Beauty and Belonging in The Bluest Eye

February 1, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, there is a conceptualized ideal of beauty that, throughout the novel, is utilized to illustrate the impact this concept has on the protagonists. With each of her characters, Morrison takes innocent elements of childhood and defiles them through the misuse, both blatantly aggressive and disarmingly passive, of her African-American characters starting in their early years. Here, beauty lies in pale hair, light skin, light eyes, a picket fence in an upstanding neighborhood supported by the earnings of an upper-middle class job to support a lifestyle of the same description. So beauty is, here, what the black protagonists of the story will find unattainable. They do not have the status that they want and they cannot achieve it because their position in society is fixed.The best illustration of this concept would be Dick and Jane, the formerly popular children’s books so famous for the colorful pictures and simplistic but thoroughly educational grammar – a pun in itself on the way the majority of Morrison’s characters speak (i.e. lacking in proper grammar and pronunciation). The stories are titled for the names of the characters, the brother-sister duo Dick and Jane. In the small picture books, Dick does decidedly boy-like things such as running, jumping, and playing ball while his sister, Jane, takes part in particularly girly behaviors that mostly consist of pulling her wagon or playing with her doll or watching the activity surrounding her and pointing out her interest in them. Despite being of the same age group, same family, and sharing similar assets of perceived beauty, the children are separated by gender. Even Jane, who is a wealthy white girl, is oppressed by her gender at a tender age. These positions render the characters polar opposites of the dark, poor miscreant protagonists that the novel covers. Morrison’s characters, unlike the wealthy whites she alludes to, are of a lesser race in the eye of society, and therefore a lesser class.An almost mirror opposite of Dick and Jane are Claudia and Frieda and their family. Claudia, who narrates parts of the novel, and her older sister, Frieda, don’t live in an exceptionally upstanding area, but they do have a home and two parents who seem to provide a stable living environment, which makes them something like a control group among the mess of other characters throughout the novel. Still, the girls are wary and even defensive about their stature, and a classic example of dissatisfied childish jealousy is implemented to demonstrate their discontent with their societal roles with the little mixed girl, Maureen Peal. Claudia describes her as “…rich, at least by our standards, as rich as the richest of the white girls, swaddled in comfort and care (62).” Completely ignoring the fact that Claudia herself and Frieda have a home and some security and are not unloved, Claudia fixates on the jealousies of childhood, and Maureen’s exaltation that seems to be wrapped around her mocha skin and springtime eyes. Claudia’s malevolence toward Maureen, of course, has a lot to do with that white part of her – which is telltale by the early descriptions of what Claudia does with her little white baby dolls. Though the toys are meant to be held and loved and coddled, Claudia can bring herself to love them. She harbors “…only one desire: to dismember it. To see of what it was made, to discover the dearness, to find the beauty, the desirability that had escape me… (20)”. The baby doll is entirely representative of a state of life that Claudia does not welcome and fully resists – the prospect of motherhood. By doing this she is resisting her own place in society, where women are raised to bear children and keep house. By loathing it for its whiteness and directly relating the doll to Shirley Temple, whom Claudia loathes for being so perfect, she digs herself into a position to hate all things relating to the white upper-middle class status she cannot attain.Next, protagonist Pecola Breedlove possesses an unhealthy admiration of her misconstrued ideal of beauty, personified by blue eyes. “. . . if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different” (Morrison 46). Throughout the novel, Pecola’s loathing for her self-identified ugliness stagnates, depreciating her worth to herself and radiating out to those around her, encouraging disgust, aversion, and the slightest twinge of pity in some cases. Her visit to the small grocery where she buys penny candy, she is nearly ignored by the store’s owner, Mr. Yacobowski, who “senses that he need not waste the effort of a glance (48).” Pecola, upon entering the store, closed in on herself, pointing to her selections in the display, opening her hand to present her money, and shaking her head to communicate wordlessly because she senses his detachment. She assumes that it is based entirely on her blackness, which she is sure constructs her ugliness, and therefore acts in as unobtrusively as she can think. She doesn’t speak and wishes to make herself small and scarce as she receives her Mary Janes. The pale yellow paper that highlights the blonde hair of the idyllic little white girl featured on the package, and her little blue painted eyes are what appeal to Pecola because “To eat the candy is somehow to eat the eyes, eat Mary Jane. Love Mary Jane. Be Mary Jane (50).” Playing into the idolatry of middle-upper-class white society that Pecola, with