When discussing Toni Morrison and her novels, it’s tempting to talk about race since her body of work addresses that subject in such powerful ways. However, in an interview, Morrison stated that she actually writes “about the same thing…which is how people relate to one another and miss it or hang on to…or are tenacious about love” (Otten 653). In her first novel, The Bluest Eye, Morrison tells the story of two families that are informed and affected by love in drastically different ways. While love is generally thought to involve pleasure, pain oftentimes is used in conjunction with love in the novel, modifying and complicating it. By situating pain and love in the same sentiment, Morrison seems to suggest that love, when at its most sincere and poignant, is tinged with some sort of pain. She examines the interaction between pain and familial and sexual love in her novel The Bluest Eye leading the reader to realize the different ways that love and pain interact with each other, and that love, by nature, is inherently painful.The novel begins in autumn, where Claudia, who has come down with a cold, talks about the routines and rituals in which her mother engages to make her better. The scene is full of potential pain: Claudia remembers that her mother’s hands were “large and rough” as she rubs Vicks salve on her small chest and that her younger self was “rigid with pain;” she remembers the misplaced anger of her mother as she talks to the vomit “calling it [her] name: Claudia” (11). The love Claudia’s mother displays for her is a complicated one, involving both care and chastisement, soothing and scolding. Claudia claims that she did not know that her mother was “not angry at [her], but at [her] sickness”, complicating her memory and the role her mother played in this scene, as well as in her childhood (11). In retrospect, however, Claudia realizes that the pain her mother caused her, the rough hands and the reprimands, were all manifestations of love. Claudia asks herself: “But was it really like that? As painful as I remember? Only mildly. Or rather, it was a productive and fructifying pain… So when I think of autumn, I think of somebody with hands who does not want me to die” (12). Claudia, though she remembers the pain of being weak and sick, also recalls that “feet padded into the room, hands repinned the flannel, readjusted the quilt, and rested a moment on [her] forehead” (12). While her time in bed was painful and humiliating, the care and love Claudia receives from her mother in particular made that pain an integral part of her sickness. Claudia experiences the pains of being sick in conjunction with familial love, making the acts of love she encounters all the more poignant and treasured. She remembers her mother’s hands, rough at first, then gentler later, tucking her in and checking her forehead for fever. By comparing the pain she experiences at the rough yet loving nature of her mother to the tenderness of the affection and emotion behind those actions, Claudia experiences her mother’s love more than the coinciding pain, as evidenced by her memories, which are more sweet in texture than bitter. Claudia remembers spring in her childhood as well, and how the pain of punishment changed. Her parents disciplined her and Frieda differently in the spring, using new saplings and branches still green from growth to whip the girls. Claudia informs the reader that “there was a nervous meanness in those long twigs that made us long for the steady stroke of a strap or the firm but honest slap of a hairbrush” (97). The mean, wet anger of her parents in the springtime makes Claudia yearn for another type of pain. She does not yearn for a soft pillow, a warm bath, or even the rough love of her mother’s weathered hands. Rather, Claudia knows that pain is inevitable because it accompanies her parents’ love for her and her sister. So, instead she develops a preference for pain, classifying autumn’s familiar pain as superior to spring’s newer, more unpredictable pain. Claudia, therefore, creates a sophisticated and complex hierarchy of pain, where the lack of pain is not an issue because lack of pain means lack of love, and Claudia would prefer the pain of love to the absence of either.Pecola’s experience with familial love is entirely different; it involves pain in a darker sense, and while it might be easier to discard Pecola’s situation as one of hatred or evil, love is still there, glowing weakly in the embers of her broken family. While the MacTeers protect and love their daughters fiercely, the Breedloves are not sure how to love their children, because they hate themselves. The Breedloves have always been told they are ugly and that perceived ugliness, oftentimes rooted in racial identity, simply breeds more ugliness and pain. In the book’s pivotal scene, Cholly Breedlove, rapes Pecola and, interestingly enough, we aren’t given Pecola’s perspective, but, rather, Cholly’s. By presenting us with Cholly’s viewpoint, Morrison is again emphasizing the significance and presence of love in the scene. By presenting the scene through his eyes, we can see Cholly’s intentions, fueled and informed by a desire to love his child. If the scene was presented to the reader through Pecola’s eyes, we would almost certainly be unable to see past the pain caused by the rape. So as Cholly sees Pecola washing dishes, looking defeated and browbeaten, he tries to love her the only way he knows how. Though he at first feels uncomfortable, eventually the “discomfort dissolved into pleasure. The sequence of his emotions was revulsion, guilt, pity, then love” (161). Cholly then rapes his daughter, trying to relieve her pain by replacing it with his love. The scene even causes Cholly some physical pain: “Removing himself from her was so painful to him he cut it short and snatched his genitals out of the dry harbor of her vagina” (163). Pecola internalizes the pain of the rape, eventually driven mad by her suffering and lack of agency as evidenced in her internal monologue and implicit split personality near the book’s close. She is robbed of the pleasure of sex and, instead, must experience the pain of rape, a violation by her father who is only trying to love her. Cholly’s love, in this case, breeds pain. In an interview, Morrison asserted that “sometimes good looks like evil; and sometimes evil looks like good,” but “evil is as useful as good” (Otten 664). For many readers, the evil of Cholly’s act disguises his underlying love for his daughter. However, Morrison wants us to consider the rape as a desperate act of love. Morrison explained her intentions behind Pecola’s rape by her father: “I want you to look at him and see his love for his daughter and his powerlessness to help her pain. By that time his embrace, the rape, is all the gift he has left” (Otten 654). As difficult as it may be, we must consider Pecola’s rape a perverted, highly misdirected act of love. Even Claudia recognizes Cholly’s actions as loving, albeit years after the rape: “Cholly loved her. I’m sure he did. He, at any rate, was the one who loved her enough to touch her, envelop her, give something of himself to her” (206). Morrison goes on to say, “people do all sorts of things under [love’s] guise. The violence is a distortion of what, perhaps, we want to do. With the best intentions in the world we can do enormous harm” (Otten 652). While Cholly’s love is distorted, destructive, and harmful, it is still love. As he nibbles the flesh of his daughter’s leg and forces himself on her, he believes he is loving Pecola, not considering the pain he is inflicting upon her. In his attempt to relieve her pain, he tragically causes more.Since the book’s perspective is mainly that of a young girl’s, the idea of romantic or sexual love is both entirely unknown and equally appealing; Claudia, especially, is intrigued by the idea of loving a man and having a man love her. Even after she finds Frieda greatly distressed and emotional after being molested by Mr. Henry, Claudia can’t help but wonder what it was like to be touched by a man, disregarding her sister’s emotional state and asking candid questions about what the molestation felt like, even displaying displeasure that she “don’t have nothing to pinch” (100). Claudia searches for romance and pleasure in her sister’s pain, convinced it is there somewhere. Claudia finds suffering for love romantic and is unable to distinguish between the kind of love she envisions and the molestation that Frieda undergoes. Claudia finds Frieda crying and assumes that Mr. Henry hurt her physically, asking her sister, “What’d he do? Just walk up and pinch them?” (100). Claudia assumes that Mr. Henry’s “love” had to hurt Frieda somehow because love seems to be tightly bound to pain.Claudia’s notions about pain and love are also informed by the blues song her mother sings. As a child, Claudia hears her mother “sing about hard times, bad times, and somebody-done-gone-and-left-me times. But her voice was so sweet and her singing-eyes so melty I found myself longing for those hard times, yearning to be grown without ‘a thin di-i-ime to my name’” (25). While the song her mother sings is one full of sorrow and pain, the pleasure Claudia garners from her mother’s singing and the beauty of her voice cause Claudia to yearn for the kind of love that breaks one’s heart. In this moment, Claudia realizes the power and promise of love—if nothing else, it will break the heart and cause one so much pain, the only relief will be a song. Claudia longs for a romantic love so profound that it leaves her pain-stricken:“I looked forward to the delicious time when “my man” would leave me, when I would “hate to see that evening sun go down…” ‘cause then I would know “my man has left this town.” Misery colored by the greens and blues in my mother’s voice took all of the grief out of the words and left me with a conviction that pain was not only endurable, it was sweet” (25-26). Claudia learns from her mother’s bittersweet song that true love is painful; the song is complex, speaking of painful things