How does Toni Morrisson's novel The Bluest Eye suggest the subjugated psyche of the African American in America?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye suggests the subjugated psyche of some of its African-American characters in various ways, including the following:

  • Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl who is not conventionally attractive, becomes obsessed with the conventionally beautiful appearance of Shirley Temple, a white child who starred in many popular films during her youth. Pecola’s obsession with Shirley Temple suggests the ways in which she has internalized conventional white standards of beauty.
  • Not only does Pecola become obsessed with Shirley Temple, but she also becomes obsessed with the idea of having blue eyes, which she thinks will make her attractive. Once again, then, she internalizes conventional white ideals of beauty and worth.
  • The strong tension that exists between Pecola’s parents is partly due to the abuse and subjugation Pecola’s father suffered at the hands of whites when he was a youth
  • After Pecola is raped by her father, she becomes even more obsessed with the idea of having blue eyes – once again indicating how she has become internally subjugated by conventional white ideals of beauty and value.
  • Eventually Pecola loses her mind, but at the end of the novel she is still obsessed with looking beautiful in the way a white person might seem beautiful.

At one point in the novel, Pecola’s mother, Pauline, recalls giving birth in a hospital in which many white women were also giving birth.  The attending doctors pay great attention to the white women but essentially ignore Pauline, assuming that birth is easy for black women.  Pauline responds as follows:

. . . when them pains got harder, I was glad.  Glad to have something else to think about.  I moaned something awful.  The pains wasn’t as bad as I let on, but I had to let them people know having a baby was more than a bowel movement.  I hurt just like them white women.  Just ’cause I wasn’t hopping and hollering before didn’t mean I wasn’t feeling pain.

Pauline, in other words, resists being subjugated by whites; she insists (at least in her own mind) or her equal dignity and equal worth.




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The Bluest Eye

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