In The Bluest Eye, Morrison works with many themes, among them impoverishment, destructive mythologies, gender relations, and loss of innocence. Impoverishment is clearly tied not only to cultural and racial identities but also to familial values. Mrs. Breedlove works for more than one white family, but she respects only the Fishers, who satisfy her lifelong need for order; ironically, the order that she respects strips her of her marital status (as Mrs. Breedlove) and even of her Christian name, Pauline. She becomes “Polly,” the “ideal servant.” Impoverishment becomes more than a racial issue, however, as Morrison explores the differences among African American families. Only partly a racial issue, the contrast between the comfortable life of the half-white Maureen Peal, who is “rich” by Claudia MacTeer’s standards, is juxtaposed against the lives of Frieda and Claudia, whose mother bitterly laments the three quarts of milk that Pecola drinks and Claudia’s illness because such economic losses represent a hardship for the MacTeers.
Finally, there are the Breedloves, whose “blackness,” poverty, and familial values make them ugly. Geraldine, an African American woman groomed for property and family status, explains to her son the difference between “colored people” and “niggers.” When Geraldine finds Pecola trapped in the living room by Junior, she has her chance to demonstrate this distinction. Deceived by Junior’s lies, contemptuous of Pecola’s ugliness and filthiness, Geraldine calls Pecola a “black bitch”—slurring Pecola’s racial and feminine identity—and throws her out. Morrison’s authorial voice addresses these indignities and demonstrates that in a racist and impoverished culture, beauty and ugliness can be reversed. It is Claudia who sees that Pecola has been stripped of her beauty, but the reader sees clearly the ugliness of Geraldine and Junior, the insensitivity of Maureen Peal, and the unquestioned entitlement of the Fishers.
Morrison also addresses many destructive American mythologies, perhaps most powerfully the romantic mythology and the beauty mythology alluded to in her title The Bluest Eye. Mrs. Breedlove is destroyed, in part, by the romantic myth. As a young girl, she dreams of a “Presence” that will show up and know what to do. Cholly Breedlove, who accepts her and even makes her feel special about her crippled foot, plays a part in this mythology. They marry, and Cholly surprises her by being happy that she is pregnant. During her pregnancy, she goes to motion pictures, where she succumbs to her earlier romantic ideas and learns the American ideal of beauty as she watches Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. In the novel, Morrison says of the American ideas of romantic love and physical beauty that they are “[p]robably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought.” These are the myths embedded in the Dick-and-Jane parodies that introduce subsections, and not surprisingly, Pecola Breedlove, like her mother, accepts the myths of romantic love and blue-eyed beauty. Pecola’s obsession with blue eyes begins with the Shirley Temple cup in which Frieda MacTeer brings her milk, and the obsession finally consumes Pecola in her madness, when she believes that she has attained the bluest eyes. Morrison’s characters demonstrate that such ideals cannot withstand the realities of human relationships.
In part as a result of the poverty and ugliness and the resulting disillusionment, gender relations fare poorly in The Bluest Eye. The central male, Cholly Breedlove, cannot imagine being content with one women for his entire life. He finds his solace in drinking, womanizing, and finally raping his daughter. The other men and boys in The Bluest Eye also offer little of the ideal. Mr. Henry, the MacTeers’ roomer, is run off for molesting Frieda. Soaphead Church, who also molests little girls, says of the men and women in his family, “Our manhood was defined by...
(The entire section is 1,105 words.)