her abusive and loveless family, is in perpetual envy of, are her visits to the whores who live overhead of her family’s storefront. The whores, whom she admires for their kindliness toward her in gifts and gentle companionship, are on a level of contemptibility comparable to Pecola’s, although she does not realize it. The “ruined” woman she refers to as Miss Marie, all others hold in contempt as the “Maginot Line”. She finds her companionable and loving where others, such as Frieda and Claudia, see her as abhorrent. Ruined and ugly, the symmetry between the whore and the loveless little girl is clear. This relationship with the whore might even give Pecola a sense of fearlessness against her own sex, given that the whores maintain a sense of freedom that the structured women who cook and clean and raise babies do not. And in effect, the paternal rape she endures could be a punishment for that fearlessness – the consequences of thoughtless actions by a female in a dominant male society.Going along with class and gender oppressions of the time, Pauline – the young Mrs. Breedlove – stayed home to cook and clean her family’s house while her father worked a blue collar job and her mother worked tending the house of a white preacher during the day. After meeting Cholly, who sweeps the gimpy girl off her feet, she marries young, which is a common practice for the time period. Only knowing how to do women’s work, she is entirely dependent upon her husband to provide for her. Young, naïve, and in love, she has no notion of the dangers that lay in wait for their relationship. Social caste, including a lack of education, set Pauline apart from the other women after she and Cholly move to Lorain and she, still just a girl, is brought the insight of the restrictions of her race, her gender, and her place in social ranking – all of which can be identified as lowly and submissive. Like Pauline, the sugar brown Southern girls are raised to be domestic, but in contrast are refined. The sugar brown girls are raised to go to school, learn obedience and necessary practices to take care of the white man’s home as well as her own, and carry the knowledge on. Presented as perhaps the most empowered of the women in the book, the sugar brown girls are the commanders of their household who possess the control not to let herself submit fully to her husband, or indulge in loving her child. The sugar brown girls, no matter their age, are called “girl” specifically, and painted as if there is a sense of sweetness that never quite escapes them as they age. Their passive indifference to everything except for the act of building the nest – the one thing they know how to do well and without fail – is comparable to the wonder of childish disinterest in anything not pertaining exclusively to themselves, as the child’s mind is an utterly egotistical substance with a barrier impenetrable to all others.Cholly Breedlove, who suffers unusual and extreme circumstances from infancy, feels oppressed by the threat that others could have the power to control him. His issues lie in race, and illustrate a pressure upon the black male in society that he refuses to withstand. Where a responsible man would provide, endure, and maintain, Cholly takes the path of utter resistance and frees himself from the constrictions of his role in society entirely. It is after his suffering that the sensation rolls over him like a wave crashing down on soft, unsuspecting sand. Somewhere between all of his suffering, Cholly attained what he hadn’t even known he was looking for. He was abandoned on a junk heap as a defenseless baby, found his aunt’s corpse lying in bed at the tender age of fourteen, and was ordered to have sex under the flashlight beam of two white men who left him with the “ wildly irrational, completely uninformed idea, but the . . . complete (151)” fear that he had impregnated the girl which led him to chase his father only to be spurned by him upon introduction. Only after that was he able to wrap his mind around the idea of freedom. “Free to feel whatever he felt – fear, guilt, shame, love, grief, pity (159).” This freedom is what permits Cholly to behave – or misbehave – as he pleases. It liberates him to marry, to move, to love and to hate because he is suddenly entitled. But it leaves him with an anonymity toward himself. Because he is able to “drink himself into a silly helplessness (159)” he does. Because he has no boundaries, he addresses whims and not needs. He takes care of himself as a priority, even in love, which can and does- fade on the same stroke of fancy that it rode in on.Amid a society that widely accepts and nearly worships the fair Anglo model of beauty, Morrison presents to her readers a set of characters cut from a different mold. Between each of her protagonists, and even her lesser characters, the reader is shown that beauty may occur in many forms and entities, and that to strive for the epitome of modern culture’s idealization is not to fulfill every dream one holds dear and will likely. In fact, in the same way Pecola sacrifices her sanity for the bluest eye, in the end it is the achiever’s obligation to give up something previously dear to them in return for their new treasure. To achieve the goal is not necessarily to find a sense of belonging which, at the bottom of the barrel, is what matters to most at the end of the day – to fit into a niche of comfort and security with themselves.

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