The Quest For Beauty in The Bluest Eye
Any literature written in the United States or the original colonies is part of what is today considered American Literature. The variety of cultures that were welcomed into America gave way to a fantastic diversity in the types of literature it spawned. From the 1500s to today, America has delivered some of the finest writers of our time. The reason that American literature is unique is because America from it’s beginning had a special philosophy of life and freedom and reflected it in it’s writings.
The purpose of this paper is to study the quest for an ideal beauty in Toni Morrison’s famous work “The Bluest Eye”. She explores how Western standards for an ideal beauty are created and propagated among the black community. The novel not only portrays the lives of those who are dark skinned but it also shows how the standard of white beauty is imposed on black youth which drastically damage one’s self-love and esteem which in turn causes self-hatred. Morrison in this novel focuses on the damage that the black women suffer through the construction of femininity in a racial society where whiteness is used as a standard of beauty.
Toni Morrison is a well-known African-American woman writer of modern age. She is a celebrated American writer who has won several literary awards like National Book Critics Award, The Pulitzer Prize and The Nobel Prize. She has written seven novels so far and widely read by people all over the world. The works of African – American woman writers focus their attention on black audience. Under the influence of racism of European white civilization the blacks could not attain their identity or personality. She believed that for establishing their identity the African American should look into the black past and heart for a new vision and future instead of following racist European symbols and culture. A black artist does not live in solitude. The best art is political , it must effect change and improvement. It should be responsible to society and enlighten people. In her novel she writes in style asking the reader to participate in her story and ideas. She narrows down her audience to women. In her first three novels “the Bluest Eye” , “Sula” and “Beloved”, Pecola , Clandia and Frieda , are all black women and occupies central position in the story. She also believes that women have special knowledge about certain things which comes to them from the way the look at the world also from their feelings and imagination.
In the novel, Toni Morrison addresses a timeless problem of white racial dominance in the United States and points to the impact it has on the life of black females growing up in the 1930’s. Morrison started writing the novel in the mid of 1960s, but the idea came twenty years earlier when one of her classmates revealed a sad secret that she had been praying to God to give her blue eyes for the past two years. Morrison wrote this novel when the ‘Black is beautiful’ slogan movement was at the peak. She started to think why such movement was needed, ‘why although reviled by others, could this beauty not be taken for granted within the community? Why did it need wide public articulation?’
If an individual or group is constantly being put down, they themselves begin to believe it and consider themselves as inferior. She centers her story on an ordinary girl who is taught by her racial society that she is ugly to portray the cruel thoughts of society. For Pecola’s family, life was just one disappointment after another- Poor, black, and ugly and were left with no room for self-improvement. This ugliness that did not belong to them was always shadowing their lives; everywhere they looked the society shone back at them like a giant mirror portraying nothing but hideousness, a hideousness resulting from society’s prejudice and harsh standards against them. Morrison says that:
You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question.
The Bluest Eye provides an depiction of the ways in which internalized white beauty standards distort the lives of black girls and women. The superiority of white and their whiteness is made implicit through images like the white baby doll given to Claudia, the glorification of Shirley Temple, the consensus that light-skinned Maureen is beautiful than the other black girls, the worship of white beauty in the movies.. Adult women and the little girls hate the blackness of their own bodies. Mrs. Breedlove feels that Pecola is ugly. But Claudia remains free from this worship of whiteness, for her imagining Pecola’s unborn baby is beautiful. But once Claudia reaches adolescence, she too will learn to hate herself, as if racial self-loathing were a necessary part of maturation. Pecola suffers most from white beauty standards. She believes that if she possesses blue eyes, the unkindness in her life will be replaced by affection and respect. This hopeless desire leads ultimately to madness and barren life.
The novel explores the disastrous consequence of western notion of physical beauty on a young poor impressionable black girl Pecola. The idea is essentially racist it is dangerous because it equates white skin with personal worth and implies that those who do not have these features are not beautiful are thus inferior. Toni Morrison goes to extent that equating of physical beauty with virtue is one of the dumbest and destructive idea of western world and physical beauty has nothing to do with our past, present and future. It can damage one’s self image , destroy happiness and kills one’s creativity. This idea is worked out in terms of its devastating effect on a poor, luckless, loveless , black family called Breedloves. It focus on how whites and blacks in different ways help to push Pecola over brink of sanity. It indicts whole culture that has popularized these oppressive white standards through every available medium- from Hollywood movies to elementary school primers , drinking cups .