in a haunting and beautiful manner. Claudia—along with the reader—realizes the wonderful complexity of love lies in its complicated relationship with pain.Pecola is also ignorant of what love is, both sexual and familial. While she sits with the prostitutes that live above her apartment, Pecola muses on the nature of love, eventually turning to the only example of love she knows: her parents. “Into her eyes came the picture of Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove in bed. He making sounds as through he were in pain, as though something had him by the throat and wouldn’t let go…Maybe that was love. Choking sounds and silence” (57). The act of sex, something universally regarded as a pleasurable experience and something done out of love, is characterized as painful, even deadly. The procreation and pleasure of intercourse is lost in this scene, replaced with the dark terror and pain of looming suffocation and death. The painful noises that escape Cholly during sex with his wife remind Pecola of someone being suffocated. The pleasure of sex seems to be completely replaced with the pain of choking in this scene, leaving Pecola with the impression that love is a kind of asphyxiation—a very painful experience, indeed. This early description of Cholly’s love and sex causing more harm than good also serves to prophesize the circumstances surrounding Pecola’s rape, which involves the same convoluted relationship between love and pain.While Claudia and Pecola both experience love and the pain it brings, the relationship between love and pain changes significantly within these experiences. Claudia experiences love laced with a sweet pain. The pain that Claudia feels and anticipates is an intensifier—it augments the love, not changing it, but enhancing it. Claudia, because of the love she receives from her family, knows that love, at its most intense, can hurt profoundly. The pain caused by such intense love is appealing to Claudia, bittersweet and sublime. Pecola, on the other hand, experiences love in a far more sinister sense. Cholly loves his daughter arguably as much as the MacTeers love Claudia and Frieda, but the balance of pain and love is off in his exhibition. Whereas the MacTeers love so deeply that it hurts, Cholly loves in a way that causes pain. In the case of the Breedloves, pain does not serve to augment or enhance love, but rather engulfs and overpowers it to the point where the reader has difficulty seeing love because it is so heavily obscured by the pain it causes.According to Morrison, she began writing The Bluest Eye with the ideas of “beauty, miracles, and self-imagery” in mind (Otten 653). At its core, though, the novel is really a story about the extents and limits of love. The Bluest Eye depicts love as a series of actions or emotions that breed pain in some manner. The occasion for this painful love could be partially tied to the self-deprecating and racial issues that underlie the story, but to limit the relationship to a simple cause and effect would be to do Morrison’s portrayal of painful love a disservice. The love depicted in The Bluest Eye is important because, in some sense, it is ordinary. Suffering for love is not a new notion; the commonplace term “heartache,” in fact, synthesizes the two sentiments seamlessly in one word. The way in which Morrison presents such love, however, so that a rape can be interpreted as an act of love, is revolutionary. Both Claudia and Pecola experience familial and sexual love in starkly different ways, and both endure the pain that accompanies such love. The differences in their experiences lie in the interactions between love and pain—where one ends and the other begins.Works CitedMorrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Vintage Books, Random House, Inc., 1970. Print.Otten, Terry. “Horrific Love in Toni Morrison’s Fiction.” Modern Fiction Studies 39.3-4 (1993): 651-667. Project MUSE. Web. 22 November 2009.
In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, three young African American girls (among many others in their society) struggle against a culture that defines them as ugly and/or invisible. They are regularly contrasted with symbols of whiteness and white icons: the white film star, Shirley Temple, the face of Mary Jane on candy wrappers, and the white baby dolls they are given as gifts and expected to love. The mothers of these girls contribute to the promotion of a cycle of self-hatred and to the conformity to white standards of beauty by admiring the young white girls in their community and in the media instead of finding beauty in their own black children. Their daughters, then, are faced with the harsh reality that they are inferior to the “beautiful” little white girls, and must decide whether to continue to yield to this cycle of degradation and oppression or to define beauty in their own terms. One character in particular, Pecola Breedlove, tragically succumbs to this system of oppression in a way that results in the dissolution of her identity. To Pecola, the acquisition of beauty signifies the potential to attain the things in her life that she has never had: attention, love, blue eyes, and ultimately, whiteness. In praying for blue eyes, Pecola prays to be white, the one thing that she believes will solve all of her problems. Pecola’s story is chronicled by her pursuit of beauty. Her experiences are recorded over the course of four seasons in which she endures a detrimental environment at home, at school, and in her neighborhood. Her mother’s energies are focused on devoting her utmost attention to her job as a housekeeper for a white family. Her father is an alcoholic who ends up sexually abusing her more than once. Teachers ignore Pecola in the classroom, instead giving their attention to Maureen Peal, a “high-yellow dream child with long brown hair” and “sloe green eyes” (Morrison 47, 48). In addition, Pecola’s classmates ridicule her for her ugliness, although they too are black. Through all of these experiences, Pecola becomes marginalized by a culture that defines whiteness as beautiful and lovable. Thus, Pecola begins her search for beauty in an effort to answer the question, “how do you get somebody to love you?” (Morrison 32). The answer, she decides, is to have blue eyes – and thus, essentially, to be white. Pecola feels ugly because in her mind, skin and eye color are directly linked to ideal beauty. The beauty that is emphasized in American culture is that of white women, and Pecola must either deny this and find a way to form her own identity based on her beliefs, or conform to the white ideals being constantly thrust at her. Sadly, because of the conditions in which she lives, conforming to this ideal of white beauty and attempting to attain it seems like the only way for Pecola to escape the harshness of the reality in which she lives. By wishing for blue eyes day in and day out, she gives herself hope that one day she will be beautiful and loved. Unfortunately, the symbols of beauty that Pecola chooses to focus on are not within reach for her and never will be. Shirley Temple’s hair will always be yellow and her smile will never vanish because she is an actress and is always seen on film. The skin and eyes of the white dolls will never change – they will always look the same because the dolls are not real people. The reason Pecola feels so ugly is based mainly off of the fact that she spends her time comparing herself to the unreal. Whether or not these symbols and icons are in fact beautiful, it would be impossible for Pecola to ever transform herself to such an extent. By trying to conform to everyone else’s ideas of beauty instead of determining her own, Pecola never actually obtains what she wants. She thinks blue eyes are attractive and beautiful solely because society thinks blue eyes are beautiful. Society’s approval of these blue eyes, of this whiteness, fuels Pecola’s desire, for all she wants is to be loved and accepted. Her conformity to these societal ideals does not lead to her true satisfaction, however, because the blue eyes that she believes she has do not actually exist. The novel introduces the reader to the incongruity between Pecola’s real world and the idealistic white world at its very beginning with a passage from a Dick and Jane Reader. The sentences of the passage are presented three times, and each time the words become closer together, spacing disappears, and all sense of order is eventually eliminated. There are no boundaries by the end of the third paragraph; the clear structure of the Dick and Jane storybook world is ruined, as is Pecola’s life by the end of the novel. The Breedloves, Pecola’s family, are most likely the people in the Reader. Mrs. Breedlove, the Mother, does not play with Pecola – instead she knocks her down in the kitchen of her white employers when Pecola unintentionally spills the blueberry cobbler, and then turns to pacify the white girl who calls her Polly. There is no compassion for Mrs. Breedlove’s black child, but there is for the white child who does not belong to her. This is the inverted world in which Pecola lives, and this is why her attempts at conforming to the idyllic white world, that of the storybook, do not work. As the title of the novel implies, Pecola’s one desire is to have blue eyes, which to her epitomize beauty and would enable her to surpass her ugliness and the ugliness of her life, and maybe even change the behavior of her parents. Pecola idolizes the beautiful white icons of the 1940s: she drinks three quarts of milk at the MacTeers’ house just so she can use the Shirley Temple cup, buys Mary Janes at the candy store so that she can admire the picture of the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl on the wrapper, and even decides to go to Soaphead Church in the hopes that he will make her eyes blue. By the end of the novel, Pecola truly believes she has blue eyes, and her misapprehension shows the sad truth for a young African American girl who opts to embrace these white American ideals because she sees no other way out.
