Published in 1970, The Bluest Eye was Toni Morrison’s debut novel and earned her a Nobel Prize. A deceptively short book that packs quite a punch, the story follows eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove, a Black girl growing up in Lorain, Ohio shortly after the Great Depression. Growing up in a family plagued by generational dysfunction and a community plagued with self-hate, Pecola comes to believe that having blue eyes will make her beautiful in the eyes of others and solve all of her problems.
The Bluest Eye is the story of Pecola but it’s primarily told from the perspective of nine-year-old Claudia MacTeer. Claudia lives in a house with her ten-year-old sister Freida and their parents. The MacTeers are not dirt poor but they’re also not wealthy rather they’re comfortable. It’s probably a sign of the times but Mrs. MacTeer is fairly strict with the girls and their home is a “children should be seen but not heard” type of environment.
During this period Shirley Temple is a really big deal. Yet, Claudia unlike a lot of the other kids and adults doesn’t get the big deal about Temple. Claudia lives in a community where she is surrounded by Black people and finds it odd that they coo over this little White girl with blue eyes and blonde hair.
She’s not asked what she would like for Christmas but is just given dolls. Because these dolls don’t look anything like her and she doesn’t have any interest at this point in being a mother or having to care for these baby dolls they don’t appeal to her. Or at least not in the way that they do other children or how adults expect her to react to them.
Instead, Claudia is curious about the dolls. What is it about these dolls and Shirley Temple that makes everyone around her fuss over them? Especially because they don’t fuss or coo over the children that are in their lives. That’s not to say that her parents or the other parents aren’t taking care of their children. But her parents and the people around them are not fawning over these little Black children in the same way that they do this little White girl or the White dolls.
In an effort to understand, Claudia pokes and prods at the dolls, taking them apart to see if there’s something inside that causes them to be regarded as special, worthy of love and admiration to a degree that she and the children around her don’t receive. They’re being raised by their parents but it doesn’t sound like there’s consistent warmth and tenderness. Claudia is a bit jealous of Shirley Temple because she has Mr. Bojangles as her playmate and Claudia wishes he was her uncle or grandfather that would dance, sing, and play with her in this way. Instead, she’s stuck with these surly adults while Shirley Temple gets their love and attention.
Pecola is sent to live with the MacTeers after her family’s home was burned down by her father, Cholly Breedlove. Cholly was initially arrested but was then let out of prison after a few days. Yet, Pecola remains with the MacTeers for a bit while the situation with her father is sorted out.
The MacTeers have a cup with Shirley Temple’s face on it and Pecola takes every opportunity to drink milk so she can use the cup. It’s an attempt to hold and possess this little girl and all that she subconsciously represents. Mrs. MacTeer takes Pecola into their home, providing the physical shelter that she needs. But Pecola’s psychological and emotional needs are still going unacknowledged and unaddressed.
Mrs. MacTeer passive-aggressively fusses about Pecola drinking too much milk. This after having warned her daughters in advance to be kind to Pecola. The two girls are friendly and welcoming to Pecola even after she leaves while Mrs. MacTeer complains about her. She is an adult with two children of her own and Claudia is a child. Yet Claudia easily realizes that Pecola doesn’t have some unquenchable thirst for milk but rather is more concerned with the cup in which she gets the milk. Mrs. MacTeer is so focused on the expense of the milk that she fails to notice the child is preoccupied with the cup.
While staying with the MacTeers, Pecola has her first period and is completely uninformed and unprepared to the point that it scares her at first. Fortunately, Frieda has a bit of knowledge as her mother has spoken with her about menstruation and some of the changes her body will undergo. Recognizing what’s taking place, Freida swings into action and takes charge helping to relieve the tension of the situation until Mrs. MacTeer steps in.
Pecola is so young that she is just having her first period. But it’s sad that she is around the age at which most start puberty and her mother is in her life but hasn’t taken the time to speak with her about her changing body. Mrs. MacTeer might not be a perfect mother as there is room for improvement but she is present and doing more for her daughters than Mrs. Breedlove.
