The Bluest Eye
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|Publisher||Holt, Rinehart and Winston|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||224 pp (Hardcover edition)|
|ISBN||978-0-375-41155-7 (Hardcover edition)|
The Bluest Eye is a 1970 novel by American author Toni Morrison. Morrison's first novel, it was written while she 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 color and skin appearance. It is set in Lorain, Ohio, against the backdrop of America's Midwest during the years following the Great Depression. The point of view switches between the perspective of Claudia MacTeer, as a child and as an adult, and 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.
In Lorain, Ohio, 9-year-old Claudia MacTeer and her 10-year-old sister Frieda live with their parents, who take two other people into their home: Mr. Henry, a tenant, and Pecola Breedlove, a temporary foster child whose house was burned down by her wildly unstable father, Cholly: a man widely gossiped about in the community. Pecola is a quiet, passive young girl with a hard life, whose parents are constantly fighting, both verbally and physically. Pecola is continually reminded of what an "ugly" girl she is, fueling her desire to be white with blue eyes. 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.
The novel, through flashbacks, explores the younger years of both of Pecola's parents, Cholly and Pauline, and their struggles as African-Americans in a largely White Anglo-Saxon Protestant community. Pauline now works as a servant for a wealthier white family. One day in the novel's present time, while Pecola is doing dishes, a drunk Cholly rapes her. His motives are largely confusing, seemingly a combination of both love and hate. After raping her a second time, he flees, leaving her pregnant.
Claudia and Frieda are the only two in the community that hope for Pecola's child to survive in the coming months. Consequently, they give up the money they had been saving to buy a bicycle, instead planting marigold seeds with the superstitious belief that if the flowers bloom, Pecola's baby will survive. The marigolds never bloom, and Pecola's child, who is born prematurely, dies. In the aftermath, a dialogue is presented between two sides of Pecola's own deluded imagination, in which she indicates 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 refers to 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.
- Auntie 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.
- The Fishers: The rich, white couple who employ Pauline as their servant and as the caretaker of their little girl.
- Geraldine: A social conscious upper class black woman in the community who exaggerates the fact that she is above traditional black stereotypes and is more "civilized" than other black families in Lorain, Ohio. When she feels that her husband isn't fulfilling her need for love, she finds a cat and pours her affections into it. Her lack of attention to any but the cat causes unintended hatred for the cat from her son, whom she neglects often.
- Louis Junior: Geraldine's son who bullies Pecola and blames her for accidentally killing his mother's beloved cat.
- Maginot Line (Marie): Prostitute. She lives with two other prostitutes – named China and Poland – in an apartment above the one that Pecola lives in. These ladies are ostracized by society, but teach Pecola a lot about being a social outcast, and offer her the support that few others do.
- 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.
- Maureen Peal: An African-American girl Pecola's age, who considers herself and other people "of color" to be above black people. Frieda and Claudia mock Maureen, calling her "Meringue Pie."
- Soaphead Church: Born Elihue Micah Whitcomb, he is a light-skinned West Indian misanthrope and self-declared “Reader, Adviser, and Interpreter of Dreams.” He hates all kinds of human touch, with the exception of the bodies of young girls. He is a religious hypocrite.
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 rhetoric 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. The Bluest Eye received its off-Broadway premiere at the New Victory Theater in New York in November 2006.
- In 2010, Phantom Projects Educational Theatre Group presented the Lydia R. Diamond adaptation at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, California.
- Rapper Talib Kweli used the book as an inspiration for his song "Thieves in the Night" with Mos Def on the Blackstar album.
- Bump, Jeromo. "Family Systems Therapy and Narrative" in Womack, Kenneth and Knapp, John Newark (eds.) Reading the Family Dance: Family Systems Therapy and Literature Study. Newark: UP, 2003. pp. 151–70
- Lucky, Crystal J. "A Journal of Ideas". Proteus 21.2 (2004): pp. 21–26
- Waxman, Barbara Frey. "Girls Into Women: Culture, Nature, and Self-Loathing" in Fisher, Jerilyn and Silbert, Ellen S. (eds.) Women in Literature: Reading Through the Lens of Gender Wesport: Greenwood, 2003. pp. 47–49
- Dreifus, Claudia (September 11, 1994). "Chloe Wofford Talks about Toni Morrison". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-06-11.
- TIME Staff (October 2, 2007). "Top 10 Book Controversies, The Bluest Eye". Time. Retrieved November 24, 2012.
- Toni Morrison Talks About Her Motivation For Writing. YouTube.