Essays and Criticism
Overview of The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. Set in Morrison's home town of Lorain, Ohio, the novel tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl convinced of her own ugliness who desires nothing more than to have blue eyes. On the first page of the novel, Morrison tells the reader in advance everything that will happen in the pages to follow. Indeed, Morrison alludes to the central event of the book in the first two sentences: "Quiet as it's kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father's baby that the marigolds did not grow." Morrison places importance not so much on what happens as on how and why Pecola Breedlove descends into inevitable madness.
Early reviews of The Bluest Eye were favorable, if subdued. Morrison, in an afterword to the 1994 edition of the novel, expresses her dissatisfaction with the reception the novel initially received: "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 for her to gain respect for this publication.
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The Quest for Self: Triumph and Failure in the Works of Toni Morrison
One of the more interesting characteristics of Toni Morrison's four novels—The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1974), Song of Solomon (1977), and Tar Baby (1981)—is that each is a part of a whole. They reveal a consistency in Morrison's vision of the human condition, particularly in her preoccupation with the effect of the community on the individual's achievement and retention of an integrated, acceptable self. In treating this subject, she draws recurrently on myth and legend for story pattern and characters, returning repeatedly to the theory of quest as a motivating and organizing device. The goals her characters seek to achieve are similar in their deepest implications, and yet the degree to which they attain them varies radically because each novel is cast in unique human terms. Moreover, the theme of quest is always underscored by ironic insights and intensely evocative imagery. An exploration of these distinguishing qualities, technical and thematic, enhances one's appreciation of her achievement.
The Bluest Eye, Morrison's first novel, presents a failed quest culminating in madness. The young Pecola Breedlove searches painfully for self-esteem as a means of imposing order on the chaos of her world. Because a sense of self-worth and the correlative stability that would accompany it are...
(The entire section is 1989 words.)
The Inverted World of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Sula
It used to be that black magazines like Ebony and Jet, barometers of the levels of black consciousness, earned advertisements for bleaching creams and hair-straighteners. Since the growth of black appreciation of natural color and texture and the advent of the slogan "Black is Beautiful," formed in protest to white standards of beauty, notices for bleaching creams no longer appear, although those for hair-straighteners still do. These illustrate the black woman's dilemma in a world where her white sisters are admonished: "Be a blond." "If you have one life to live, live it as a blond." Occasionally, one sees a black "blond" in the street or in the subway, vividly proclaiming the contradictions of her identity and of her society.
Bombarded on all sides to conform to an impossible standard of beauty, some women become confused and succumb to a psychological crisis. Black male writers have dealt with the crisis in different ways, [Richard] Wright in Native Son and [Ralph] Ellison in Invisible Man, presenting it in terms of the hero's conception of himself and of his place in society, while the identity crisis in women's lives appears only briefly. The narrator in Invisible Man notices a sign in a shop-window in Harlem:
You too can be truly beautiful. Win greater happiness with whiter complexion. Be outstanding in...
(The entire section is 2001 words.)