These two exchanges kind of set me off because this little girl is already going through so much in her life. Like Claudia, Pecola has also realized that seemingly everybody around them likes Shirley Temple. But unlike Claudia who dislikes Temple, for this reason, Pecola has also developed an obsession with the little girl. Looking at her, Temple seems to have the perfect life which makes Pecola want to be like her. She imagines that if she looked like this little girl her life might also contain some of the happiness shown in Temple’s life rather than the sad terror of her life. From those two moments, I realized that I would have to steel myself as I have a soft spot for kids and this was going to be one of those kinds of books.
From there we then get some insight into Pecola’s home life where there is just a bunch of dysfunction taking place. Her mother and father are Pauline aka “Polly” an ill-tempered woman and Cholly an alcoholic who teeters between indifference and anger. They have a very volatile relationship where Cholly regularly gets drunk and then comes home at which point either he or Polly starts an argument. It consistently escalates from a verbal disagreement to them becoming physically violent with each other. Pecola also has an older brother Sam aka “Sammy” but he’s often absent because he runs away as a means of escaping his parents’ drama.
As a kid, there might have been disagreements but there was no yelling, cursing, or physical fights in my house. But I had and have family members like this who would curse and physically fight with their romantic partners. Just witnessing that kind of drama while visiting these family members was terrifying. I could only imagine being a kid living in such a household day in and day out where fights would just randomly happen.
Pecola and Sammy are growing up in this household where their parents are constantly arguing and fighting. But then they’re being lovey-dovey and romantic or at least physically intimate the next minute. These two flawed and extremely problematic people in a relationship, living under the same roof is a recipe for disaster. It’s incredibly unstable.
Cholly has had hurts and disappointments that have wounded his pride. Some of it was based on his race and some a matter of the unfortunate circumstances of his birth and who his parents were. Having grown up in the South and endured racism has caused him to internalize a sense of shame. And now as an adult, he’s become hardened by those early experiences which affect how he moves through life.
The Breedloves are renters and are a bit poorer than the other families in the area. Not only do you have these issues caused by race but also the stresses caused by differences in income and poverty beating them down in life. But the Breedloves view this as not just a matter of the injustices of society having made them financially poor. There’s a sense that comes from the parents that there’s something inherently wrong with them and they have passed this on to the kids. They don’t view their circumstances as just them being poor but rather a failing or flaw within them as individuals and a family which Morrison describes as a self-perceived “ugliness”.
It’s a factor of them internalizing these negative feelings about the lives that they live. They’ve adopted feelings of low self-worth and low self-esteem and have bought into the negative ideas that are promoted about them. They have internalized the things that society tells them about themselves which affect how they feel about themselves and thus how they live in the world.
The Breedlove’s apartment is in the rougher part of town and is quite run-down. Much is made about the Breedloves being renters and unlike the other residents of town seemingly having no drive to eventually own a place. Even when people are poor or renting, most would try to fix the place up a bit or have some piece of furniture or knick-knack in which they take pride. But the Breedloves haven’t taken any steps to try to fix the things within the apartment that are broken or to decorate and make it feel like a home.
Pecola tries to close her eyes to the dysfunction of parents and the home they’ve created. Meanwhile, Sammy at just 14 years old has already run away 20 to 30 times, sometimes staying away for several months. Yet Sammy is also starting to follow in his father’s footsteps. I don’t remember where I first heard it but bullies operate by looking for victims, not fights. Like his father, Sammy responds to feeling bullied by life by taking out his anger and frustration on those who are weaker or more vulnerable.
Feeling unloved at home, Pecola is also shunned by the kids in school and the neighborhood adults. During a conversation with Claudia and Freida, Pecola asks how do you get someone to love you. Imagine that as an 11-year-old girl, you have a mother and father in your life but don’t feel loved by them. And then believe there is something you have to do but don’t understand how to get love. Just think of how sad that is and what it says about the life that Pecola has had up to that point.
