“…all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured.”
‘The Bluest Eye’ written by Chloe Anthony Wofford under the pen name Toni Morrison was published in 1970. The novel is constructed in the timeline of the 1940s America with the location set in Lorain, Ohio. Morrison adopts an autobiographical style of writing in which she selects the town where she grew up as the center stage for the development and progression of the plot. ‘The Bluest Eye’ is a novel that has been conceived by Morrison in her recollection of a conversation she had had in her childhood with a friend who desired to have blue eyes.
Through the eyes of a nine year old, Claudia Macteer, almost a mirror image of the author herself, Morrison uses this character as a vehicle to explore the different ideas of race, gender and community. The novel is a product of Claudia’s innocent understanding of her childhood experiences critiqued by the narratorial voice of her present adult self. The minute detailed descriptions by Morrison successfully weaves out a visually intense novel portraying the struggles of the Black community in the 1940s.
Like the title of the novel suggests, the story revolves around either directly or indirectly to the color blue. Blue, here, symbolizes the colonial power of the whites where they stand superior to the blacks and the colored people. The omnipresence of this color makes it powerful and authoritative. The blue, hence, becomes a reminder to the Blacks of a lack that puts the whites in an unquestionable superior position.
The novel can be seen as a journey of a young black girl named Pecola who is oppressed a number of times by the white community and also, by her own community of blacks. Although, Pecola is an individual with her own personal experiences of oppressions yet she can be seen as a figure born out the pain of struggles of the black girls, an image that reflects them all. She is not a character devoid of her environment, in fact, she is an end result of racial conflict between the whites and the blacks.
‘The Bluest Eye’ revolves around two families, the Breedlove and the Macteer, their stories juxtaposed making their narratives inseparable wherein the plot becomes comprehensible in this intertwining of separate episodes. The novel begins with Pecola Breedlove living with the Macteer family without any explanation as to why she left her family. As the story progresses, the back story is revealed, a reverse movement in the timeline of the novel.
Blue is shown to be a desirable ‘end’ that the blacks wish to attain, an established standard of beauty and superiority that controls the community’s attitude towards those beholding it and those who lack it. From the beginning of the novel, it talks about how Morrison uses Pecola as a vehicle to explore the significance of the color blue and how being blue eyed would change everything for the better. She even imagines how having blue eyes would change the attitude of the people around her, how they would start treating her with more love and concern. For instance, the word blue eyed is prefixed with the word pretty so as to emphasis that blue eyes are a desirable feature, a universally established standard of beauty that is seen in pretty dolls that every girl child treasured. Pecola is an object of harassment both at home and school. In her innocence, she believed that having blue eyes was the solution to all her oppressions. In her desperation, she seeks divine intervention by approaching Soaphead Church to give her blue eyes. Thus, as Marco Portales puts it that the novel showcases successfully ‘how Blacks can be shaped by the white perspectives.’
Furthermore, the queer insertion of the story of ‘Dick and Jane’ in the first few pages of the novel,
“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. Who will play with Jane? See the cat. It goes meow-meow. Come and play. Come play with Jane….
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 who will play with jane see the cat it goes meow-meow come and play come play with jane the kitten will not ……….
Hereisthehouseitisgreenandwhiteithasareddooritisverypretty hereisthefamilymotherfatherdickandjaneliveinthegreenandw hitehousetheyareveryhappyseejaneshehasareddressshewants toplaywhowillplaywithjaneseethecatitgoesmeowmeowcomea ndplaycomeplaywithjanethekittenwillnotplayseemothermoth ….”
This gradual shift in the writing style of the same paragraph can be seen as a critique on the black and the white communities. The first para which is well structured and ordered is referring to the white families which is also similar to the kind of stories that the white children would be taught in their primary schools. The second para has a lot of grammatical errors and is devoid of punctuations, this is referring to the Macteer family who in spite of their poverty is surviving against all odds in the community of the whites. The third para which is in haphazard represents the disintegrated family institution of the Breedlove family.
Even without the use of graphic illustration, Morrison through the usage of the words in the way they are placed and written is able to visually create the noise and stillness of various scenarios. Morrison’s play with language grabs the reader’s attention by not employing the mundane and obvious course of the story of a young black girl being oppressed and how her family and the community reacted to it. Morrison eliminates the concept of a chronological ordered narration and replaces it by a random insertion of events unaffected by their occurrence in the standard flow of time. Here, various anonymous characters are introduced and their identity is revealed as the plot moves ahead. The juxtaposing of seemingly random story is an attempt to create a whole wide web through the wires of individual stories that makes sense when all the missing pieces of the story are finally put together.
Klotman, Phyllis R.. “Dick-and-jane and the Shirley Temple Sensibility in the Bluest Eye”. Black American Literature Forum 13.4 (1979): 123–125.
Portales, Marco. “Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”: Shirley Temple And Cholly”. The Centennial Review 30.4 (1986): 496–506.
Kuenz, Jane. “The Bluest Eye: Notes on History, Community, and Black Female Subjectivity”. African American Review 27.3 (1993): 421–431.
Morrison, Toni. “The Bluest Eye”. Vintage.
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