The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison
(Born Chloe Anthony Wofford) American novelist, nonfiction writer, essayist, playwright, and children's writer.
The following entry presents criticism on Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye (1970) through 2000. For further information on her life and complete works, see CLC, Volumes 4, 10, 22, 87, and 194.
Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, examines the tragic effects of imposing white, middle-class American ideals of beauty on the developing female identity of a young African American girl during the early 1940s. Inspired by a conversation Morrison once had with an elementary school classmate who wished for blue eyes, the novel poignantly shows the psychological devastation of a young black girl, Pecola Breedlove, who searches for love and acceptance in a world that denies and devalues people of her own race. As her mental state slowly unravels, Pecola hopelessly longs to possess the conventional American standards of feminine beauty—namely, white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes—as presented to her by the popular icons and traditions of white culture. Written as a fragmented narrative from multiple perspectives and with significant typographical deviations, The Bluest Eye juxtaposes passages from the Dick-and-Jane grammar school primer with memories and stories of Pecola's life alternately told in retrospect by one of Pecola's now-grown childhood friends and by an omniscient narrator. 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—though 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.
Plot and Major Characters
Ignoring strict narrative chronology, The Bluest Eye opens with three excerpts from the common 1940s American elementary school primer that features the All-American, white family of Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane. The first excerpt is a faithful reproduction, the second lacks all capitalization and punctuation marks, and the third dissolves into linguistic chaos by abandoning its spacing and alignment. This section is interrupted by an italicized fragment representing the memories of Claudia MacTeer, the principal narrator of The Bluest Eye. As an adult, Claudia recalls incidents from late 1941 when she was nine years old living in Lorain, Ohio, with her poor but loving parents and her ten-year-old sister, Frieda. Claudia's friend, Pecola Breedlove, is an emotionally impaired African American girl who comes from a broken home. The rest of The Bluest Eye divides into four separate time sequences, each named for a season of the year and each narrated by Claudia. Interspersed throughout the text are fragments in the voice of an omniscient narrator that discuss Pecola's obsessive desire for blue eyes and her parents, Pauline and Cholly; each fragment is introduced with different lines from the Dick-and-Jane primer. In “Autumn,” Claudia begins her narrative as the MacTeers take in a boarder, Mr. Henry Washington. At the same time, Pecola comes to live with the MacTeer family after Cholly burns down his family's house. Recounting their typical girlhood adventures, Claudia particularly remembers the onset of Pecola's first menses. The omniscient narrator intermittently interrupts with descriptions of the Breedlove's household, noting how the parents are unable to hide the violence of their relationship in the presence of Pecola and her brother Sammy. In the midst of the hostilities, Pecola constantly prays for blue eyes, believing that if she only had blue eyes, life would be better. In “Winter,” Claudia recalls the arrival at school of Maureen Peale, a lighter-skinned, wealthy black girl with green eyes whom the girls both hate and admire. When a group of boys harasses Pecola, Maureen temporarily befriends Pecola, but eventually turns on her, calling the darker-skinned and deeply hurt Pecola “ugly.” The omniscient narrator again interrupts and describes an incident involving Pecola and Geraldine, a socially mobile middle-class African American woman who loves her blue-eyed cat more than she loves her own son, Louis Junior. When Pecola is wrongly blamed for the cat's death, Geraldine quietly calls her a “nasty little black bitch.” Claudia opens the “Spring” sequence of The Bluest Eye with disparate memories about Henry Washington fondling Frieda's breasts, his subsequent beating and eviction by Mr. MacTeer, and a visit to Pecola's apartment. The omniscient narrator's descriptions of Pauline and Cholly's history predominate the rest of this section. The narrator relates events from Pauline's early life, her marriage, and how she became a maid for an affluent, white family. The narrator next recounts Cholly's traumatic childhood and adolescence. Abandoned almost at birth, he is rescued by his beloved Aunt Jimmy, who later dies when he is sixteen. After her burial, Cholly is humiliated by two white hunters who interrupt his first sexual encounter with a girl named Darlene. He flees to Macon, Georgia, in search of his father who is miserably mean and wants nothing to do with his son. Crushed by this encounter, Cholly eventually meets and marries Pauline and fathers her children. Years later, in Lorain, a drunken Cholly staggers into his kitchen, and overcome with lust, brutally rapes and impregnates Pecola. “Spring” concludes with a story about Soaphead Church, a self-proclaimed psychic and mystic, who counsels an unattractive black girl who wishes she had blue eyes. In “Summer,” Claudia resumes her narration, recalling how the gossip spreads regarding Pecola being pregnant with Cholly's baby. Near the end of the novel, Pecola finally narrates a story about her conversation with an imaginary companion concerning her new blue eyes and whether they are “the bluest eyes” in the world. In the last section of The Bluest Eye Claudia remembers meeting Pecola after Cholly's baby is delivered stillborn and accounts for the whereabouts of Sammy, Cholly, and Pauline.