At one point she goes to the store to buy some candy and the White store owner is willing to take her money but blatantly shows scorn for her. Pecola realizes that the reason he scorns her is because of her Blackness. She thinks about the other people in her life who are also Black but scorn her just the same.
She buys candy with what sounds like either a White child or woman on the package and the person seems so happy. It reminds Pecola of the Shirley Temple cup that she drank out of at Claudia’s house. She’s moving through life and can sense the scorn and disdain that people have for her. Pecola is not a bad kid but she knows that people treat and look at her differently than they do other kids.
She’s hungry for love and acceptance. Pecola would like some of that love that the White females on television receive and the happiness they portray on candy packages. She idolizes and worships them, wishing that she had some of these things. Despite her youth, Pecola is aware enough to realize that despite being surrounded by people who are Black like her, some of the lack of love she receives from Black people is still due in part to her being Black.
There is a vein of self-hate that runs through most of the characters in the book. Pecola realizes that her life is different from other people’s. She looks at these people on TV and in movies and notices that these young girls are White and living wonderful lives. But she also looks at the Black kids around her and to a degree, they’re also living better lives. Her plight is not just a matter of race but also income level.
She views herself through the eyes of these people looking at her so she regards the ostracism and difficulties she experiences as a result of something that’s wrong within her. Pecola feels as though she’s specifically not receiving love in her current state because there is something wrong with her. Instead of looking out into the world and recognizing the problem as these people, adults included, being terribly mean to an innocent child she instead internalizes their negativity and regards herself as needing to change rather than these people and their bad attitudes.
Pecola is an incredibly unhappy child. The only people that accept her are three prostitutes who live above her family’s apartment. Not to pass judgment but at the age of 11 just based on their conversations alone, these aren’t the people that a child should be hanging around. It’s ironic that Polly is described as being a church lady yet she has no time for or interest in Pecola. But you have these unapologetic prostitutes who take an interest in Pecola and seem to enjoy her visits. They give her little nicknames and treat her fairly nicely.
This kid is obviously down on her luck, what would it take out of the other adults to be nice to her or to encourage their kids to be nice to her? Instead, the adults gossip and whisper about Pecola and her family. And most likely overhearing these adult conversations, the kids then gossip and whisper amongst themselves.
There’s a bit of self-hatred within the neighborhood kids as when making fun of Pecola, they taunt her about her skin color and her family being poor. Yet, some of the very things for which they make fun of her apply to them as well. They might be different complexions but they’re all Black and their families aren’t wealthy or perfectly put together either. They all have their own insecurities and some of the insults they choose to use against Pecola speak to the way that they view themselves. It’s like the idea that when you point one finger at other people there are four pointing back at you.
A new girl named Maureen who has a light complexion and comes from a middle-income family begins attending their school and Claudia is immediately jealous of her. One day, after school some boys are bullying Pecola. Claudia and Frieda come to her defense at which point, Maureen also steps forward to comfort Pecola. The boys are in awe of Maureen and back off not wanting to show her their worst sides.
At first, it seems like Maureen is a nice little kid as she goes out of her way to befriend Pecola and buy her ice cream. But then she began asking Pecola prying questions about her family which obviously makes Pecola uncomfortable. Yet Maureen kept pushing the point which led to Claudia and Freida getting involved and them having an argument.
Maureen reveals her true nature which is that she perceives herself as being better than the other three girls because of her light skin and family’s money. She was only sucking up to Pecola out of curiosity rather than genuinely wanting to be her friend. During the argument as an insult, she tells the other girls that they are Black and ugly. Claudia and Frieda argue back but the comment touches something within them. The insult hurts their feelings because in the back of their mind they’re aware of how the little boys and adults interact with Maureen versus how they interact with them.
Maureen points out that Pecola shares the same name with a character from Imitation of Life. In the 1934 version of the film, Peola is a biracial girl struggling with her identity. (I’ve only seen the 1959 remake and the actress in that role was terrible. Though I am now curious about the original adaptation.) The movie comes up as the girls are walking past a movie theater where there is a poster of Betty Grable and maybe Hedy Lamarr on display.