The Unexamined Other:Confronting the Social Hypocrisy of Maureen in The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye explores the darkest depths of human depravity in the face of intersecting race, class and gender discrimination. However, the attribute that renders Morrison’s narrative unique is her desire to humanize apparently “bad” or “morally corrupt” characters by tracing their dysfunctions back to the hateful social environments in which they were rendered victims. The character Maureen, a light-skinned black girl, escapes Morrison’s empathetic treatment and is one-dimensionally presented as a hypocrite who flaunts the social status gained by her proximity to whiteness. In an interview, Morrison laments she “didn’t like [Maureen]” because she fit so perfectly into a stereotype in which “we all know who she is;” Maureen is an archetypal hypocrite who assuages her subordinated position as a black female by adopting the façade of a superior white (Naylor, 24-25). Sociologist and black activist Patricia H. Collins helps us understand Maureen’s position as one in a “matrix” of intersecting oppressions in which people are rendered superior or inferior based on their possession of positive and negative binary traits such as being white over black, male over female, and rich over poor (Collins, 274). Already disadvantaged by her low status as a black female, Maureen represents a strategy of coping with the fundamental contradiction that social and structural injustices continue to thrive within the American promise of equality and freedom (Collins 23). Instead of allowing herself to be victimized by the intersecting oppressions facing her, Maureen hypocritically adopts the interpersonal, institutional and hegemonic viewpoints of her white oppressors. Maureen, as well as the black members of her community, each work together to perpetuate a system of domination by evaluating themselves in relation to the ideal of white, male affluence. Under this racist and sexist ideal, blacks are defined primarily by their social differences and view themselves as incompatible counterparts “related only through their definition as opposites” of whites (Collins, 70). For example, Maureen capitalizes on her socially favored light skin in order to distance herself from Frieda, Claudia and Pecola by calling them “black and ugly” in contrast to her white “cuteness” (Morrison, 73). The fact that Maureen herself is black illustrates the degree to which race is a superficial and inappropriate basis under which to evaluate self worth. Indeed, Maureen is rendered ugly by non-racial standards of beauty, for example possessing a dog tooth and stumps where her sixth digits were removed. What makes her cute is not her actual possession of attractive physical traits, but rather only the socially relegated superiority of light skin in relation to ugly blackness. Collins explains that oppositional binaries such as these are “inherently unstable.” That is to say, they must be continually enforced because favored groups desire to secure their otherwise-abstract advantaged positions (Collins, 71). Maureen represents the ultimate internalization of white superiority by assuming the identity of the oppressor and becoming the mouthpiece for racial domination in everyday relationships with other blacks in her community. By asserting a covetous position as a pseudo-white, Maureen inadvertently works to reproduce the interpersonal power relations that incite her desire to deny her heritage. Maureen’s position as a student also reveals the intricacy and degree to which racist hypocrisy invades the structural power systems of institutions such as schools. Morrison details that “when teachers called on [Maureen], they smiled encouragingly,” sponsoring her “whiteness” from a position of authority that influences impressionable young blacks (Morrison, 62). The teachers’ approval insinuates Maureen even deeper into a social position of acceptance, polarizing most students into Maureen (and by extension, white) worshipers and a handful of few blacks who resisted her hypocrisy (namely, Frieda and Claudia). In this manner, the racial views of teachers and the institutional powers they represent foster “group commonalities that encourage the formation of a group-based, collective standpoint” based on shared interaction with racist issues (Collins, 24). The teachers help to place Maureen higher inside the network of social hierarchy, much to the witness of envious blacks possessing darker skin. Morrison explains Maureen’s social position in intricate detail when she describes that “black boys didn’t trip her in the halls; white boys didn’t stone her, white girls didn’t suck their teeth when she was assigned to be their work partners; black girls stepped aside…” (Morrison, 62). In this network, Maureen’s “whiteness” renders her status almost equal to a white girl and superior to a black girl, while black boys won’t discriminate against her as a girl and white boys won’t discriminate against her as a black. As a black girl, Maureen represents “a position whereby the inferior half of a series of binaries converge” to occupy the lowest position in social hierarchy. However, her institutionalized approval as a pseudo-white allows her a higher place in racial and gender network of her school (Collins, 72). In addition to her interpersonal and institutionalized position within social hierarchy, Maureen comes to represent a hegemonic archetype by reinforcing the implicit notion that if blacks were to become more white, they would be better off in society (i.e. face less discrimination, have more power etc.). Morrison doesn’t provide Maureen a backstory that allows us to better understand why she is so quick to subordinate fellow blacks, nor is this point as important as the archetypal role she fulfills as a character. “We knew that Maureen Peal was not the Enemy,” Morrison explains through the mouthpiece of Claudia, “the Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us” (Morrison, 74). This “thing” is likely the inescapable hegemonic attitude of white superiority and black inferiority pervasive in the mediums of such as film, school teachings, political ideology and culture (Collins, 284). Omnipresent in society, this almost subconscious racism becomes impossible to pinpoint to any one person or influence as its cause. Consequently, the black social consciousness perpetuates racism simply through the notion that racism cannot be easily identified and thereby examined as harmful. Only Frieda and Claudia have an overt hatred towards Maureen’s hypocritical betrayal of her black heritage, and instead of identifying the true reason why they find her unsettling, they search for superficial flaws in her name and body. Ultimately, Maureen and each of the characters of the novel are left unable to combat or even articulate the network of social hierarchies and values in which they are entangled. For them, racism is such an implicit and inescapable notion that it is an unquestionable part of life that, in its namelessness, becomes even more difficult to combat (Collins, 21-22). Though Collins argues that racism, “by fostering injustice, can also stimulate resistance,” Maureen and various other characters are never able to achieve a collective black standpoint from which to combat their discrimination. Left identifying with the white perspective and pervasive racist notions, they lack the education and self inflection necessary to achieve “the power of a free mind” that questions and deconstructs the ideas, images and ideologies fed to them (Collins, 285). The recognition of a need for self definition is the first critical step in combating racial stereotypes; however, Morrison’s characters cannot trace their origins to hegemonic society. Instead, they are left identifying with the very language and terms under which they are objectified.Works CitedCollins, Patricia H. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2000. Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. Naylor, Gloria, and Maxine L. Montgomery. Conversations with Gloria Naylor. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004. 24-25.
Pauline Breedlove would be quite a sight. This minor character in Tony Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye has a missing front tooth and a severe limp that seem to mirror her hollow and warped family life. When looking at the novel from a Freudian perspective, Pauline’s repressions and obsessions stand out. The reader learns a great deal about this mother of two in the middle of the book when the narrative is interrupted and Tony Morrison gives a glimpse into Pauline’s life and history. Morrison sums up Pauline’s feelings toward her physical imperfections by writing, “The end of her lovely beginning was probably the cavity in one of her front teeth. She preferred, however, to think always of her foot” (110). It seems Pauline consistently repressed the difficult fact that her face, her smile, her presented identity, was deformed. The logic behind this choice was most likely her husband Cholly’s different reactions to the two physical flaws. The first time Cholly sees Pauline, “…she felt something tickling her foot…[Cholly] was bending down and tickling her broken foot and kissing her leg” (Morrison 115). Clearly, he could at least overlook the abnormality. But later, also with respect to her lame foot, Morrison writes, “Instead of ignoring her infirmity, pretending it was not there, [Cholly] made it seem like something special and endearing. For the first time Pauline felt that her bad foot was an asset” (116). It is clear in these and other passages that Cholly never showed Pauline that he thought any less of her because she had a lame foot. In fact, he even went to the other extreme and made her feel like it was attractive. While Cholly is undoubtedly the villain of the story in The Bluest Eye, his quietly loving treatment of this deformity shows that Pauline, for a time at least, did know the sympathetic love of a husband. In contrast to his gentle acceptance of her limp and lame foot, Cholly is mean and teases Pauline about her missing front tooth. After it happens, Pauline seems still in shock from the loss and thinks, “I could of cried… I wanted my tooth back. Cholly poked fun at me, and we started fighting again” (Morrison 123). This nasty, aggressive reaction is more fitting to Cholly’s character. He is not supportive of Pauline’s sorrow or compassionate to her present situation. It is no wonder, when Cholly’s reactions are taken into account, why Pauline chose “to think always of her foot” (110). Cholly’s mean-spiritedness leads Pauline justifiably to resent him. However, it seems that though they fight frequently both verbally and physically, she is still unable to unleash all her anger towards him. Unfortunately, as she represses this need to express her bitterness at Cholly, the fury seems to displace itself on her children. “I loved them and all, but…sometimes I’d catch myself hollering at them and beating them… [and] I couldn’t seem to stop” (Morrison 124). Sigmund Freud comments on the anger an older sibling feels when a new baby is born, but a similar principle could be applied to Pauline’s life, where she might view her children as intruders on her marriage. Freud writes, “[this intrusion] actuates a feeling of aversion to these new arrivals and an unhesitating wish to get rid of them again” (Adams 755). Though Pauline’s true hatred is for Cholly, she cannot target it at him satisfactorily. Pauline’s mental substitution of Pecola and Sammy for her husband helps to steer the family down an incredibly destructive path. Morrison relates the early years soon after Cholly and