Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Toni Morrison has stated, “I was interested in reading a kind of book that I had never read before. I didn’t know if such a book existed, but I had just never read it in 1964 when I started writing The Bluest Eye. ” Elsewhere, she has observed, “I thought in The Bluest Eye, that I was writing about beauty, miracles, and self-images, about the way in which people can hurt each other, about whether or not one is beautiful.” In this novel, Morrison writes of the forces that thwart a black female child’s coming of age in America while at the same time she suggests the qualities that permit the strong to survive.
White standards of beauty destroy first Pauline Breedlove and then her daughter, cause even a strong child such as Claudia to question her own worth, and result in Geraldine’s denial of her own sensuality and passion. While Claudia will survive such influences (which are counteracted by the loving strength of her family), others, such as Mrs. Breedlove, Geraldine, and Soaphead Church, are perverted by such pressures, and some, like Pecola, succumb to mad fantasies.
Morrison shows how the pressures created by white-defined values as reflected in American popular culture and in America as a whole pervert the relationships within African American families as well as among individuals in the black community. In a 1978 interview, Morrison explained that Cholly “might love [Pecola] in the worst of all possible...
(The entire section is 495 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Bluest Eye Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The principal themes of the novel are summed up in the spring section, when the narrator speaks of the ideas of physical beauty and romantic love as “probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought.” In this novel with no single major white character, white ideas about beauty still exert their power upon the lives of blacks, creating within the black community a strict caste system based on shades of blackness. Black adults and children alike, with the exception of Frieda and Claudia it seems, admire the “high-yellow dream child” Maureen Peal. The minor character Geraldine teaches her light-skinned son that there is a line between colored people and niggers, a line that must be carefully guarded against attempts to erode it. At the opposite extreme from Maureen Peal is Pecola, whose own mother knew from the moment of Pecola’s birth that her very black baby was ugly. At both the beginning and the end of the novel, Pecola is identified with a certain type of seed that the soil will not nurture. Pecola is described at the beginning as the plot of black dirt into which her father had dropped his seed. By the end, Cholly, Pecola, and their baby are all dead, and Claudia tries to explain why:This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit 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...
(The entire section is 436 words.)
The key themes of The Bluest Eye have to do with the most fundamental social unit, the family. In addition to the central and obviously dysfunctional Breedlove family, Morrison includes several family clusters in the narrative, each representing a mode of coping with alienation and the false cultural values imposed on minorities. In theory, a family should offer a support system even more basic than that of the community to guide individuals in dealing with the pressures society in general imposes on them. In all of Morrison's novels, the hero's identification with her or his family is a source of dissonance, in many cases a contributor to the characters' low self-esteem and being influenced by false values. For Pecola, Cholly's despair at finding work and meaning in the community, and Pauline's embracing the idea that white is right, lead to alienation and eventual withdrawal into her illusion that she has aesthetic properties valued by the majority. She is as much the victim of her family's accepting the view that they, and especially she, are ugly and worthless, as she is the victim of society's definitions of beauty—the community as a whole reinforces the low self-image her family impresses on her. Morrison frames the discussion of family, nurturing, and alienation with several contrasting families whose value systems represent alternatives to the Breedlove's dysfunctional unit.
Some chapter sections are introduced by a variation on the "Dick...
(The entire section is 1297 words.)
Morrison has been an open critic of several aspects of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and she has stated in numerous interviews that a primary impetus for The Bluest Eye was the "Black is Beautiful" slogan of the movement, which was at its peak while Morrison wrote her first novel. Even though The Bluest Eye is set in the 1940s, Morrison integrates this pressure that blacks feel to live up to white society's standards of beauty with racism in general, and the reader sees quickly that several characters are indeed "in trouble" as a result of their obsession with beauty, especially Pecola and Pauline.
Of course, as the title indicates, Pecola's one desire is to have blue eyes, which to her are central to being beautiful and would enable her to transcend the ugliness of her life and perhaps change the behavior of her parents. Pecola worships the beautiful, white icons of the 1940s: she drinks three quarts of milk at the MacTeer's house so that she can use the cup with Shirley Temple's picture on it, buys Mary Janes at the candy store so that she can admire the picture of the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl on the wrapper, and even resorts to contacting Soaphead Church, thinking that perhaps he can make her eyes blue. By the novel's end, Pecola truly believes she has blue eyes, and her delusion is a tragic picture of the damage the...
(The entire section is 2112 words.)