Claudia’s, now an adult looking back, trying to assign blame for the tragedy of Pecola. She tells us that Pecola’s baby died soon after birth and Cholly is dead as well, that Mrs. Breedlove still works for white folks, and that Pecola spends her days talking to herself and picking at the garbage in a dump. The novel closes with an indictment of the community and the culture:
And now when I see her searching the garbage-for what? The thing we assassinated? I talk about how I did not plant the seeds too deeply, how it was the fault of the earth, the land, of our town. I even think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruits it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. At least on the edge of my town, among the garbage and the sunflowers of my town, it’s much, much too late (p. 204).
The novel The Bluest Eye is important for many reasons, ‘This novel came about at a critical moment in the history of American Civil rights.’ (A miserable Black Girl-Analysis of the Theme in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, p. 1). It was written ”. during the years of some of the most dynamic and turbulent transformations of Afro-American life’ (p. 1). Published in the midst of the Black Arts movement that flourished during the late 1960s and early 1970s, The Bluest Eye has attracted considerable attention from literary critics-thought not to the same degree as Morrison’s later works. With its sensitive portrait of African American female identity and its astute critique of the internalized racism bred by American cultural definitions of beauty, The Bluest Eye has been widely seen as a literary watershed, inspiring a proliferation of literature written by African American women about their identity and experience as women of color. Scholars also have been attracted to The Bluest Eye by its deconstruction of ‘whiteness’ along racial, gender, and economic lines, while feminists have equated the violence of the narrative with self-hatred wrought by a wide range of illusions about white American society and African American women’s place in it. In addition, some have examined the naturalism. Others have offered Marxist interpretations of the novel’s formal aspects in terms of the ideological content of its representation of African American life. Acknowledging Morrison’s achievement in the novel, critics have generally acclaimed The Bluest Eye for deconstructing a number of literary taboos with its honest portrayals of American girlhood, its frank descriptions of intraracial racism or ‘colorism’ in the African American community, and its thoughtful treatment of the emotional precocity of prepubescent girls (The Narrative Strategies Used by the Writer in ‘The Bluest Eye’, p. 4).
A miserable Black Girl-Analysis of the Theme in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. (n.d.). 1.
Fultz, L. P. (2003). “Toni Morrison Playing with Difference”. 58. Chicago: Illinois Up.
Morrison, T. (1999). The Bluest Eye. London: Vintage.
Roddannavar, P. J. (2013). Representation of Self-hatred in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. 2. Gulbarga, Karnataka, India.
Sugiharti, E. (n.d.). Racialized beauty: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. 2-3.
The Narrative Strategies Used by the Writer in ‘The Bluest Eye’. (n.d.). 1,4.
The Quest for an Ideal Beauty in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. (n.d.).
Vaidyanathan, G. (n.d.). TONI MORRISON: THE BLUEST EYE. Agra, India: Lakshmi Narain Agarwal.
Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements / paper topics on “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “The Bluest Eye” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for “The Bluest Eye” offer a summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Roles of Fantasies in The Bluest Eye
The backdrop of The Bluest Eye is, on a macro level, the Great Depression, and on a micro level, a Midwestern neighborhood that is rather non-descript. Clearly, the desire to escape poverty and the limiting circumstances of their social conditions is a common feeling among the characters in the novel. Several characters in Toni Morrison's novel, “The Bluest Eye” construct and perpetuate fantasies or beliefs about transcending their circumstances. For Pecola, a belief that if she had blue eyes she would have an ideal life guides her; for Pecola’s mother, movies provide that same hope and escape. Compare and contrast the roles that these fantasies play for both mother and daughter in “The Bluest Eye”. You may also wish to argue whether these fantasies are adaptive or whether they are unhealthy. Should you choose to do this, substantiate your argument with carefully selected quotes from the novel.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Self-Denial and Self-Hatred in “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
Many critics observe that Pecola’s wish for blue eyes is a form of self-denial and self-hatred. This claim seems to be substantiated by Pecola’s fate and the condition in which the reader encounters her at the novel’s conclusion. Consider whether you agree with this claim. If you do agree with this claim, write a persuasive essay on “The Bluest Eye” in which you state what you believe the author wished to convey to her reader by exploring the dynamics of self-denial and self-hatred. If you do not agree with the claim, write an argumentative essay on “The Bluest Eye” in which you explain Pecola’s fate relative to the self-denial/self-hatred claim.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Claudia McTeer as Pecola’s Foil in “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
Pecola is a character whose circumstances and fate are disturbing and even depressing to the reader. Yet Pecola’s character is contrasted by the character of Claudia McTeer, who serves as an alternative model of development for young black women. Write an explanatory essay in which you identify the significance of Claudia’s role in the text. Explain how Claudia serves as Pecola’s foil, and determine what her fate, relative to that of Pecola, signifies in the final analysis of “The Bluest Eye”. You may also wish to discuss how the novel would be different had Claudia’s character not been included.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4 The Failures of Adults in “The Bluest Eye”
The Bluest Eye privileges the child characters with narrative authority. In addition to the influence of the children’s perspective on the reader’s interpretation of the adults’ roles in the novel, the reader also makes inferences and conclusions about the adults based on their actions. Consider the various failures of the adult characters in this novel: moral failures, the failure to parent well, and the failure to negotiate life successfully, to name just a few. You may choose to analyze only one character and his or her failures, or write a comparative analysis of several characters, but in any case, build an essay in which you posit reasons for the failures of adults to protect children and to offer hope to the next generation.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: Defining Beauty
In one way or another, almost all of the characters are preoccupied with defining what beauty is. Not all of the characters are aware that this is their preoccupation, however. Examine one or more passages in which a character or the narrator addresses the notion of beauty directly, and determine what the “take-away" message about beauty might be. Consider whether there are competing or complementary notions of beauty that Morrison offers. Pay close attention to the matter of how the characters come to their understanding of beauty. Finally, address whether notions of beauty evolve, either positively or negatively, as a result of the experiences that the characters have over the course of the novel.
* For themes and possible thesis statements that intersect with ideas from the same author, check the PaperStarter entries for other works by Toni Morrison, including “Sula” and “Beloved” *
This list of important quotations from “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Bluest Eye” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes from “The Bluest Eye” contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the novel they are referring to.
“We stare at her, … wanting to poke the arrogance out of her eyes and smash the pride of ownership that curls her chewing mouth. When she comes out of the car we will beat her up, make red marks on her white skin, and she will cry…. " (9)
“Adults do not talk to us—they give us directions. They issue orders without providing information. When we trip and fall down they glance at us; if we cut or bruise ourselves they ask us are we crazy. When we catch colds, they shake their heads in disgust at our lack of consideration." (11)
“The big, the special, the loving gift was always a big, blue-eyed Baby Doll….[A]ll the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured." (19-20).
“Had any adult with the power to fulfill my desires taken me seriously and asked me what I wanted, they would have known that I did not want to have anything to own, or to possess any object. I wanted rather to feel something…." (21-22)
“I destroyed white baby dolls….The truly horrifying thing was the transference of the same impulses to little white girls." (22)
“[S]he went to the movies…. There in the dark her memory was refreshed and she succumbed to her earlier dreams." (122)
“Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another—physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion." (122)
“She was never able, after her education in the movies, to look at a face and not assign it some category in the scale of absolute beauty…." (122)
“‘The onliest time I be happy seem like when I was in the picture show. Every time I got, I went….Them pictures gave me a lot of pleasure, but it made coming home hard…." (123)
“It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights—if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different." (38)
Reference: Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Plume, 1994.