In addition to the Black films that I review, as a movie buff, I also watch a wide variety of films. Especially during and right after I graduated from college, I was super into movies from the 30s and 40s. (Some of those people were terrible actors.) Until I read this scene in The Bluest Eye it hadn’t clicked for me that you probably didn’t start regularly seeing Black people in movies until maybe the 60s. Growing up in the 90s I took it for granted as a kid to see black people on TV and in movies.
But here you have these four little Black girls talking about movies and there are only White actresses for them to idolize. They have no consistent Black actresses smashing the box office. It really helped drive home the point of representation. I couldn’t imagine being a little girl at that time growing up and there is no one that looks like you on TV. Or at least not in any kind of role that you as a child would dream about.
I was born in Crown Heights but spent a good deal of my childhood in Flatbush, both of which were neighborhoods with large Black populations from across the diaspora. I have no real reference point as to what it might have been like to grow up in a community where you just have negative portrayals of people that look like yourself. Where you look at tv or movies and nobody looks like you.
Growing up in the 90s, there were actresses like Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Nia Long, etc. But also a variety of Black female entertainers like Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, Janet Jackson, TLC, SWV, etc. Being a kid from New York, Mary J. Blige was the business when she came out. And specifically being from Brooklyn, Lil’ Kim was the end-all-be-all for me. With BET I could consistently see images of all of these Black women of varying ages, complexions, etc. on my tv.
As a little girl, you might discuss beautiful celebrities who you imagine yourself being while playing. But these girls have no celebrities that they can reference who look like them. Imagine being a little girl growing up at a time when you can’t even find dolls that look like you or have your skin color. I wasn’t into dolls as a kid but the few that my mom did buy were Black. Yet, everything these girls see and are given to play with reflects Whiteness.
It’s this constant thing of everything and everyone you see in society that is put forth as being beautiful is White. None of this stuff reflects your image. Consider the message that it sent to little Black girls and boys. Even within this Black community, there’s negativity and hostility towards Blackness. There’s a constant reinforcement of White supremacy and thus Black inferiority. It begs the question, “If this is the definition of good and I am none of that then what does that say about me as a person?”
Claudia and Frieda are just a few years apart in age but Freida is closer to being a teenager so she knows a bit more. Yet, they’re still little girls and their parents obviously haven’t explained everything to them. Some of their exchanges and the questions they ask are funny and sweet because of their naivety.
Pecola and Claudia are growing up within the same society but thus far they’ve been affected differently. I’m not calling the character a dog but rather using an analogy. Pecola is like a stray dog that’s used to being kicked and uncared for. She’s very passive and at no point attempts to stand up for herself choosing instead to tuck her tail between her legs. Conversely, you have Claudia who has her own insecurities and weaknesses but also some degree of confidence as a result of positive socializing and parents who take care of her. Pecola has been mentally and emotionally beaten down by kids and adults from the neighborhood but also her own parents, the very people that should love and protect her even if nobody else does.
There’s a startling situation that becomes a bit comedic and results in Claudia and Frieda going in search of Pecola and finding her at Mrs. Breedlove’s job. Mrs. Breedlove is a domestic worker, cooking and cleaning at the home of a White family. While there, Pecola accidentally knocks over a cobbler and it splatters causing a mess and burning her. This house is kept spotless by Mrs. Breedlove while her own home is a mess.
A hot pie that contains molten sugar and a thickened liquid splashing on you would be painful, thus Pecola screams. I would think most parents, regardless of maybe being annoyed at the mess, would check to ensure that their child is ok. You would help them get cleaned up, bandage any injuries, and provide them with some comfort. Instead, Mrs. Breedlove yells at Pecola and ignores that she might have been injured. The little girl who lives in the home is shaken by the noise of the crash and surprised to find other people in the house. Mrs. Breedlove quickly hugs and comforts her while ignoring Pecola’s discomfort. She yells and tells all three of the girls to get out.