In The Bluest Eye, the opening excerpt from the Dick-and-Jane primer juxtaposed with the experiences of African American characters immediately sets the tone for Morrison's examination of a young black girl's growing self-hatred: American society tells Pecola happy, white, middle-class families are better than hopeless, black, working-class families. Victimized in different degrees by media messages—from movies and books to advertising and merchandise—that degrade their appearance, nearly every black character in the novel—both male and female—internalizes a desire for the white cultural standard of beauty. This desire is especially strong in Pecola, who believes that blue eyes will make her beautiful and lovable. At the same time, every African American character hates in various degrees anything associated with their own race, blindly accepting the media-sponsored belief that they are ugly and unlovable, particularly in the appalling absence of black cultural standards of beauty. In a sense, Pecola becomes the African American community's scapegoat for its own fears and feelings of unworthiness. Unlike Claudia, who possesses the love of her family, Pecola has learned from her appearance-conscious parents to devalue herself. She endures rejection by others who also value “appearances” and who ultimately share the same symptoms that characterize Pecola's insanity. Besides exposing the inherent racism of the American standard of beauty, The Bluest Eye also examines child abuse in terms of the violence that some African American parents subconsciously inflict on their children by forcing them to weigh their self-worth against white cultural standards. Cholly's rape of Pecola in effect culminates the psychological, social, and personal depreciation by white society that has raped Cholly his entire life. As his surname implies, Cholly can only breed, not love, and his brutal act against his daughter produces a child who cannot live. Finally, Pecola's longing for blue eyes speaks to the connection between how one is seen and how one sees. Pecola believes that if she had beautiful eyes, people would not be able to torment her mind or body. Her wish for blue eyes rather than lighter skin transcends racism, with its suggestion that Pecola wants to see things differently as much as to be seen differently, but the price for Pecola's wish ultimately is her sanity, as she loses sight of both herself and the world she inhabits.
Regarded by modern literary critics as perhaps one of the first contemporary female bildungsroman, or coming-of-age narratives, The Bluest Eye initially received modest reviews upon its publication in 1970. Commentators later claimed that they neglected the work because Morrison was unknown at the time. Since then, however, The Bluest Eye has become a classroom staple, and scholarship on the novel has flourished from a number of perspectives. A recurring discussion has focused on the novel's ability to replicate African American vernacular patterns and musical rhythms. Many critics have approached the novel in the context of the rise of African American writers, assigning significance to their revision of American history with their own cultural materials and folk traditions. Others have considered the ways The Bluest Eye alludes to earlier black writings in order to express the traditionally silenced female point of view and uses conventional grotesque imagery as a vehicle for social protest. 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 influence of environment on the novel's characters, identifying stylistic affinities with literary 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 Bluest Eye (novel) 1970
Sula (novel) 1973
The Black Book [editor] (nonfiction) 1974
Song of Solomon (novel) 1977
Tar Baby (novel) 1981
Dreaming Emmett (play) 1986
Beloved (novel) 1987
Jazz (novel) 1992
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (essays) 1992
Rac-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas and the Construction of Social Reality [editor and author of introduction] (essays) 1992
*The Dancing Mind (speech) 1997
Paradise (novel) 1998
The Big Box [with Slade Morrison; illustrations by Giselle Potter] (juvenilia) 1999
I See You, I See Myself: The Young Life of Jacob Lawrence [with Deba Foxley Leach, Suzanne Wright, and Deborah J. Leach] (juvenilia) 2001
Book of Mean People [with Slade Morrison; illustrations by Pascal Lemaître] (juvenilia) 2002
*This work contains the text of Morrison's 1996 acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
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SOURCE: Byerman, Keith E. “Intense Behaviors: The Use of the Grotesque in The Bluest Eye and Eva's Man.” CLA Journal 25, no. 4 (June 1982): 447-57.