Pauline marry, before the invasion of their children, through a series of anecdotes told in Pauline’s voice. After moving to a new town, Pauline found it difficult to make friends and even “felt uncomfortable with the few black women she met” (Morrison 118). Seeing the high-heeled shoes they wore, Pauline tried to copy, but this “aggravated her shuffle into a pronounced limp” (Morrison 117). This painfully intense, but unattainable desire to feel accepted and happy led Pauline to an equally intense desire for money to buy new clothing and makeup. Because she unconsciously knows that these women will never accept her due to her physical deformities, but without their acceptance she can never be happy, Pauline emotionally substitutes “clothes and makeup” for “happiness.” Morrison sums up her emotional confusion by saying, “The sad thing was that Pauline did not really care for clothes and makeup. She merely wanted the other women to cast favorable glances her way” (118). Sadly, even Pauline’s most dedicated attempts to fit in do not reap the reward of happiness she expects. “When she tried to make up her face as they did, it came off rather badly” (Morrison 118). Sigmund Freud speaks of the unconscious as “a special realm, with its own desires and modes of expression and peculiar mechanisms not elsewhere operated” (Adams 752). While consciously, Pauline wouldn’t have been able to articulate that she was substituting “clothes and makeup” for “happiness,” this substitution profoundly affected her everyday life, particularly her marriage with Cholly. “He was not pleased with her purchases and began to tell her so. Their relationship was shredded with quarrels” (Morrison 118). Pauline’s struggles with her appearance continue when she discovers she is pregnant. Surprisingly, her relationship with Cholly seems tolerable for a period, and she begins to go to the movies all the time. Morrison writes that Pauline “succumbed to her earlier dreams. Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another– physical beauty” (Morrison 122). The author’s commentary continues with, “It was really a simple pleasure but she learned all there was to love and all there was to hate” (122). As Pauline focuses more and more on the absolute beauty she sees on the screen, she begins to crave that for herself. An obsession grows in her to attain love and beauty, concepts which Morrison call “probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion” (122). In Pauline’s voice, Morrison describes how everything could be closed out but the picture show and how that perfection made Pauline’s own life hard to endure. The oddest thing to observe in this stream of emotional thought is what Pauline does not ever mention. She verbalizes that her beloved movies showing the flawed becoming whole, the blind receiving sight, the lame throwing away their crutches. But she never allows herself to consciously realize that everyone on the screen has two things in common: beauty and white skin. The repression of this obvious fact seems to be most clear when Pauline is dressing to go see a Jean Harlow movie. “I fixed my hair up like I’d seen hers on a magazine. A part on the side, with one little curl on my forehead. It looked just like her. Well, almost just like” (Morrison 123). Pauline has apparently substituted “Jean Harlow’s hairdo” for “Jean Harlow’s beauty” and “Jean Harlow’s whiteness.” Just like earlier in her life, Pauline is desperately struggling for a happiness she cannot attain because she cannot make herself beautiful, so she mentally substitutes an object she can control for the object that is so beyond her grasp. After Pauline loses her tooth, Morrison confirms that the hairdo was Pauline’s substitute for beauty: “I let my hair go back, plaited it up, and settled down to just being ugly” (123). Like Morrison prophesied, on her journey to attain love and beauty, Pauline traveled through insecurity and ended ultimately in disillusionment.
In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison questions the origin and validity of truths imposed by white standards of beauty. The white standard of beauty is defined in terms of not being black, so in turn, blacks equate beauty with being white. Morrison examines this assumption in terms of its origin and validity, its growth and impact on her characters, and the long-term effects of this assumption on her characters.In addressing the origin and validity of socially accepted truths, Morrison questions whether theses truths are natural. In particular, is it natural to define beauty in terms of the opposition of whites to blacks? Michael Ryan’s summary of Michel Foucault’s ideology addresses the issue of the origins of truth in society:The way knowledge is organized in the discourses of western society is allied with the organization of power in society. Power seeps into the pores of society rather than occupying a single-state site; over time power becomes part of the habitual everyday procedures and operations of such social institutions as the school, the hospital, and the workplace. Citizens learn to absorb and perform discipline themselves. Morality, all the various ways in which one is instructed to be “good,” becomes inseparable from voluntary compliance. One no longer needs to be told what to do because one does it oneself automatically. (71)Foucault’s idea calls for a necessity to examine truth further in order to eliminate false assumptions created by the power of the society, especially when these false assumptions are social constructs believed to be natural truths.Morrison answers this call in her story centering on the self-hatred and destruction of a young black girl, Pecola Breedlove. Pecola is exposed to an impossible standard of beauty the moment she enters the world. Her mother’s first reaction to Pecola is that she had a “head of pretty hair, but Lord was she ugly” (126). From the day Pecola is born, she is told she is ugly. Pauline, Pecola’s mother, passes on the standard of beauty she has acquired from the world around her: “The sad thing was that Pauline did not really care for clothes and makeup. She merely wanted other women to cast favorable glances her way” (118). Because of the influence of the world on Pauline’s ideas regarding beauty, Pecola is subjected to an impossible standard of beauty from the beginning moments of her life.This impossible standard continues to remain a strong influence throughout Pecola’s life. With every experience that confirms her ugliness, Pecola’s self-hatred grows. One such experience is an encounter with a shopkeeper when she goes to purchase candy: “He does not see her, because for him, there is nothing to see” (48). Pecola realizes the shopkeeper does not even acknowledge her as a human being worth looking at, because, Pecola believes, she is ugly. No one she encounters gives her any reason to dispute her presumption, and thus Pecola maintains the belief that she is ugly. In response, she resorts to self-contempt and a desire to be beautiful, basing her standard of beauty on influences such as the “smiling white face” (50) looking back at her from her Mary Jane candy she purchases. Pecola desires to be like Mary Jane with “blond hair in gentle disarray, blue eyes looking at her out of a world of clean comfort” (50). Pecola believes cute white girls, like Mary Jane, are not subject to the ridicule she is. So, in turn, Pecola associates their beauty with love, or a lack of ridicule. Pecola convinces herself that in order to be loved she must become beautiful.It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes… were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different. Her teeth were good, and at least her nose was not big and flat like some of those who were thought so cute. If she looked different, beautiful, maybe Cholly would be different, and Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they’d say, “Why, look at pretty-eyed Pecola. We mustn’t do bad things in front of those pretty eyes.” (46)The standard of beauty Pecola is subjected to is strictly defined by white characteristics, therefore creating impossible standards for a black girl. Her self-contempt grows in direct correlation to her desire for blue eyes, or achieving the white standard of beauty.The same self-hatred that consumes Pecola is demonstrated in varying degrees by many of Morrison’s characters. Rather than resort to the madness that overwhelms Pecola, these characters use Pecola as a scapegoat for the suppressed self-hatred they possess. A group of black schoolboys illustrate this suppressed self-hatred when they rally around Pecola, mocking her blackness: That they themselves were black… was irrelevant. It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that burned for ages in their hollows of minds… consuming whatever was in its path (65). These boys demonstrate a blind embrace of white domination. As Foucault would argue, these boys no longer need to be told that black is equivalent to ugly. They proclaim this ideology automatically, ignoring any contradictions or unnatural tendencies they may demonstrate in the process. They fully accept the white standard of beauty, labeling Pecola ugly.In the same way the boys determine “black” Pecola is ugly; they determine “whitish” Maureen Peal is beautiful. It is Maureen’s beauty that prevents the boys from harming Pecola: “Maureen appeared… and the boys seemed reluctant to continue under her springtime eyes so wide with interest. They buckled with confusion, not willing to beat up three girls under her watchful gaze” (67). Maureen, “a high-yellow dream child with long brown hair braided into two lynch ropes that hung down her back,” (62) is a physical demonstration of the black boys’ standard of beauty. The combination of the boys’ contempt for “black” Pecola and their desire for “whitish” Maureen illustrates the strong influence of the white standard of beauty, even for young schoolboys.Blacks in Morrison’s novel accept, even embrace, white domination; holding themselves to a white standard for everything, including beauty. Another example that truly demonstrates this to be a social construct is seen in the gift of a “blue-eyed Baby Doll” (20) for Claudia, a young black girl. Claudia recalls “all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured” (20). Still too young to understand the social construct placed upon her as a black girl, she rejects the white standard of beauty. Claudia did not find the doll beautiful; rather, she despised the doll. She rebelled against this assumed truth regarding beauty to the extent that she actually destroyed the doll. “To see what it was made, to discover the dearness, to find the beauty, the desirability that had escaped me [Claudia,] but apparently only me [Claudia]” (20). Too young to be fully influenced by the world around her, Claudia shows resistance to the idea that it is natural for blacks to conform to a white standard of beauty. This experience illustrates Foucault’s argument that the truths of society are not natural, but created by the power in society, in Morrison’s novel, whites.Claudia’s resistance to the white standard of beauty relies solely on her youth and innocence. Similar to her disgust for the doll, Claudia finds herself alone in her distaste for the “cu-ute Shirley Temple” (19). While her older sister, Frieda, and Pecola adore the young actress, Claudia claims:I couldn’t join them in their adoration because I hated Shirley. Not because she was cute, but because she danced with Bojangles, who was my friend, my uncle, my daddy, and who ought to have been soft-shoeing it with me…Younger than both Frieda and Pecola, I had not yet arrived at the turning point in the development of