Imagine how that would make a child feel. This other little girl lives in a very nice house that is kept meticulously clean. And she not only has her parents doting on her and seeing to her every need but she also has your mother as well. When the world is beating down on you and it feels like you have nowhere else to turn, the one person with which you should be able to seek solace is your mother. To add insult to injury, Pecola and Sammy have to call their mother “Mrs. Breedlove” while this little girl calls her “Polly”. Not even “Ms. Pauline” or “Ms. Polly” just plain old “Polly”. At that point I was over it, ready to fight Mrs. Breedlove and adopt Pecola.
But from there we get a bit of insight into Pauline and her background. She’d grown up relatively comfortably but only attended a few years of school. Pauline sustained an injury to her foot that most people ignored but when she met Cholly as a young woman he paid special attention and consideration to it. She had built up dreams in her mind about meeting a man from elsewhere who would lead her to a better life. When Cholly came walking into town and began showing an interest in her she assumed he was the one from her dreams. They eventually got married, left her hometown, and moved to Lorain, Ohio.
Pauline came from the South and while there was racism she had little contact with White people. Living in this new town brought her into closer proximity to White people and unlike back home, the Black people were snobby. Knowing no one and finding it difficult to make friends she became lonely and this was made worse by Cholly hanging out and drinking which left her alone at home all the time. They were happy at first but their relationship began to disintegrate.
Her spark for life was reignited with her first child (Sammy) and she was excited about the second child, wanting to do everything right in preparation for the birth. The birthing experience at a hospital would prove negative as the doctor dehumanized her. While she got the child that she’d hoped for, she has mixed feelings as she immediately viewed the baby (Pecola) as being ugly.
Pauline had been decent-looking and took pride in her appearance but felt she lost her looks when her front tooth came out while eating candy. The missing tooth changed her smile and negatively affected the way that she felt about herself. Instead of being compassionate, Cholly made things worse by poking fun at her appearance. Coupled with her other disappointments in life Pauline lost her self-esteem which caused her to view herself as being ugly which changed her personality.
She started out really loving the kids but over time became a far harsher person with them. It wasn’t her intention and she felt bad about it but couldn’t or at least wouldn’t do anything to change the way that she dealt with them. Pauline was angry and frustrated with her own life and with the way that things had worked out. Feeling a loss of control over her life affected everything else. That inner negativity coupled with her deteriorating marriage meant things would just get worse and worse. By the end of Pauline’s story, I was emotionally confused because although she’d been mean to Pecola, I now felt bad for her as well. And it just gets more complex from there as you learn about Cholly.
Given that early in the book we learn that Pecola is staying with the MacTeers because Cholly burnt down the house, I knew he was going to be a bit off. It turns out that his mother had mental health issues and abandoned him on a trash heap when he was just a few days old. Fortunately, he was found and taken in by his great aunt Jimmy as his father had abandoned his mother before he was born. Usually, it’s sad when parents abandon their kids but in this case, it was probably the best thing for Aunt Jimmy to raise him rather than his parents as she’s able to offer him love and stability.
Unfortunately, she passed away when Cholly was still quite young and was the only parental figure that he knew. At this point, he was still quite innocent and his first sexual contact of any kind with a female takes place during the time of the funeral. While interacting with the young woman a group of White men come across them and begin shaming Cholly. He’s embarrassed but they force him to continue. Because they’re in a position of power he can’t direct his anger at them. Instead, he turns that anger and hatred towards the young woman despite her being just as powerless in the situation.
It’s a defense mechanism that he will carry with him throughout his life. When he feels small and beaten down by the world, he takes it out on people that are weaker than him. This is how bullies function but also how people with low self-esteem function as well. They don’t go after people that they think would be able to hold their own against them. Instead, they go after people they deem as being weaker. They choose vulnerable targets to lash out against, believing that they won’t fight back or that if they do fight back they won’t be a challenge.
Aunt Jimmy served as Cholly’s anchor but there were seemingly decent family members willing to take him in. Yet with Aunt Jimmy gone and him now needlessly fearing that he might become a father, Cholly decided to run away and find his own father. Having never met and knowing nothing but his father’s name, Cholly thought he understood how his father might have felt upon learning of his mother’s pregnancy. He spends quite a bit of time working and bumming his way along on his journey to get to his father’s current town. The time allowed him to build up expectations of what the moment would be like when he finally met his father. But the reality of the moment was completely unexpected and devastating.