[In the following essay, Byerman compares the use of grotesque literary conventions in The Bluest Eye and Gayl Jones's Eva's Man, highlighting its suitability to African American literature as a vehicle for social protest.]
At the end of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, the little black girl Pecola, a victim of incest, is pictured talking to herself in a mirror about her imaginary blue eyes. At the end of Eva's Man, by Gayl Jones, Eva is describing, in increasing incomprehensible terms, her poisoning and castrating of the man with whom she lived. Both of these female characters are the central figures of the novels under discussion, and each is, in literary terms, a grotesque. But such figures are not being used by Morrison and Jones just to shock or entertain; rather, they use these bizarre characterizations to examine the even greater grotesqueries of American society. Pecola epitomizes the American obsession with whiteness, while Eva, in a slightly different way, exemplifies the society's fixation on sexual dominance. The novels develop, then, a grotesque within a grotesque and serve to show the particular appropriateness of the grotesque in black literature that is also social criticism.
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SOURCE: Miner, Madonne M. “Lady No Longer Sings the Blues: Rape, Madness, and Silence in The Bluest Eye.” In Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition, edited by Marjorie Pryse and Hortense J. Spillers, pp. 176-91. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.
[In the following essay, Miner links oral storytelling traditions to the process of self-definition in The Bluest Eye, exploring the intersections between Pecola's narrative and mythic accounts of Greek goddesses Philomena and Persephone.]
Robert Stepto begins a recent interview with Toni Morrison by commenting on the “extraordinary sense of place” in her novels. He notes that she creates specific geographical landscapes with street addresses, dates, and other such details.1 His observations certainly hold true for Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, set in a black neighborhood in Lorain, Ohio, in 1941. Reading The Bluest Eye, I feel as if I have been in the abandoned store on the southeast corner of Broadway and Thirty-fifth Street in Lorain where Pecola Breedlove lives, as if I have been over the territory traversed by the eleven-year-old black girl as she skips among tin cans, tires, and weeds.
Morrison's skill in creating this very specific place accounts, in part, for my sense of the strangely familiar, the uncanny, when I read her novel—but only in part. While...
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SOURCE: Rosenberg, Ruth. “Seeds in Hard Ground: Black Girlhood in The Bluest Eye.” MELUS 21, no. 4 (winter 1987): 435-45.
[In the following essay, Rosenberg discusses several aspects of The Bluest Eye that differentiate Morrison's novel from earlier fictional accounts of African American girlhood, including descriptions of first menses and mother-daughter interactions, “colorism,” and the emotional precocity of pre-adolescent girls.]
Little black girls learned their lessons in self-authentication from autobiographies of such artists as Mahalia Jackson, Maya Angelou, and Bessie Smith, which explained how, in spite of immense obstacles, one might fashion a self.1 When Sherley Anne Williams was a troubled twelve-year-old in the fifties, she searched, in vain, through the shelves of her junior high school library for some fictionalized depiction of her own problems. Because she found nothing there that would speak to her difficulties, she says, she “was led, almost inevitably … to the autobiographies of women entertainers—Eartha Kitt, Katherine Dunham, Ethel Waters. The material circumstances of their childhood were so much worse than mine; they too had had to cope with early and forced sex and sexuality, with mothers who could not express love in the terms that they so desperately needed. Yet they had risen above this, turned their difference into something that was...
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SOURCE: Awkward, Michael. “Roadblocks and Relatives: Critical Revision in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.” In Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, edited by Nellie Y. McKay, pp. 57-68. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1988.
[In the following essay, Awkward considers the ways Morrison has incorporated and manipulated the works of earlier African American writers in The Bluest Eye in order to express and validate specific types of African American female experiences whose cultural significance those texts often deny.]
