The Bluest Eye
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|The Bluest Eye|
|Publisher||Holt, Rinehart and Winston|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||224 pp (Hardcover edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 978-0-375-41155-7 (Hardcover edition)|
The Bluest Eye is a 1970 novel by American author Toni Morrison. It is Morrison's first novel and was written while Morrison was teaching at Howard University and raising her two sons on her own. The story is about a year in the life of a young black girl, named Pecola, who develops an inferiority complex due to her eye and skin appearance in Lorain, Ohio, against the backdrop of America's Midwest as well as in the years following the Great Depression. It is told from the perspective of Claudia MacTeer as a child and an adult, as well as from a third-person, omniscient viewpoint. Because of the controversial nature of the book, which deals with racism, incest, and child molestation, there have been numerous attempts to ban it from schools and libraries.
Plot summary 
The novel opens with a prologue relating a paragraph-long Dick and Jane tale in which none of Jane's family will agree to play with her until a friend comes along at last. The tale is then repeated two times, each time with less punctuation or fewer spaces between words, until finally all the words are squashed together.
The novel is alternately narrated in first-person by Claudia MacTeer and in third-person omniscient, focusing on various other characters. 9-year-old Claudia and her 10-year-old sister, Frieda, live in Lorain, Ohio with their parents, who take two other people into their home: Mr. Henry, a tenant, and Pecola Breedlove, a temporary foster child whose house has been burned down by her wildly unstable father, who is widely gossiped about in the community. Pecola is a quiet, passive young girl with a hard life, and whose parents are constantly fighting, both verbally and physically. Pecola is continually being told and reminded of what an "ugly" girl she is, thus fueling her desire to be white with blue eyes.
Pecola appears to have thoughts contrary to Claudia, who is given a white baby doll to play with and, though frequently told how lovely it is, despises and spitefully dismantles it. Unlike Pecola, Claudia resists the white racial standard in her society, is aggressive and determined, and has a strict but ultimately stable family. While living in the MacTeer household, Pecola experiences menarche, bringing up the first of the book's many themes of sexuality and adulthood. Likewise, ideas of beauty, particularly those relating to racial and class characteristics, are a major theme in this book. Insults or praises toward physical appearance are often given in racial terms. For example, a high yellow student named Maureen Peal is shown favoritism at school. Claudia and Frieda initially feel a confusing mixture of both hatred and attraction toward Maureen. They finally befriend her after they all stumble upon Pecola being bullied by a group of boys and are able to dissolve the confrontation. However, Maureen herself immediately then insults Pecola regarding rumors about her father and the MacTeer girls furiously chase Maureen away in Pecola's defense.
Throughout the novel, it is revealed through flashbacks that not only Pecola but also her dysfunctional parents had a life as young people full of hatred and hardships. Her mother, Pauline, feels alive and happy only when she is working for a rich, white family who affectionately call her "Polly." Pecola's father, Cholly, is a drunk who was left to live with his aunt when he was young but later ran away to find his father, who ended up wanting nothing to do with him. Equally troubling to Cholly as a young man was his loss of virginity, interrupted by a pair of voyeuristic white men who humiliatingly forced Cholly to continue having sex in their presence, while jeering at him. By the time of the story's current setting, the adult Pauline and Cholly have by now both lost the tender and affectionate love they once had for each other in their youth.
Another motif is a contrast in the novel between the world shown through cinema and the one in which Pauline is a servant, as well as the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant society and the existence the main characters live in. Most chapters' titles are extracts from the Dick and Jane paragraph in the novel's prologue, presenting a white family that may be contrasted with Pecola's; perhaps to incite discomfort, the chapter titles contain much sudden repetition of words or phrases, many cut-off words, and no interword separations.
One day while Pecola is doing dishes, her intoxicated father rapes her. His motives are unclear, seemingly a combination of both love and hate. Cholly flees after the second time he rapes Pecola, leaving her pregnant. Claudia and Frieda are the only two in the community that hope for Pecola's child to survive. Consequently, they give up money they had been saving to buy and plant marigold seeds with the superstitious belief that if the flowers bloom, Pecola's baby will live. The marigolds never bloom and Pecola's child, who is born prematurely, dies. Near the novel's end, a dialogue is presented between two sides of Pecola's own imagination, in which she indicates at strangely positive feelings about her rape by her father. In this internal conversation, Pecola speaks as though her wish has been granted: she believes that she now has blue eyes. Claudia, as narrator a final time, describes the recent phenomenon of Pecola's insanity and suggests that Cholly (who has since died) may have shown Pecola the only love he could by raping her. Claudia lastly laments on her belief that the whole community, herself included, have used Pecola as a sort of scapegoat to make themselves feel prettier and happier.
- Pecola Breedlove: The focal character and possible protagonist of the novel. A poor, black girl, she believes that she is ugly because she and her community base their ideals of beauty on "whiteness." The title The Bluest Eye is based on Pecola's fervent wishes for beautiful blue eyes. She is rarely developed during the story, which is purposely done to underscore the actions of the other characters. Her insanity at the end of the novel is her only way to escape the world where she cannot be beautiful and to get the blue eyes she desires from the beginning of the novel.
- Cholly Breedlove: Pecola's abusive father and an alcoholic. Rejected by his father and discarded by his mother as a four-day-old baby, Cholly was raised by his Great Aunt Jimmy and mentored by a beloved elder called Blue Jack. After Aunt Jimmy dies, Cholly runs away and pursues the life of a "free man" but cannot escape his painful past or live with his mistakes of the present. Tragically, he rapes his daughter in a gesture of madness mingled with affection. He realizes he loves her, but the only way that he can express it is to rape her. The source of some of his sexual violence is explained in a flashback scene at the day of Aunt Jimmy's funeral in which his first sexual encounter with a girl named Darlene is interrupted by two white men, who force Cholly to continue while they watch and sneer.
