On pages 125 and 126 of the paperback edition of Toni Morrison’s 1970 novel about racism and its self-perpetuating effects on young African Americans, The Bluest Eye, Pecola’s mother is describing the birth of the daughter whose self-loathing constitutes much of the story’s narrative. Pauline Breedlove, called “Polly” by the wealthy white family for whom she works as a housekeeper, discusses in explicit terms the matter-of-fact manner in which she endured the physical pain of childbirth and the indignities of being in such a vulnerable position in a world dominated by whites. As she describes the process of giving birth, she transitions into a brief discussion about her newborn daughter’s instinctive approach to survival relative to that of Pecola’s older brother, Sammy, who occupies a very minor role in The Bluest Eye. Morrison has Pauline describe Pecola as follows:
A right smart baby she was. I used to like to watch her. You know they makes them greedy sounds. Eyes all soft and wet. A cross between a puppy and a dying man. But I knowed she was ugly. Head full of pretty hair, but Lord she was ugly.
The Bluest Eye is a sad story about a young girl whose self-esteem is damaged by virtue of the superficial values placed on physical beauty at the expense of inner character. For an African American female in a white-dominated society, beauty was equated with physical characteristics of caucasians, particularly the blue eyes associated with blonde-haired women. Pecola’s life is informed by her physical appearance, and the continued horrors and indignities, especially her rape at the hands of her father, have condemned her to the fate that befalls her in Morrison’s novel.