The moment was crushing and as with Pauline changed him as a person. With some time and distance, he realizes what an important figure Aunt Jimmy had been in his life and that she was his connection to humanity. With her gone, it hit him that he didn’t have a mother and doesn’t have a father. All he ever had was Aunt Jimmy, a woman who realized he needed someone and raised him like he was her own child. Now he had nobody.
He spent years bumming around and he didn’t have ties to anyone or any place until he met Pauline. She became a grounding force in his life but once he settled down and they began having children, he began to feel restless. Only after creating a family did he realize that this wasn’t the life he wanted for himself.
The irony is that neither Cholly nor Pauline were satisfied with their lives but instead of sharing their true feelings with each other, they emotionally withdrew into themselves. But even at the start of their relationship, they seemed to just keep things at the surface level. Now, the only time they express emotion is when arguing or fighting with each other. Even their lovemaking is lackluster and devoid of feeling.
One would assume that having lacked a mother and father but having the example of Aunt Jimmy, Cholly like some people would feel a burning desire to be a better parent to his own children. Instead, he finds it difficult to connect with them. He feels as though he’s done nothing with his life and has nothing to pass on to his children. Yet, both he and Pauline to a degree had positive examples of how to raise children. But because they can’t be incredible parents, they choose to not do much of any parenting at all.
This awkward disconnect between them and their children leads to some very unfortunate circumstances, one of which is Cholly’s incestuous rape of Pecola. It’s disheartening and extremely uncomfortable to read about this man attacking his daughter. But as I’ve learned from true crime and behavioral psychology books, rape is not a crime of passion but rather about control. Cholly feels out of control because things are not going his way in life. Assaulting and raping this little girl is a way of exerting his power because he feels powerless elsewhere.
People often hate the things within others that remind them of things they hate within themselves. Cholly suffers difficulties in his early life and grows up to be a bully. He seeks out people weaker than himself to attack. Who in the story is any weaker or more vulnerable than Pecola? She’s shunned by the town and even the members of her own family. Excluding maybe Claudia and Frieda who are also powerless, there’s no one looking out for this little girl.
Cholly is conflicted within himself. He both loves and hates himself and also loves and hates his daughter. There’s a crazy mix of feelings within him where one side of him as her father has some degree of love for Pecola. But then there’s another side of him that holds contempt for her because he can’t see what she loves about him. With that, there’s what’s described in the book as being tenderness but violence at the same time.
It’s an incredibly warped idea of love within a person that is very damaged and dysfunctional. Consider people who are in relationships with partners that they claim to love but constantly do things to hurt and push them away. We see this in Cholly’s relationship with Pauline, where they’re trying to kill each other one minute and then concerned in the next minute. Those dysfunctional and conflicted feelings, combined with Cholly’s sense of worthlessness paved the way for this incredibly inappropriate and violent act towards Pecola.
Pecola is the main character in the story as pretty much everything in the book revolves around her. But she’s so passive that the story isn’t even told from her perspective. This is her life, the story is about her but it’s mostly told in parts through Claudia and other characters. She’s going through these situations but it’s not until the very end that we hear directly from her and even then we don’t quite get her inner thoughts about how she’s feeling or how things affect her. All of these things are happening but she’s still this disembodied person where you read about everyone’s perspective but not directly hers.
In a sense, Pecola is a representation of Black people in general but especially Black females within American society. Here’s this child going through devastating situations in her young life and feeling completely devoid of any kind of love. She endures but isn’t even the one speaking about her experience. It’s told by someone else. Even in that case, she still doesn’t have a voice or agency.
People who are poor, downtrodden, overlooked and taken for granted within society tend to be paid the least attention. They tend to be the ones that people talk about and speak at but don’t have a voice in society which leads to their further subjugation.