my psyche which would allow me to love her. (19)Claudia illustrates how her youth prevents her from acceptance and understanding of the black conformity to white beauty. Eventually, her youth fades and Claudia falls subject to the social beliefs imposed upon her. “I learned much later to worship her [Shirley Temple,] just as I learned to delight in cleanliness, knowing, even as I learned, that the change was adjustment without improvement” (23). Claudia’s eventual love for Shirley Temple illustrates the power this social construction truly has. Despite Claudia’s strong initial rebellion, she is lured into the white standard of beauty along with Morrison’s other characters. Morrison addresses the long-term effects of imposing this standard of beauty on her black characters. Geraldine is an example of black conformity to white standards of beauty gone badly. Geraldine “is not like some of their [Geraldine’s] sisters” (82). She is raised in a very different environment than other black girls. The concern and acceptance of white standards is greatly emphasized in Geraldine’s upbringing, even more so than in Pecola’s. Geraldine’s subjection and consumption of the social construct that whiter is better results in her affections becoming misplaced. Consumed by the obsession to make everything perfect in terms of white standards, Geraldine’s “cat will always know that he is first in her affections. Even after she bears a child” (86). Adhering to the false social truths imposed upon Geraldine leads her to become null and void. She cannot even create or maintain an emotional attachment with her black baby. “Geraldine did not talk to him, coo to him, or indulge him in kissing bouts, but she saw that every other desire was fulfilled” (86). Geraldine passes on the ideologies she had been raised with. Ashamed of her blackness, Geraldine teaches her son that he is distinct from other blacks, saying, “Colored people were neat and quiet; niggers were dirty and loud” (87). Geraldine’s cold and practically non-existent maternal instincts, a result of her preoccupation with maintaining white standards and denying her blackness, produce a cruel little boy who helps contribute to the growth of madness brewing inside Pecola as she continues to strive for beauty and love.Searching her whole life to be loved, the only person to finally demonstrate love for Pecola is her father, Cholly Breedlove. Unfortunately, the love Cholly gives is not exactly the love Pecola needs: “Love is never any better than the lover” (206). The same ideologies that result in the standard of beauty under which Pecola suffers is also at the root of Cholly’s alcoholism, violence, and distorted views of love. Much like Pecola fools herself into thinking beauty will bring her love; Cholly distorts love until all he knows is how to “breed.” Cholly demonstrates his love for Pecola in the only way he knows how; he rapes her. As a result of her father’s rape, Pecola becomes pregnant. The contempt from her mother and the rest of the community for her pregnancy quickly becomes distorted for Pecola. In achieving her goal of being loved, though a distorted love, Pecola becomes delusional with the idea that she has finally become beautiful. She becomes convinced the reaction of the world around her is not contempt for her pregnancy, but rather jealousy for her long awaited blue eyes. She becomes obsessive, repeatedly asking an imaginary other if, indeed, her eyes are the bluest. “A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by evil fulfillment” (204). Though convinced she has received her greatest wish, Pecola is left unsatisfied. She devotes her entire life to the white standard of beauty, and it leaves her mad and broken.The effects of the tragic outcome resulting from the social construct imposed upon Morrison’s characters extend beyond the Breedlove family. Young Claudia, still maintaining her rebellion against social norms concerning beauty, gives one last desperate attempt to point out the irrationalities involved in Pecola’s situation. As she listens to the adults’ judgment and contempt for the Breedlove family, she tries to maintain hope and faith in Pecola, and in the society that allowed this to happen to her: “More strongly than my fondness for Pecola, I felt a need for someone to want the black baby to live- just to counteract the universal love of white baby dolls, Shirley Temples, and Maureen Peals” (190). In the end, Claudia and Frieda are the only ones to see beauty for what it really is. But with the loss of their youth comes the loss of this knowledge.Ryan states that “literature draws attention to such things as the construction of realities through signification and explores the undersides of social life that normality banishes from view… literature can be an important site for exploring the processes that Post-Structuralism claims are at work in western thinking, society, and culture, processes that must be otherwise violently suppressed if the dominant concepts of normality and reality are to be sustained” (69). This summarizes the purpose of literature such as The Bluest Eye. Morrison digs up “the undersides of social life that normality banishes from view” as she forces her readers to reconsider the “dominant concepts of normality and reality.” This novel works to deconstruct the long-held notions of black and white oppositions. Morrison portrays her characters in such a way as to allow her readers to decide for themselves whether it is unreasonable or unnatural for blacks to maintain a white standard of beauty.
Toni Morrison’s Bluest Eye is a tragic narrative of how one black community loathes itself simply for not being white. Yet, even more tragic is the fact that an innocent little girl, Pecola, also comes to hate herself for not being white. She believes that only by having blue eyes can she actually be considered beautiful and that only by being beautiful can she be loved by those around her. Three critical factors, which drive Pecola to this delusional conclusion, are the media by which she is heavily surrounded, her family, and her community. Pecola, like her mother, bases her definitions of beauty heavily on the 1940’s white media by which she is bombarded. She is described as gazing “fondly at the silhouette of Shirley Temple’s dimpled face” on a milk cup and admiring the visages of movie idols like Betty Grable and Hedy Lamarr (19).The media shape in Pauline and Pecola Breedlove the conviction that they could not possibly be beautiful because they were not white. They saw justification and confirmation of this notion “leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance” (39). The people who are most able to influence Pecola-negatively or positively-are those closest to her: her family. As early as Pecola’s birth, Pauline had considered her ugly and treats her as thus her whole life. Right after her daughter’s birth, Pauline observes, “A right smart baby she was….But I knowed she was ugly. Head full of pretty hair, but Lord she was ugly” (126). An instance which illustrates Pauline’s low regard for her daughter is when Pecola accidentally spills a blueberry cobbler, splashing some of the seething juice onto her legs: “In one gallop, [Mrs. Breedlove] was on Pecola, and with the back of her hand knocked her to the floor. Pecola slid in the pie juice, one leg folding under her. Mrs. Breedlove yanked her up by the arm, slapped her again…” (109). Instead of being concerned for Pecola’s wellbeing, Pauline both physically and verbally batters her daughter in front of a white girl for whose family she works. In stark, painful contrast, Pauline immediately changes her tone of voice upon seeing that the white girl is discomforted by the episode and soothes her, ironically, as a mother would, ” ‘Hush, baby, hush. Come here. Oh Lord, look at your dress. Don’t cry no more. Polly will change it'” (109). Further evidence that Pecola’s home is devoid of love is the fact that her brother Sammy is constantly running away, her father is always drunk, and her parents are incessantly arguing and fighting. Pecola tragically believes that, somehow, all the unhappiness in her family stems from her not being beautiful. Consequently, she desires to be invisible and to have “pretty blue eyes”, hoping that her family would stop doing bad things in the presence of these beautiful eyes (46). Pecola’s community-everyone with whom she comes in contact outside her home-also affect her greatly. Various encounters with adults in the community cause Pecola to succumb even more hopelessly to the belief that she is ugly. One instance in which Pecola is subtly but visibly spurned by an adult white man is when she is buying some Mary Jane candy from the local grocer, Mr. Yacobowski; when she reaches over the counter to pay for her candy, “He hesitates, not wanting to touch her hand….Finally he reaches over and takes the pennies from her hand. His nails graze her damp palm” (49-50). On another occasion, when Geraldine comes home and hears that Pecola has killed her cat, she maliciously spits out, “Get out, you nasty little black bitch. Get out of my house” (92). Finally, even Soaphead Church, the man to whom Pecola has come to seek help, regards her as “pitifully unattractive” (173). One can only envision the pain Pecola must feel upon being utterly rejected by Mr. Yacobowski and then being called a “black bitch” by a woman who regards her as less than dirt, a woman who is herself black. School is yet another place where Pecola is shunned, rejected by peers and teachers alike. Pecola perceives that “[Her teachers] tried never to glance at her, and called on her only when everyone was required to respond”, as if they were avoiding even noticing her presence in their classrooms (45-46). Pecola’s troubles are not nearly over by the end of the school day; we see that she is harassed mercilessly on her way home by a gang of black boys who surround her and chant, ” ‘Black e mo. Black e mo. Yadaddsleepnekked'” (65). It is almost as if they are bringing attention to Pecola’s black features in a deluded effort to reassure that they themselves are not ugly because they are not as “black”. The one friend Pecola makes at school is Maureen Peal, a well-to-do “high-yellow” girl who talks with her about movies and menstruating and even takes her out for ice cream. This “friendship” proves to be quite short-lived however. When insulted by Claudia for always acting “cute”, Maureen immediately turns on Claudia as well as her new friend Pecola, retaliating: “‘I am cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly e mos'” (73). Thus, the various media cultivate in Pecola’s mind the profound notion that being white is the one true beauty. Pecola’s family, teachers, and peers then drive this notion even more deeply into her mind by unceasingly rebuking her for having black, and therefore ugly, features. All her life, Pecola seems to be a lonely little girl on an endless search for some kind of love, for some kind of positive attention from those around her. She eventually comes to the conclusion that having blue eyes would bring her both the love and attention for which she has longed all her life. Pecola finally does receive attention from her father: “Cholly loved her….He, at any rate, was the one who loved her enough to touch her, envelop her, give something of himself to her” (206). Although Cholly’s rape(s) of Pecola is wrong in all respects, Pecola herself could have perversely seen it as a form of his love for her. She reasons that, in order to actually receive love from someone, she must have blue eyes. This, in turn, is probably what finally drives Pecola into insanity at the end of the book, believing she has blue eyes.
