Discuss how physical appearance as a reflection of social power is a dominant theme in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

The theme of physical appearance and social power intersect with several themes in The Bluest Eye. Black women in the novel have internalized whiteness as a beauty standard, with societal and cultural messages conveying the superior appearance of white American girls and women. Appearance and race largely influence social standing, resulting in black Americans having less chances of success compared to their white counterparts.

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The theme of physical appearance and social power in The Bluest Eye revolve around other themes present in the novel (these themes are highlighted in bold). Claudia, Frieda, Maureen, Mrs. Breedlove, Geraldine, and Pecola have learned or learn to hate their black bodies due to whiteness as a beauty standard in their society. Societal and cultural messages throughout their lives convey the superiority of white appearance and race, which are associated with higher social standing in America.

Eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove is the central protagonist in the novel. She is a sensitive child and vulnerable to the emotional abuse of her mother, father, and peers. Pecola is raised by her mother to believe she is ugly because of her very dark skin, which relates to her strong desire to have blue eyes, which would make her be viewed as more beautiful. It becomes apparent that Mrs. Breedlove takes her self-hatred over her appearance out on Pecola. Geraldine, who has lighter skin, similarly mocks Pecola for her blackness.

Claudia MacTeer narrates parts of the novel. As a strong-willed nine-year-old girl, she resists the idealization of white beauty standards in the black community. She has not yet internalized this negative association between her race and that of appearance, though she does recognize it. To name a few examples, she receives a white baby doll from her mother to encourage this association and learns that Maureen is considered more attractive than other black girls due to her lighter skin.

Regardless of these messages, Claudia imagines the beauty of the blackness of Pecola's unborn baby. She is told by the adults that she will finally learn to hate her appearance when she is a teenager. Claudia's sister Frieda is similarly stubborn over white beauty standards, though she is conveyed as more vulnerable to this concept as she is slightly older and more aware of adult society.

The influence of skin color and social standing is particularly apparent in the characters of Mrs. Breedlove and Maureen. Mrs. Breedlove works for a wealthy white family and prefers the girl that she cares for over her own daughter. As a light-skinned child, Maureen has a more privileged lifestyle. She too comes from a wealthy family. These details illustrate that Black Americans have lower incomes and less overall success in their society.

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