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The Bluest Eye - Rationale for Reading
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The Bluest Eye: A Call to Action
Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye explores the devastating effects of the cyclical nature of racism. Narrated by a nine-year-old African-American girl, Claudia Macteer, the story takes place in Lorain, Ohio from 1939 to 1941. Claudia and her sister, Frieda, live in the racially mixed town with their overworked parents. Though the family is poor, they do their best to provide for their daughters. The protagonist of the novel is eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove, who comes to live with the Macteer family for a short time after her father has burned down her family’s home. Pecola’s family situation mirrors that of the Macteers; both families face the burden of poverty and the obstacle of being black in a time of extreme racial tension. However inthe Breedlove family there is a total absence of love, both for each other and for themselves.
Claudia’s perspective reveals the difficulty that children, particularly black children, face in conditions of such extreme hatred. From their classmates, teachers, adults in the town, and even their parents, Claudia, Frieda, and Pecola learn that whiteness is the standard of beauty that they are constantly measured against. Pecola wishes throughout the novel for a pair of blue eyes, believing that this would solve all of her problems. The closest that she comes to this ideal is drinking milk out of cup with a picture of Shirley Temple on it, her favorite movie star. Unfortunately, only Claudia and Frieda recognize the dangers of Pecola’s self-hatred and inability to find love.Without any adults to help her, at the novel’s end Pecola’s father rapes and impregnates her. A testament to the devastating environment of the Breedlove home, Mrs. Breedlove blames Pecola for the rape and punishes her with physical abuse. The baby dies and Pecola eventually has a mental breakdown. Claudia and Frieda are the only ones to recognize the entire town’s influence on Pecola’s tragedy by promoting a culture of hatred towards blackness. The novel is unique because it reveals prejudices committed by all members of society. Morrison’s ability to expose such a widely accepted bias is one of the many reasons why I believe that it is an important novel to teach.
Published in the midst of the Civil Rights movement in 1970, The Bluest Eye did not see immediate success. Morrison states in the novel’s afterword: “With very few exceptions, the initial publication of The Bluest Eye was like Pecola’s life: dismissed, trivialized, misread. And it has taken twenty-five years to gain for her the respectful publication this edition is” (216). Though the novel’s reception began slowly, in recent years Morrison’s work has been overwhelmingly successful; many accredit her best-selling reputation to her affiliation with Oprah’s Book Club. Her work has also caught the attention ofmore traditionally respected members of the literary world, as well. Her list of numerous awards includes the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1978, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Though such honors do not provide enough reason alone to be teaching her work in the classroom, they do confirm that her writing exemplifies the qualities of outstanding literature. Morrison is helping to construct a new canon of literature that includes women and minorities, groups that were previously shunned from the world of literature.
About this Document
This is the rationale our English teachers have to use when we ask the students to read this book. It is for mature students and is typically taught in the 12th grade. The parents get a copy of this letter and have to sign agreement for the students to read it (unless the students are 18 and then they have to sign it).