In “Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation,” Toni Morrison insists that ancestors play an essential role in individual works in the Afro-American canon. She states:
It seems to me interesting to evaluate Black literature on what the writer does with the presence of the ancestor. Which is to say a grandfather as in Ralph Ellison, or a grandmother as in Toni Cade Bambara, or a healer as in Bambara or Henry Dumas. There is always an elder there. And these ancestors are not just parents, they are sort of timeless people whose relationships to the characters are benevolent, instructive and protective, and they provide a certain kind of wisdom.1
Despite the apparent optimistic assurance of this statement, Morrison is well aware that “the presence of the ancestor” is not always viewed by the...
(The entire section is 4820 words.)
SOURCE: Harris, Trudier. “Reconnecting Fragments: Afro-American Folk Tradition in The Bluest Eye.” In Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, edited by Nellie Y. McKay, pp. 68-76. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1988.
[In the following essay, Harris examines the influence of African American folk traditions in The Bluest Eye with respect to the relation between communal patterns of survival and coping and the shaping of individual character.]
The Bluest Eye is not only the story of the destructive effects of inter- and intraracial prejudice upon impressionable black girls in the midwest; it is also the story of Afro-American folk culture in process. Through subtle and not-so-subtle ways, Toni Morrison suggests that the vibrancy of the folk culture persists through the fortunes and misfortunes of the characters, and it serves to baptize them into kinship with each other. From folk wisdom to the blues, from folk speech to myths and other beliefs, Lorain, Ohio, shares with historical black folk communities patterns of survival and coping, traditions that comfort in times of loss, and beliefs that point to an enduring creativity.
The setting mirrors perhaps one of the greatest beliefs in black communities during and after slavery—that the North is a freer place for black people economically and socially. It does not matter that Lorain, Ohio, is just a shade north of...
(The entire section is 4316 words.)
SOURCE: Fick, Thomas H. “Toni Morrison's “Allegory of the Cave”: Movies, Consumption, and Platonic Realism in The Bluest Eye.” Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 22, no. 1 (spring 1989): 10-22.
[In the following essay, Fick analyzes the themes, structures and characters of The Bluest Eye in relation to Western literary and philosophical traditions, as primarily represented in T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland and Plato's “Allegory of the Cave,” and their significance to African American economic and social conditions.]
Toni Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), is an unusually effective exploration of racism in twentieth-century American in part because of the place it gives to central legacies of Western civilization. Like Ralph Ellison, whose Invisible Man draws on Emerson and Whitman as well as folklore, Morrison recognizes the importance of Western literature and philosophy to the Afro-American experience in America; in some ways The Bluest Eye stands opposed to more hermetic work like Alice Walker's The Color Purple, which despite its many strengths does not come to terms with the intellectual and economic foundations of racism and whose portrayal of character and personal growth suffers accordingly.1 Morrison's characters are more convincing and ultimately more moving than Walker's because they operate in a...
(The entire section is 6942 words.)
SOURCE: Dickerson, Vanessa D. “The Naked Father in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.” In Refiguring the Father: New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy, edited by Patricia Yaeger and Beth Kowaleski-Wallace, pp. 108-27. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989.
[In the following essay, Dickerson analyzes the “doubled” identity of fathers—characterized as at once both “familiar” and “unknowable” to their daughters—in The Bluest Eye, focusing on the way Cholly's familiarity with Pecola causes not only his daughter's demise but also his own.]
In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye (1970), the nine-year-old narrator Claudia McTeer and her ten-year-old sister Frieda lie in bed one night and peer at their naked father who “pass[es] the open door of [their] room”:
We had lain there wide-eyed. He stopped and looked in, trying to see in the dark room whether we were really asleep or was it his imagination that opened eyes were looking at him? Apparently he convinced himself that we were sleeping. He moved away, confident that his little girls would not lie open-eyed like that, staring, staring. When he had moved on, the dark took only him away, not his nakedness. That stayed in the room with us. Friendly-like.
These lines are busy with meaning. On the one hand, they point up...
(The entire section is 8104 words.)