- Pauline "Polly" Breedlove: Pecola's mother. Mrs. Breedlove is married to Cholly and lives the self-righteous life of a martyr, enduring her drunk husband and raising her two awkward children as best she can. Mrs. Breedlove is a bit of an outcast herself with her shriveled foot and Southern background. Mrs. Breedlove lives the life of a lonely and isolated character who escapes into a world of dreams, hopes and fantasy that turns into the movies she enjoys viewing. After a traumatic event with a foul tooth, however, she relinquishes those dreams and escapes into her life as a housekeeper for a rich white family who give her the beloved nickname "Polly."
- Sam Breedlove: Pecola's older brother. Sammy is Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove's only son. Sam's part in this novel is relatively low-key. Like his sister Pecola, he is affected by the disharmony in their home and deals with his anger by running away from home.
- Aunt Jimmy: Cholly's great aunt, who takes him in to raise after his parents abandon him. She is friends with a Miss Alice and is briefly ill, tended to by the medicine woman whom the locals call "M'Dear." Aunt Jimmy dies suddenly when Cholly is still a young boy during a meal of peach cobbler that was made by a friend, Esse Foster.
- Samson Fuller: Cholly's father who ended up living in Macon, Georgia and merely made obscenities at his son when they were briefly reunited.
- Claudia MacTeer: Much of the novel is told from the perspective of Claudia who is a resilient, self-determined pre-teenager.
- Frieda MacTeer: Claudia's older sister and close companion. The two MacTeer girls are often seen together and while most of the story is told through Claudia's eyes, her sister Frieda plays a large role in the novel.
- Mr. and Mrs. MacTeer: The parents of the MacTeer girls, Mr. MacTeer is usually working while Mrs. MacTeer is a rough-tempered housewife.
- Henry Washington (known as Mr. Henry by the MacTeer girls): A man who comes to live with the MacTeer family, but who secretly brings prostitutes to the house when alone and who is ultimately beaten and thrown out by Mr. MacTeer when he inappropriately touches Frieda.
- Della Jones: An unseen character who was Henry Washington's landlady before the MacTeers. She has an aunt named Julia, a sister named Hattie, and a husband who is said to have run off with Peggy, the daughter of Old Slack Bessie
- "Soaphead Church" (born Elihue Micah Whitcomb): An extremely neat pedophile and mystic fortune teller who "grants" Pecola her wish for blue eyes. The character is somewhat based on Morrison's ex-husband.
- Maureen Peal: A high yellow, wealthy mulatto girl who is new at the local school. She accepts everyone else's assumption that she is superior and is capable of both generosity and cruelty. The MacTeer girls both hate her and wish to befriend her, eventually doing so until she insults Pecola and they chase her away.
- Bay Boy, Woodrow Cain, Buddy Wilson, and Junie Bug: A group boys from school who tease Pecola about the rumors surrounding her father.
- China, Poland, and The Maginot Line (also called Miss Marie by Pecola): A trio of prostitutes who live above the Breedlove residence. China is the skinniest, Poland is the quietest, and The Maginot Line is extremely heavy, boisterous, and bawdy.
- The Fishers: The rich, white couple who employs Pauline as their servant and as the caretaker of their little girl.
- Geraldine: A socially-conscious black woman in the community who tries to exaggerate the fact that she is above traditional black stereotypes and is more "civilized" than other black families in Lorain, Ohio.
- Louis Junior: Geraldine's son who bullies Pecola and, after participating in the accidental killing of his mother's favorite cat, blames Pecola.
- Rosemary Villanucci: The MacTeers' next-door neighbor who constantly tries to get Claudia and Frieda in trouble.
- Mr. Yacobowski: The discriminatory white immigrant owner of the grocery store where Pecola goes to buy Mary Janes.
Toni Morrison, began writing The Bluest Eye in a writing group she joined while teaching at Howard University. She said it was “fun with colleagues. But then they stopped letting us bring in ‘high school essays,’ etc; so I would have to write something new.” There, she wrote a passage that was later incorporated into the novel. When Morrison moved to Syracuse, New York, she would work on the novel in the evenings.
Morrison commented on her motivations to write the novel, saying, “I felt compelled to write this mostly because in the 1960s, black male authors published powerful, aggressive, revolutionary fiction or nonfiction, and they had positive racially uplifting redirect with them that were stimulating and I thought they would skip over something and thought no one would remember that it wasn't always beautiful, how hurtful racism is. I wrote The Bluest Eye because someone would actually be apologetic about the fact that their skin was so dark and how when I was a kid, we called each other names but we didn't think it was serious, that you could take it in, so the book was about taking it in, before we all decide that we are all beautiful, and have always been beautiful; I wanted to speak on the behalf of those who didn't catch that right away. I was deeply concerned about the feelings of being ugly.”
The Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, Illinois commissioned Lydia R. Diamond to adapt the novel into a full-length stage production. This play was developed through the Steppenwolf for Young Adults and the New Plays Initiative, where it received its world premiere in February 2005. The play was reprised in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theatre in October 2006 by popular demand. The Bluest Eye received its off-Broadway premiere at the New Victory Theater in New York in November 2006.
It is also in the process of being adapted into a French version.
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- Staff, Time (October 2, 2007). The Bluest Eye Top 10 Book Controversies Time Magazine. Retrieved November 24, 2012
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