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 ways because he can’t do this and he can’t do that. He can’t do it normally, healthily, and so on. So it might end up in [the rape].” Geraldine shows more affection for her cat than for her son, and no one loves Pecola’s black baby. The three neighborhood prostitutes use sex to profit from and to humiliate men. Soaphead Church, after being rejected by his wife years before, desires people’s things more than relationships with actual adults. Because he sees children, especially girls, as clean, manipulable, and safe, they are the only ones with whom he will relate.
The division of the novel into sections that reflect the seasons—from autumn to the following summer—suggests maturation as another important theme. Claudia’s maturation process contrasts with Pecola’s. Claudia’s ninth year provides her with knowledge of the larger world that includes isolation, rejection, pain, and guilt. Her experiences bring her to an acceptance of responsibility, not only for herself but for others in her community as well. This same year in Pecola’s life, though, only pushes her to the margins of society and sanity. Her journey takes her ever inward, since too much pain lies in the external world for one eleven-year-old girl to bear.
Morrison has stated that “all of the books I have written deal with characters placed deliberately under enormous duress in order to see of what they are made.” The stuff of Claudia’s character endures; Pecola’s is destroyed.