SOURCE: Wong, Shelley. “Transgression as Poesis in The Bluest Eye.” Callaloo 13, no. 3 (summer 1990): 471-81.
[In the following essay, Wong isolates a two-fold process in Morrison's narrative method in The Bluest Eye that transgresses conventional boundaries of signification and then reconfigures the material to form a new order of signification.]
In the opening pages of The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison writes that since the “why” of Pecola and Cholly Breedlove's situation is “difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how” (9). This admission, hardly the admission of a lack of technique or craft, is, instead, Morrison's admission that she is interested in, not questions of final causes, but questions of process, questions about how process comes to be shut down. Not surprisingly, then, The Bluest Eye opens with a tuition in closure. In a passage rendered in the style of the Dick and Jane series of primers, the novel lays bare the syntax of static isolation at the center of our cultural texts:
Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick and Jane live in the green-and-white house. They are very happy. See Jane. She has a red dress. She wants to play. Who will play with Jane? See the cat. It goes meow-meow. Come and play. Come play with Jane. The kitten...
(The entire section is 5795 words.)
SOURCE: Mbalia, Doreatha Drummond. “The Bluest Eye: The Need for Racial Approbation.” In Toni Morrison's Developing Class Consciousness, pp. 28-38. Selinsgrove, Mass.: Susquehanna University Press, 1991.
[In the following essay, Mbalia traces the narrative development of racism as the primary focus of The Bluest Eye in order to account for the novel's structural limitations.]
In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison's emphasis is on racism. Specifically, she investigates the effects of the beauty standards of the dominant culture on the self-image of the African female adolescent. The role of class, the primary form of exploitation experienced by African people that will become the focus of later works, is only relevant insofar as it exacerbates that self-image. Of the three main characters—all African female adolescents—it is Pecola Breedlove who is the primary focus. It is she who is most affected by the dominant culture's beauty standards because it is she who is the poorest and, consequently, the most vulnerable. Thus, even with this early work, Morrison is conscious of the role economics plays in the African's having a wholesome self-image. For it is the Breedloves' fight for survival that weakens the family structure and makes the family members more vulnerable to the propaganda of the dominant culture. Still, it is clear that in The Bluest Eye Morrison regards racism as...
(The entire section is 4628 words.)
SOURCE: Bishop, John. “Morrison's The Bluest Eye.” Explicator 51, no. 4 (summer 1993): 252-55.
[In the following essay, Bishop comments on the ironic implications of Pecola's name in The Bluest Eye with respect to ideals of beauty.]
Many writers have noted the importance of names (and the act of naming) in Toni Morrison's novels but, surprisingly, no one in print has noted the ironies surrounding the name of Pecola Breedlove, the central character of The Bluest Eye.1
“I just moved here. My name is Maureen Peal. What's yours?”
“Pecola? Wasn't that the name of the girl in Imitation of Life?”
“I don't know. What is that?”
“The picture show, you know. Where this mulatto girl hates her mother 'cause she is black and ugly but then cries at the funeral. It was real sad. Everybody cries in it. Claudette Colbert too.”
“Oh.” Pecola's voice was no more than a sigh.
“Anyway, her name was Pecola too. She was so pretty. When it comes back, I'm going to see it again.”...
(The entire section is 1361 words.)
SOURCE: Kulkarni, Harihar. “Mirrors, Reflections, and Images: Malady of Generational Relationship and Girlhood in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.” Indian Journal of American Studies 23, no. 2 (summer 1993): 1-6.
[In the following essay, Kulkarni interprets Pecola's fate in The Bluest Eye through Jacques Lacan's theory of the mirror stage of psychosexual development, tracing the origin of Pecola's sense of inferiority to Pauline's self-image.]
The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison's The Waste Land. Like Eliot, she too, in a limited sense, presents bleak, wastelandish human conditions characterized by grotesque environment which, like the earth of 1941, is unyielding. She brings into focus a place that fosters an underground invisibility and barrenness, composed of an imaginary cultural dissolution and fraught with brutal discrimination that strains human comprehension and stuns our conscience; where the “soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, … and the victim had no right to live” (Morrison 1970:160).1 The Lorain of 1941 is almost an industrial incarnation of the wastelandish underground where blacks like Cholly and Pauline Breedlove are pathetically relegated to a hidden, self-diminutive existence, “festering together in the debris of a realtor's whim” (p. 31), little more than compost for...
