How is intersectionality portrayed in The Bluest Eye?

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The concept of intersectionality is portrayed in The Bluest Eye with the Breedloves, who are Black, poor, and ugly in a society that reveres beauty. The intersectionality of all these factors set them apart even from other members of their own community. Their poverty was not unique, it was “traditional.” However, “their ugliness was unique.” Yet it is clear that their ugliness is the outward manifestation of the internal difficulties they face as a result of their marginalized condition.

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In The Bluest Eye, the Breedlove family is Black, poor, and ugly, while other members of their community are just Black and poor. Their ugliness sets the Breedloves apart from the rest and illustrates the concept of intersectionality in The Bluest Eye. In a society that reveres beauty, their ugliness marginalizes them even from other members of their community.

The Oxford dictionary defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations,” including race, class, and gender, as applied to individuals or an individual group. In turn, these social categorizations create an overlapping or intersectionality of factors that lead to greater discrimination or disadvantages for this individual or group.

In the book, the Breedloves live in relatively the same community as the Macteer girls. Both families are Black and therefore subject to the discrimination that faces most of the other Black people they know. However, the Breedloves are also among the poorest members of their community and are also ugly. Therefore, they face an even greater amount of discrimination and endure additional disadvantages that manifest themselves in the ways children at school treat Pecola. Through the narrator, Claudia, author Toni Morrison tells the reader that,

The Breedloves did not live in a storefront because they were having temporary difficulty adjusting to the cutbacks at the plant. They lived there because they were poor and Black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly.

The poverty was not unique to the Breedlove family. In fact, as the author or narrator notes, it was “traditional and stultifying, it was not unique.” However, “their ugliness was unique.”

The book makes it clear, however, that their so-called ugliness is really the outward manifestation of the internal difficulties they face as a result of their poverty and marginalized condition. As noted in the quote above, they believe they are ugly even if it is not really the case. For Cholly, Pecola’s father who commits unspeakable acts against her, his ugliness was “the result of despair, dissipation, and violence directed toward petty things and weak people” and was manifested in his behavior, particularly towards Pecola. Their ugliness is a metaphor for the depth of their despair and reaction to their situation in life. Their ugliness is not so much physical, as it is the way in which they confront life, one another and other people and is the reason that poor Pecola feels that her life will be turned around if only she can have blue eyes.

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