Among Toni Morrison’s works, “images of music pervade her work, but so also does a musical quality of language, a sound and rhythm that permeate and radiate in every novel” (Rigney 8). This rhythmic style of writing is particularly evident in The Bluest Eye. There is a struggle between musical language and silence throughout the novel. Song is a part of the instruction of Blackness and femaleness that Claudia and Frieda learn from their mother. Pauline can not find comfort in song. Cholly’s life is like a musician where he feels dangerously free. The conversations with the prostitutes are the only things that give Pecola a sense of laughter, instead of her continuous silence. Even the town has a rhythmic language. Through the language of music, Morrison is able to convey the complexity of the Black way of life.Morrison can “move beyond language, even while working through it, to incorporate significance beyond the denotation of words, to render experience and emotion, for example, as musicians do” (Rigney 7). Music can be an important part of a text because it gives a sense of a rhythmic pattern that a reader can follow along with. Music is a style, a sound, a feeling, and an expression. Music can be a remedy for the blues or a sound for joy. Morrison wishes to insert something that has only been fully expressed in music into her writing. It is through this musical language that an understanding can be reached about the characters and their musical languages and silences.First, Claudia and Frieda experience music from their mother, who often finds comfort by singing the blues. Claudia describes a conversation between her mother and one of her friends as a “gently wicked dance: sound meets sound, curtsies, shimmies, and retires” (The Bluest Eye 15). The sounds of their voices in crescendo and decrescendo are like music and words on a page. Even though Claudia and Frieda are only nine and ten years old and do not know the meanings of all their mother’s and friend’s words, “we watch their faces, their hands, their feet, and listen for truth in timbre” (TBE 15). They try to listen to the way they say things through the tones of their voices. They hear laughter and excitement. By listening, they are learning about life and how grown-ups act toward people and certain situations.In addition, Claudia hates Shirley Temple. She watches Shirley dance with Bojangles “…giving a lovely dance thing with one of those little white girls whose socks never slid down under their heels” (TBE 19). According to Naomi R. Rand, this dance is a “dance of denial rather than sensual pleasure” (44). This could mean that although white, Shirley is dancing with a black man and because of the racism that pervades in Claudia’s life, she feels this rage toward Shirley Temple.Next, Mrs. MacTeer is able to find solace and a way to work things out through a musical language. She sings the blues in order to get through the bad times. “Song becomes a signal for many things unexpressible by action direct or indirect” (Holloway 39). Mrs. MacTeer resorts to soliloquies that are often insulting, although not directly. She tells everyone off, then bursts into song for the rest of the day (TBE 24). Music becomes a way to deal with hardships. Taking her frustrations out on others doesn’t necessarily help her feel better; song gives her a new light.If my mother was in a singing mood, it wasn’t so bad. She would sing about hard times, bad times, and somebody-done-gone-and-left-me-times…Misery colored by the greens and blues in my mother’s voice took all of the grief out of the words and left me with a conviction that pain was not only endurable, it was sweet. (TBE 25-26)Claudia and Frieda understand that music can be therapeutic. They learn from their mother of their Blackness and their femaleness by listening to her singing. The dialogues teach the girls about life, how to think, and how to question things. It is their mother’s “fussing soliloquies” that are instructive. Her soliloquies are teachings of how the world is and how some people can be cruel and unloving. Sometimes a problem can be understood only when it is thought out loud. Through their mother’s daily soliloquies, “linguistic structuring of emotion, image, and thought became, for Mrs. MacTeer and her children, magic words and song that brought grace” (Holloway 45). Music is a way to release emotions for the MacTeers’. Song brings love and rids all the hate. It creates a light when the darkness seems unbearable.In contrast, Pauline Breedlove uses her voice to quarrel with her husband, Cholly. They had not fought the night before, because Cholly had come home drunk. But as soon as the morning breaks, a fight erupts. These fights are a routine for Pauline because “she could display the style and imagination of what she believed to be her own true self. To deprive her of these fights was to deprive her of all the zest and reasonableness of life” (TBE 41-42). Arguing is a way for Pauline to survive and to be heard. Unlike Mrs. MacTeer, she does not know how to find comfort in song or soliloquy. All of Pauline’s time is consumed by her efforts to argue with Cholly and plead with God to help her punish him. When they did fight, “they did not talk, groan, or curse during these beatings.” There was only the muted sound of falling things, and flesh on unsurprised flesh” (TBE 43). It is this inarticulateness that Pauline displays that makes it hard for her to survive. Silence and words pervade her life, making it hard for her to cope. Perhaps if she had been more like Mrs. MacTeer, song could get her through her fights with Cholly. Sometimes through music, a person is able to express themselves in ways they never even imagined. However, Pauline does not realize this. She is only aware of the silence that hovers over her like a dark cloud.Cholly’s life can only be made sense through an imitation of music. He has had no model for parenting or positive images for his children. White men shame Cholly and his helpless rage forces him to turn against women who accept him.The pieces of Cholly’s life could become coherent only in the head of a musician. Only those who talk their talk through the gold of curved metal, or in the touch of black-and-white rectangles and taut skins and strings echoing from wooden corridors, could give true form to his life…Only a musician would sense, know, without even knowing that he knew, that Cholly was free. Dangerously free. (TBE 159)Morrison shows how Cholly is deeply hurt by his mother abandoning him and his father rejecting him for a crap game. Cholly’s loss of manhood haunts him. He is alone with his own perceptions of things, and it is this feeling of being alone that frees him. He is free to drink, live his fantasies, have a job, and feel guilt, shame, and fear. Freedom is like a song and a dance for Cholly because he can go back and forth in his own manner in order to live his life. Drinking is the only way for him to feel free, free from guilt and his childhood memories. When he is drunk he doesn’t have to think about his life; he is numb to the pain.Another aspect of silence is seen through Pecola. The prostitutes’ language allows Pecola to break her silence. In one instance, Pecola could hear the “sweet and hard, like new strawberries” (TBE 51) voice of Poland, one of the prostitutes. The prostitutes and their stories provide laughter in Pecola’s life, and “that laughter is yet another primal sound which transcends language” (Rigney 13). Laughter is a distinct sound that Pecola is able to recognize and familiarize herself with. However, in another instance, silence is where Pecola finds her element. Pecola does not tell her own story or even speak much. For example, when she is in the candy store, she confronts the owner and can only point and nod in the direction of the Mary Jane’s she wants. This “muted condition” displays the powerlessness she has, and the powerlessness that all the women of this novel feel (Rigney 21). Women in this novel are like the singing teachers. They sing or convey language in a way to be heard and to teach others about life and emotion. “Perhaps it is the fluidity, the jouissance, in black women’s speech that is so musical, so erotic…” (Rigney 11). Morrison is able to express women’s speech through a musical language and even through all of the silence. Sometimes silence is able to say much more than words can, but music is an indescribable measure of expression and feeling.Similarly, the sounds of the towns in the novel even echo a rhythmic style.They come from Mobile. Aiken. From Newport News. From Marietta. From Meridian. And the sound of these places in their mouths make you think of love…You don’t know what these towns are like, but you love what happens to the air when they open their lips and let the names ease out. (TBE 81)The consonance of the names of the towns produces a musical effect that roll off one’s tongue. The words make a person feel alive, like they are floating on air. It is not just a singing voice that can express music; words can also provide a musical language.In conclusion, musical language and silence are portrayed throughout The Bluest Eye. This is evident through the conversations Claudia and Frieda have with their mother, Cholly’s life, Pecola’s muteness and laughter, Pauline’s quarrels, and the names of the towns. Music is a way to convey the deepest of emotions and the deepest of situations. Although music is a form of expression, sometimes silence can say just as much. It is clear that music has a great impact on a person’s life. Sometimes music can teach a person about life and the world around them. Sometimes music can be a way to get through the bad times. Morrison has the ability to not only create scenes and characters so vividly, but through one of the most powerful muses: song.