(The entire section is 3549 words.)
SOURCE: Kuenz, Jane. “The Bluest Eye: Notes on History, Community, and Black Female Subjectivity.” African American Review 27, no. 3 (fall 1993): 421-31.
[In the following essay, Kuenz shows the relationship between images of mass culture and identity development by focusing on its detrimental effects on the subjectivity of the African American female characters in The Bluest Eye.]
In Toni Morrison The Bluest Eye, the Breedloves' storefront apartment is graced overhead by the home of three magnificent whores, each a tribute to Morrison's confidence in the efficacy of the obvious. The novel's unhappy convergence of history, naming, and bodies—delineated so subtly and variously elsewhere—is, in these three, signified most simply and most crudely by their bodies and their names: Poland, China, the Maginot Line. With these characters, Morrison literalizes the novel's overall conflation of black female bodies as the sites of fascist invasions of one kind or another, as the terrain on which is mapped the encroachment and colonization of African-American experiences, particularly those of its women, by a seemingly hegemonic white culture. The Bluest Eye as a whole documents this invasion—and its concomitant erasure of specific local bodies, histories, and cultural productions—in terms of sexuality as it intersects with commodity culture. Furthermore, this mass...
(The entire section is 6496 words.)
SOURCE: Napieralski, Edmund A. “Morrison's The Bluest Eye.” Explicator 53, no. 1 (fall 1994): 59-62.
[In the following essay, Napieralski compares and contrasts the narrative elements of The Bluest Eye with those of the classical myth of Oedipus.]
In addition to the popular myths that she uses in The Bluest Eye to criticize society—the Dick and Jane Story and Pauline Breedlove's Dreamland Theatre—Toni Morrison also incorporates characters, incidents, and themes that recall classical myth. In her article, “Lady Sings the Blues,” Madonne M. Miner has explained how Pecola's rape by her father recalls Philomela's by Tereus and Persephone's by Pluto (176). Pecola's story—her tragic failure to find her truth, to find her happiness in knowing who she is and her worth to herself and others—recalls also the tragedy of Oedipus the King. In The Bluest Eye, however, the myth appears in a peculiar and distorted fashion. Raymond Hedin has pointed out that central elements of the Dick and Jane world—“house, family, cat, Mother, Father, dog, and friend”—become “inverted to fit the realities of Pecola's world” (50). Much the same can be said about the myth of Oedipus and the world of The Bluest Eye.
First, the novel's setting recalls Sophocles' play. Barrenness envelops Lorain, Ohio, in 1941: Claudia, a choral character, says, “We...
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SOURCE: Ledbetter, Mark. “Through the Eyes of a Child: Looking for Victims in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.” In Literature and Theology at Century's End, edited by Gregory Salyer and Robert Detweiler, pp. 177-88. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1995.
[In the following essay, Ledbetter examines the characteristics of the victims in The Bluest Eye and the reader's response to them, investigating the ethical dimensions of writing and reading the novel.]
… And then last night, I tiptoed up To my daughter's room and heard her Talking to someone, and when I opened The door, there was no one there … Only she on her knees, peeking into
Her own clasped hands
Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones)1
Desperation characterizes the victim. The victim will do most anything to avoid his fated end, which is disappearance. Victims are a lost people; they are victims because they are neither heard nor seen. To posture any sense of “real” presence is to no longer be a victim.
“Otherness” characterizes desperation.2 A tremendous mystery—awe inspiring, even religious—embodies acts of desperation. The desperate act is always described by the voyeur with the phrase, “Why did she do that?” The irony, here, is that the voyeur, too, is desperate to see and, therefore, to know...
(The entire section is 4601 words.)
SOURCE: Scott, Lynn. “Beauty, Virtue and Disciplinary Power: A Foucauldian Reading of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.” Midwestern Miscellany 24 (1996): 9-23.
[In the following essay, Scott correlates Michel Foucault's theories about the workings of power in modern societies with Morrison's exploration of American racism in The Bluest Eye, demonstrating Morrison's contention that racism has less to do with exclusion than with the pressure to assimilate to cultural ideals of beauty and virtue.]