In the author’s note at the end of the book, Morrison discusses writing The Bluest Eye and having it coincide with the Black Pride Movement of the 60s. Take into consideration that Pecola who was 12 in the 1940s would have been in her 30s in the 1960s. The Black is Beautiful Movement of the 1960s was necessary because this feeling of being ugly, this internalized self-hatred, and low self-esteem was (and still is) a reality for a lot of Black people. The movement was something that people were hungry for and some accepted it while others pushed back against it.
Pecola’s story is complicated by not only mainstream society but Black people within her community teaching her to hate herself. And while dealing with this, she doesn’t have the benefit of a supportive family to help her cope and navigate these difficulties. Claudia and Frieda are just as unempowered as Pecola but they’re fortunate to at least have parents who are engaged and involved with their lives. But even there, Mrs. MacTeer employs a degree of unnecessary harshness that is occasionally tempered by love. There’s another kid, Louis, whose mother, Geraldine, maintains a pristine household but doesn’t particularly love or care for him or his father. Instead, she lavishes all of her love and attention on a cat.
Many of the parents, mostly ignore their kids or utilize a very strict authoritarian method of parenting. They’re raising these children in the sense of keeping them sheltered and fed but not necessarily filling them with the love that they need. There’s a certain dismissiveness where they push aside and don’t listen to or speak with the kids. Their feelings, thoughts, and insecurities are important and need to be addressed to ensure that they grow up to be well-adjusted adults.
Claudia, Frieda, and the other kids might not have the same degree of dysfunction within their households as that of Pecola’s family. But they still have to live in the world and will have ideas of worthlessness and inferiority being pushed upon them because of their Blackness. They need love and nurturing care to build up their self-esteem and self-identity as they exist in a world that’s going to push White supremacy on them.
Up to this point, Claudia has the inner strength to reject or at least question these images and ideas that attempt to tell her that they are beautiful and she is not. But part of that is because Claudia is still quite young. Frieda is just a little older but their mother has already begun speaking to her about what it means to be a woman and how you carry yourself. She’s being prepared for indoctrination into adulthood. But not just any adulthood, adulthood as a Black woman and all the expectations that come with that.
Mrs. MacTeer means well by guiding Frieda but Pecola can’t really turn to her mom for guidance. Pauline has no time for Pecola as she’s living a fantasy life at her job taking care of this little White girl who lives in a big beautiful house. Unlike her father, Pecola never even had an Aunt Jimmy to step in and care for her for at least part of her childhood. The isolation and ostracism play a role in her descent into mental illness.
Pecola is raped by one of the people that is supposed to be a protector. If your father is not protecting you, who will? If your father rapes you and your mother then beats you for it? The people who should have been protecting Pecola were the people who did her the most harm. Compare that to Frieda where when the neighbor is inappropriate with her, both parents intervene. And even Claudia volunteers to help when they hear she might have been “ruined”. The MacTeer kids have their parents to turn to but they also have each other.
When I was in high school, I read every Toni Morrison book that the school library had. It was mostly just so I would have something to read on my long commute. I was under the impression that The Bluest Eye was in that group but after reading it this time, the story didn’t feel familiar. Either way, I don’t think I spent much time actually paying attention to the words of the book or trying to understand what the story was really saying.
I knew that Toni Morrison was supposed to be a big deal but I didn’t quite get why. That is until I began reading The Bluest Eye. Just a few pages into the book and I completely understood why it garnered much attention at the time of its release. It’s a short and deceptively simple story about these little girls but the commentary that it offers provides layers and layers of depth. For The Bluest Eye to have been her first book makes it all the more meaningful as it is an absolute masterpiece. Whatever the equivalent of a five-mic album is for books, this deserves it.
So much is said about society at that time but much of it still applies decades later in the present. I know people who still view the world through this lens and myself having grown up in such a society, have certainly been touched and shaped in some way by these underlying currents. I’ve realized that I didn’t get Toni Morrison because while I read some of her books I didn’t take the time to understand her characters and stories. I was definitely sleeping on her obvious talent and plan to go back and reread at least some of her books.
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