Humans sometimes become infatuated with certain emotions, to the point of letting these emotions control them: a single force such as anger drives their motives and controls who they become. Anger, in particular, is a belligerent and dangerous emotion because it paves the way for so many hostile acts. In the novel The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, we are introduced to the epitome of a dangerously angry man. Cholly Breedlove was a character created through pain and hardships, from a young boy abandoned by his mother to a grown man who never learned to love or be loved. Morrison sculpts the perfect statue of a man, cold as stone and with one emotion: Anger. Through Cholly’s anger; flowed disdain, resentment and hatred; a lethal combination of feelings. Through the pages of the story, Cholly morphs from a young and innocent boy, to a teen scorned by embarrassment and rejection, to a grown man who eventually feels nothing. He is numb. Morrison brilliantly exploits Cholly’s character to inflict the themes of anger and numbness; emotions that ultimately changes Cholly from a sad boy to an angry teen to a numb man.
Childhood experiences may fade with time but the effects can last a lifetime. Subconsciously a person’s childhood experiences act as a foundation for who they will be. In the case of Cholly Breedlove his first life changing childhood experience came as early as four days old when his mother wrapped him in a blanket and threw him away. Although far too young to recollect or even comprehend what happened to him, the act of abandonment would somehow be etched into his being. It would become a part of who he is. The boy whose mother threw him away. Saved and raised by his great aunt Jimmy, Cholly had a constant reminder of the horrendous and selfish act of the woman that was supposed to care for him. A child should never have to endure the sadness and rejection of a parent, it is soul crushing and degrading. Consequentially beliefs that there is something wrong with them and sudden feelings of worthlessness and abandonment burden the heart and mind of someone so innocent. Cholly was saved by his aunt but she did not save him from the pain of rejection, only death. He was raised but he was never healed and sometimes the burden was too heavy to bare which can be proven through the quote, “then he wondered if it would have been just as well to have died there. Down in the rim of a tire under a soft black Georgia sky.” (133.) Young Cholly’s grief is abundant in this quote. The quote expresses his sadness through his consideration of death. Innocent or not, Cholly suffered the pains of a broken heart at a very young age.
Purity, innocence and cleanliness are all the factors associated with virginity. It is a quality that every person will eventually lose. It is purely natural but when such a beautiful act is obstructed by mortification and shame the outcome is never good. In the Spring chapters of The Bluest Eye, Cholly loses his virtue to a young girl name Darlene. This experience washed away the innocence of Cholly’s younger years and replaced it with hatred and anger. Devils in disguise: two white men would force the two young children to fornicate as they watched, forcing Cholly and Darlene to finish in front of them. With every stroke anger rose within the young and innocent boy that was once Cholly. His emotions are portrayed perfectly in the quote, “Cholly, moving faster, looked at Darlene. He hated her. He almost wished he could do it- hard, long and painfully, he hated her so much.” (Morrison, 148.) The tone of the quote alone allowed a certain sense of anger. It described Cholly’s desire to punish someone, to hurt them the way he hurt. This quote portrayed the anger and rage he felt for the white men that had so willingly mortified him but subconsciously Cholly projected his hate for the men onto Darlene. He could not hate those men, they were strong and scary and the fact that this story was set in the time of racism only made it even more impossible. His subconscious knowledge is demonstrated in the quote, “His subconscious knew what his conscious mind did not guess- that hating them would have consumed him, burned him up like a piece of soft coal, leaving only flakes of ash and a question mark of smoke.” (151.) This quote explained the hopelessness of Cholly allowing himself to take on enemies he could never defeat. Baring a hatred for white men, untouchable men would only have destroyed Cholly and no one else. He could never avenge his self against white men so instead he hated the one person he could. Darlene not only black just like him but also a woman, was easier to hate. She was weaker, less threatening and the only other person to bore witness of his indignity.
Insecurities are created through bad experiences, embarrassing moments, and painful memories; it is just this process that forms (or rather de-forms) Cholly. As Cholly grew the abandonment of his mother and the mortification of losing his virginity never seemed to subside. With nothing left to lose Cholly set out to find his father. Young and alone he went searching for the only person he may have left. He did not know his father but his aunt had told him a bit about him in his younger years. The young man left home in search for a man he may never find in an act of desperation. He was alone and afraid but little did he know his father would not help his current situation. Cholly found his father but his search ended with the horrid image of him crawled into fetal position beside a river bank with soiled pants, like a baby waiting for his mother to come and change him. But no one would come and no one would change him he was on his own. He was free.
Yet there is a dark side to such apparent freedom. Cholly is a free man now, able to do whatever he wants, to be whoever he wants but when Morrison refers to him as “free” it is not as literal as one might think. Cholly’s freedom did not come from being reckless or adventurous it came from relief. The word freedom symbolized Cholly’s emotional state. After so many hardships and so much anger Cholly had finally went numb. He could no longer feel the hurt that he felt as a young boy or the anger he felt as a teen. He was liberated, he was free, he was numb. The reckless behavior, the drinking and even the rape of his own child was a result of a man who no longer cared. Not because he had no reason to stop but because he couldn’t feel the burden of his action or the pain they dealt. Cholly was free to burn down his own house to start a family and destroy each member, one by one and yet he felt nothing. His screwed up way of loving was perfectly depicted in the quote, “Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly, but the love of a free man is never safe.” (206.) This quote from the last chapter of the novel explained that love can only be as good as the person giving it. In Cholly’s case his love was as painful as the love he’d received and as sad and angry as he had felt. His love was free, a reflection of him it inflicted all his pain and sadness until it became a heart-rending and numbing love.
Toni Morrison chiseled away at the statue of a man that was Cholly Breedlove until there was nothing left of him. She gave life to his character, through pain, anger and grief until there was nothing left but a drunk who could feel nothing. Numb and unsusceptible to pain, Cholly deviated from human decency to become a broken man. His mind was broken, his heart was broken, and even his love was broken. Overall, Morrison brilliantly exploited Cholly’s character while inflicting the themes of anger and numbness and these emotions changed him drastically. From sad, to angry, to absolutely nothing.
In her novel, The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison explores the burdens society places on its weakest members and the adverse effects they have on the individual’s mental stability and self worth. Society has expectations of beauty and worth that teach the individual to be unsatisfied with themselves and strive for certain characteristics: blue eyes, blonde hair, light skin. In Pecola’s case we see the judgement of society thrust upon her due to the color of her skin, her gender, and the poverty her family lives in, all of which run contrary to the American ideal of the time. The discrepancies between the perceived perfection, which no one will ever be able to live up to, and reality, fosters insecurities that are present within each of Morrison’s characters. The constant barrage of preconceived notions, particularly when compared to the Breedloves, contribute to the superficial nature of society which Morrison casts a light on to further the idea that unrealistic expectations foster a mindset of imperfection that distracts from a person’s inherently good nature.