In that young and growing Ohio town whose side streets, even, were paved with concrete, which sat on the edge of a calm blue lake, which boasted an affinity with Oberlin, the underground railroad station, just thirteen miles away, this melting pot on the lip of America facing the cold but receptive Canada—What could go wrong?
(The Bluest Eye, 93)
Set in a small, industrialized, Midwestern town on the eve of World War I, The Bluest Eye explores the relationship of a variety of black families and individuals to each other as well as to the larger white community from which they are marginalized by racism. The locale is important. Neither the rural south, nor a large northern ghetto, Lorain, Ohio affords an intimate microcosm of caste and class, both within and without the black community. The narrator's question,...
(The entire section is 5723 words.)
SOURCE: Alexander, Allen. “The Fourth Face: The Image of God in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.” African American Review 32, no. 2 (summer 1998): 293-303.
[In the following essay, Alexander explores Morrison's representation and allusions to a deity in The Bluest Eye, contrasting Western notions of the divine with African perceptions of the same, which traditionally associate the deity with evil in this world.]
Religious references, both from Western and African sources, abound in Toni Morrison's fiction, but nowhere are they more intriguing or perplexing than in The Bluest Eye. And of the many fascinating religious references in this novel, the most complex—and perhaps, therefore, the richest—are her representations of and allusions to God. In Morrison's fictional world, God's characteristics are not limited to those represented by the traditional Western notion of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Instead, God possesses a fourth face, one that is an explanation for all those things—the existence of evil, the suffering of the innocent and just—that seem so inexplicable in the face of a religious tradition that preaches the omnipotence of a benevolent God.
Is Morrison's introduction of this fourth face into her fiction, then, a means of depicting evil, a redesigned Satan, if you will? It is true that in Morrison's fiction the fourth face at times...
(The entire section is 6734 words.)
SOURCE: Malmgren, Carl D. “Texts, Primers, and Voices in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 41, no. 3 (spring 2000): 251-62.
[In the following essay, Malmgren studies the multicultural and polyphonic structures of The Bluest Eye with respect to the novel's concern with victimization and its causes.]
The Bluest Eye represents a remarkable undertaking, especially for a first novel. In terms of formal features, it might be described as a kind of narratological compendium. For one thing, the novel incorporates several different forms of textuality. It opens with three different versions of its epigraphic “master” text, several lines drawn from an elementary school primer. That is followed by an italicized “overture,” introducing the primary narrator, Claudia MacTeer, and the dominant motifs of the work—victimization and its causes:
It was a long time before my sister and I admitted to ourselves that no green was going to spring from our seeds. Once we knew, our guilt was relieved only by fights and mutual accusations about who was to blame.
The body of the novel is composed of two related kinds of texts, variously interspersed: four seasonal sections, narrated in the first person by Claudia MacTeer; and seven primer sections (employing...
(The entire section is 5768 words.)
Alwes, Karla. “‘The Evil of Fulfillment’: Women and Violence in The Bluest Eye.” In Women and Violence in Literature: An Essay Collection, edited by Katherine Anne Ackley, pp. 89-104. New York: Garland Publishing, 1990.
Alwes equates the violence in The Bluest Eye with self-hatred caused by Pauline's and Pecola's illusions about white American society and their places in it.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Toni Morrison's “The Bluest Eye”: Modern Critical Interpretations. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999, 270 p.
Bloom presents previously published criticism of The Bluest Eye, offering various perspectives on the diverse issues raised by the novel.
Cormier-Hamilton, Patrice. “Black Naturalism and Toni Morrison: The Journey Away from Self-Love in The Bluest Eye.” MELUS 19, no. 4 (winter 1994): 109-27.
Cormier-Hamilton examines the influence of environment on the characters of The Bluest Eye from a “black naturalistic” perspective, highlighting differences between traditional uses of naturalism and African American approaches to naturalism, which are shown to rely upon a protagonist's struggles with self-awareness and self-realization.
Dittmar, Linda. “‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken?’: The Politics of Form in The Bluest...
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