How is physical beauty depicted in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison?

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Physical beauty is presented in the book as an unattainable ideal established by white society. Pecola spends her whole time trying to live up to this ideal in the hope that it will make her more accepted. This is her way of dealing with racial prejudice as well as the feelings of low self-esteem induced by years of physical and sexual abuse.

The fictitious blue eyes she obsessively stares at in the mirror symbolize an ultimately futile quest for an ideal of beauty that's been imposed upon her by society. For Pecola, this chimera initially offers a brief respite from the horrors of daily life. In due course, however, this symbol will come to provide her with a permanent escape from the everyday world, precipitating her descent into insanity. On this reading, the pursuit of idealized beauty is a metaphor for the self-loathing which afflicts too many African Americans in a deeply racist and prejudiced society, inducing a kind of collective madness.

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Physical beauty is a key theme in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. Throughout the book, Morrison makes it clear that the black characters see themselves as less beautiful because of their race. Morrison does this through the detailed descriptions of how characters view themselves and others. One of the clearest examples of this is in the title itself; Pecola thinks that all she needs is to have blue eyes like a white person and she will be loved. She ignores factors like her abusive family, instead blaming her problems on her own lack of beauty. Additionally, the "closer to white" a character is, the more power this seems to give them. Maureen Peal is a light-skinned black girl, and her lighter complexion gives her power over the bullies at school. Readers can clearly see how symbols of white beauty are glorified throughout the book: early on, the young girls (Pecola and Frieda) talk of their love for the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Shirley Temple, and later Mrs. Breedlove pines over the white actresses in movies. For the characters in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, their problems in life can be tied back to their blackness and assumed lack of beauty.

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What is the relationship between physical beauty and gender expectations in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison?

What is made very clear in this book is that it is not simply physical beauty that is important in this novel, but physical beauty as demonstrated by white females. This is what is internalised amongst the female black characters of this novel, as they live in a world where white beauty is constantly presented as being the ideal. The novel is full of subconscious and conscious messages that support this, whether it is in the way that Shirley Temple is adored or the doll that is given to Claudia, that is of course white. What is far more disturbing, however, is the way that adult females are shown to express the hatred they have developed for their own bodies on their children. The novel presents the reader therefore with an incredibly disturbing world, where to be beautiful as a female automatically means being white, and those who are not are left to feel constantly ugly or second best. This is of course why Pecola comes to develop her bizarre fixation on having blue eyes:

It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights—if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different.

Her eyes can only be "beautiful" if they become like the eyes that white people have: that is to say, blue. However, what is interesting about this quotation is that it suggests Pecola believes that not only will blue eyes make her beautiful, but also that blue eyes will give her a different life, changing the "pictures" and "sights" that her eyes had, and giving her a different life where she is not hated and abused.

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