Pecola and all African Americans are marginalized within the novel. Morrison writes, “Being a minority in both caste and class, we moved about anyway on the hem of life, struggling to consolidate our weaknesses and hang on, or to creep singly up into the major folds of the garment”. There was no way for African Americans to significantly raise their social status because they could not change the color of their skin. Even the “colored people”, who thought of themselves, and in a sense, were more educated and orderly than the “niggers” they choose not to associate with, were still considered lower class. The color of a person’s skin literally determined their worth to society as opposed to their merit. This hostile and seemingly permanent outlook is detrimental to the mindsets of all African Americans within the novel, specifically to Pecola and her family. Opposed to other families in their community, the Breedloves have little emotional connection and familial support between them. For Pecola this leaves her especially vulnerable to outside influence because she has no loving place to return to tell her she is beautiful. Instead the entire family almost relishes in the fact that they are “ugly” and wallows in self hatred. The Breedlove’s live in a storefront which displays their poverty and flaws to the world; they want to leave, but “They lived there because they were poor and black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly”. They dont have the ability nor willpower to leave since society has given them only one choice: to be poor, Black, and ugly. In the midst of this situation, Pecola dreams of something better; it’s a sad comment on the state of our society when an innocent child believes that being white will solve the entirely of her problems. Pecola idolizes the dolls and the “Shirley Temples” of the world because they have stability which she craves. Pecola attributes the love and care they receive to their skin color and therefore wants her own pair of blue eyes. Pecola’s childish, and yet extremely perceptive, association between skin color and quality of life is utilized by Morrison to point out the way society is run. Still today skin color has an effect on opportunity, so it doesn’t sound like such an unreasonable thing to try and change your appearance to allow yourself more social mobility. People try and change themselves, like Pecola wishing for blue eyes, to fit expectations; but, it’s the expectations that need to be changed not the people themselves. The community in the novel and mankind in general tend to only look “skin deep”, without acknowledging the damaging effects their quick, biased judgement has.
Being a young girl also contributes to Pecola’s helplessness. In the novel, Black woman take orders from white men, white women, white children, and Black men; the only people they give orders to are black children, but as a black girl, Pecola is subservient to everyone. All the slight societal inequalities that the African community faced, when applied to Pecola, are exacerbated further making them clearly exposed. Because of her gender, bad things are allowed to easily happen to Pecola. Yes boys were could have been treated in a similar fashion, but the way females are so subdued in early-modern American culture, makes her an easier target than a boy. She is abused and essentially used as an object to absorb people’s anger and insecurity. Claudia observes, “All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us–all who knew her–felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her”. Nobody cares when Pecola is treated badly since she’s the weakest member of society. She’s taken advantage of and people relish in her imperfectness because it makes them perfect in comparison, even if they fail to live up to the ideal. Being a girl not only makes her an easier target but also gives her more standards of beauty to emulate. Men generally have more power than women, so imperfections surrounding men are less evident. Even the historical references Morrison focuses on are almost exclusively female; for example, she frequently lists Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers. All the models of “perfect human specimens” are woman. The obvious omission of ideal male specimens sets precedent for the fact that beauty is more important when evaluating the worth of woman than of men. Hollywood perpetuates this; it spreads the concept that physical beauty is necessary for women and almost all encompassing. Beauty is “Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in dissolution”. Pecola’s low self esteem because she is ugly culminates unconstrained desire for blue eyes since she see’s it as the only way out of her feeble position.
The title of the novel, The Bluest Eyes, is in reference to Pecola’s desire to change her eye color from brown to blue. She hopes that by getting a pair of blue eyes she will see the world from a better and brighter perspective than her brown ones afford her. In order to be content with oneself, people must work on the internal, their emotions, instead of focusing on the external because appearance is meaningless with respect to happiness. People don’t do this. Instead, they seek to enhance themselves physically to fill the void emotionally because it’s easier than dealing with the root of their insecurities. No one can blame Pecola for trying to find a hope to latch on to in order to escape her reality, however, the rest of humanity has no excuse for hiding behind their designer clothes and fake lashes. Soaphead Church is humbled by her plight: “Here was an ugly little girl asking for beauty….A little black girl who wanted to rise up out of the pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes”. By the end of the novel, Pecola is completely broken, body and soul. Her mental faculties have diminished and she recedes into herself as a self protection mechanism against the world that was so cruel. She gets her blue eyes in the end. Pecola is the only one who can see them, but they are there nonetheless. What matters is not if they actually exist, but the confidence they impart unto her. What Pecola starts to realize, but quickly buries, is the notion that there is always someone with “bluer eyes”. The small thought is almost enough to destroy the carefully built happiness she created in her delusion. One can have “the bluest eyes” and still be blind to obvious truths.
Internalization and Externalization of Color
In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Pauline experiences the beauty of life through her childhood ‘down South;’ extracting colors in which translate into her most fond memories. This internalization of color serves as a pivotal action, providing insight into Morrison’s ideals of beauty and self-image. Steven Spielberg’s film, The Color Purple, utilizes rather the externalization of color to highlight character development and major themes.
Although a stark contrast in technique is present, both works succeed in providing a clear fluctuation in character worth and image while ultimately overcoming the notion of prejudice. Morrison allows this sense of internalization to exist overtly.As Pauline describes purple berries, yellow lemonade, and “that streak of green them june bugs made on the trees the night we left down home,” she continues on to state “all them colors was in me” (Morrison 34). Morrison continues to describe the accumulation of colors, detailing how Cholly releases in Pauline all the colors of life which were “sealed down in her soul” (Morrison 34). The description of their life in early marriage is vivid; true even of Pauline’s sexual experiences with Cholly, suggesting a both orderly and beautiful life.
A move in location disrupts this process, as Pauline and Cholly eventually choose to reside in the state of Ohio; although, it is obvious that despite the geographical contrast, the ‘colors’ Pauline acquired ‘down home’ hardly persist to be accessible. The movement and separation of Celie and Nellie in The Color Purple mirrors this. In this case, because the colors are externalized rather than internalized, Celie loses all sense of their beauty very quickly. She finds self-worth an image through validation of the outside world and those surrounding her. While both Pauline and Celie find themselves to be somewhat lost due to separation, there is a distinct difference in the avenues they choose to lead them back to identity.The alteration of Pauline’s surroundings causes her to struggle; she fails to generate new sources of beauty and color after moving up North, although, it is important to note that rather than all color draining from Pauline’s life, she rather longs for her old home, reminiscing on the environment that provided such a beautiful blend of stimulus: “I missed my people. I weren’t used to so much white folks…Northern colored folk was different too” (Morrison 57). Furthermore, Pauline notes that Cholly only became “meaner and meaner and wanted to fight all of the time”(Morrison 62). This instability serves as a strong contribution to Pauline’s increasing dissatisfaction and disillusionment; a neglect that results in compensation by watching the ‘silver screen-’ providing a new outlet in which Pauline internalizes color. The perfect ‘white’ world of Hollywood eventually creates an entirely new sense of longing, which carries an unbelievably negative impact.
A strong parallel exists between Celie and Pauline at this point in the development of both characters. While vivid color fills the beginning of Pauline’s life, these colors fade and become less prominent as the plot progresses. Celie’s beginnings are dark, accumulating color and light as the film unfolds.At the midpoint of each work, both Celie and Pauline are on the brink of major transformations, although in opposite directions. The birth of Pecola highlights that, while the colors have not completely disappeared within Pauline, they are not nearly as intense as they once were. As Willis noted, “Polly Breedlove lives in a form of schizophrenia, where her marginality is constantly confronted with a world of Hollywood movies, white sheets, and blonde children” (Morrison 76).
It is in the ‘white’ home, that Pauline takes a new identity: Polly. She separates from her physical self, and enters into a new, neat and orderly world. This new perception challenges what she knows and feels concerning her family, characterized by disorder. The previous environment in which once brought a plethora of life and color is now a mere black and white. As Pauline ceases to search for these colors, Celie begins. It is through Pauline’s new outlet that Pecola obtains her desire for “the bluest eyes;” yet it its Celie’s outlet that fuels a pride and acceptance of culture and self-identity. Both Spielberg and Morrison use colors as a catalyst of character development, serving as a foil to the meaning of the work as a whole. In both cases, the focus on specific colors plays into a much deeper meaning; the color in which one sees with his or her eye is only a reflection of what was not absorbed. This contrast of externalization and internalization ultimately stresses the importance of equality and self-worth.