Why do you think Toni Morrison would use this popular children's book to start each of her chapters in The Bluest Eye? What image of life does the Dick and Jane series present to young readers? How would Claudia, Frieda, and Pecola feel about their own lives in comparison?

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In The Bluest Eye, author Toni Morrison uses the popular children's books of the Dick and Jane series to start the chapters because she is making the point that the idyllic life presented in Dick and Jane bears no resemblance to the lives described in The Bluest Eye. The author begins by writing:

Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane live in the green-and-white house. They are very happy. See Jane. She has a red dress. She wants to play ...

The image of life presented to young readers in Dick and Jane is of a perfect family that lives in a perfect house and has a perfect pet, and everyone has perfect blue eyes. In almost the next sentence after this introduction, Toni Morrison writes:

Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father’s baby that the marigolds did not grow.

The juxtaposition of these two extremely different images is jarring. The image of the perfect white American family contrasted with Pecola takes the reader by surprise. Even though we do not yet know who Pecola is exactly, we know that she is “having her father’s baby.” The reader has to do a double take to make certain that this is what the author has written.

Pecola certainly does not live in the same world inhabited by the perfect Dick and Jane, who have perfect parents. Pecola’s father raped her, so there is nothing perfect there. She might think that the unrealistic, stilted, and one-dimensional world of Dick and Jane is something to aspire to (as she aspires to have blue eyes), but it is nothing like her life as described in the book.

Even the two MacTeer girls, who have loving parents, do not inhabit the same world as Dick and Jane and probably would realize—at least once they become adults—how unrealistic Dick and Jane's world seems. It seems clear that at least Claudia would realize it, as the same paradigm can be seen with the Christmas present that Claudia describes as follows:

The big, the special, the loving gift was always a big, blue- eyed Baby Doll ... I was bemused with the thing itself, and the way it looked. What was I supposed to do with it?

The stereotypical middle-class white family has little resemblance to any of the characters’ lives in The Bluest Eye. It also has limited resemblance to the lives of many other families who do not conform to the one-size-fits-all mold of Dick and Jane. The series therefore lost its relevance during the late 1960s and early 1970s and was discontinued.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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