Inevitably color consciousness is a constant presence in text and together with economic status has a determining influence on how the characters view themselves and relate to others. There is a caste system within black themselves depending on lightness of their skin and economic means.
Pecola’s tragedy begins much before we find her praying for blue eyes- which are for her a symbol of white beauty. She accepts the conventional standards that she has absorbed uncritically from consumer society that surrounds her. But a more direct source of her obsession with blue eyes is her mother Pauline who in her younger days had given herself up to dreams fed by movies.
She was never able after her education in the movies, to look at a face and not assign it some category in scale of her beauty and the scale was one she absorbed in full from silver screen.
Pecola when born was a right smart baby with eyes all soft and wet and her head full of pretty hair but in her scale of absolute beauty she was ugly. Pauline transmits both self contem0pt and obsession with physical beauty to her daughter. Later she achieve acceptance and respectability in the only way possible for a black women of her class by being an ideal servant in a rich household. The groundwork of her tragedy is laid. Her journey brings in contact with different characters whose attitude towards her shows them up. Her fragmented narrative gives us an opportunity to study these attitudes by giving us close-ups of their meetings with Pecola.
The episode of Pecola’s visit to Mr. Yacobowski’s grocery store for Mary Jane candies illustrates the dynamics of color prejudice in the novel. For him, Pecola is metaphorically as well as literally beneath his notice. Because he sees blacks in mass , he does not see individual beneath the skin color. Maureen Peal , high yellow dream child is tolerant of her. But once her superiority is challenged she proves to be no less hostile and insulting to her than black boys who have been tormenting her. And after she has fallen out with Claudia and Frieda she runs away screaming:’I am cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly, black e mos. I am cute.’ The violence of blacks against blacks is evident. Geraldine’s hostility towards Pecola is even more pronounced when there is someone like Pecola to remind her of her blackness. Her sadistic son Junior had invited her to play in their house and later tormented by throwing his cat at her. She outbursts: ‘you nastily little black bitch: Get out of my house.
Even more tragic is Pecola’s humiliation at hands of her own mother in fisher kitchen. The kitchen is space that Pauline has made for herself in white household and represents her complete subservience to white masters. Pecola’s leg gets burnt by hot liquid but Pauline adds insult to injury by beating her and turning her out of her kitchen. Ironically this expulsion takes place in presence of fisher doll child who represents what Pecola has dreamt of becoming. Moreover, mother’s silence about Pecola ‘s identity amounts to a virtual disowning of her own daughter.
The biggest irony is that her own father and mother themselves the victim of racial society completes the process of her humiliation. The mother accomplish this by withholding her love while the father’s love ‘horrific love’ as it has been called , proves even more disastrous and all but pushes her over into inanity.’ Having being failed by most people around her including her own parents for her ugliness, Pecola is more convinced than ever before of her dire need for the miraculous gift of blue eyes , a gift she believes Soaphead Church can bestowed. Soaphead Church is sympathetic towards Pecola. His letter to god implies the unavailability of divine help in sorting out the color problem. In that sense, it ironically articulates the need to come to terms with it purely human terms.
The situation is not completely hopeless. The prostitutes are sympathetic to Pecola. But since the prostitutes are social pariahs their support to Pecola is not enough to sustain her ego. In time, according to adult Claudia, they all join the band that learned to worship Shirley temple. At the end Pecola is left to flounder all alone busily trying to seek assurance from an invented friend that the eyes that Soaphead Church has given her are the bluest of all.
In this novel, ugliness is attributed to poverty and blackness, as in the case of the Breedloves. The family features can be contrasted with the description of a doll to demonstrate the beauty scale. As a manifestation in Western thinking of an inner ugliness is a spiritual and moral failure and that which was ‘white’ was having connotations of benevolence and superiority. While that which was not white was debased and associated with malevolence and inferiority
They were poor and black their ugliness was unique. No one could have convinced them that they were not relentlessly and aggressively ugly.Their eyes, the small eyes set closely together under narrow foreheads. The low irregular hairlines, heavy eyebrows which nearly met. Keen but crooked nosed, with insolent nostrils.
The ‘ugly’ conviction directly affected Pecola. “Long hours she sat looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, but teachers and classmates alike”. She reduced to believe that she was ugly because her family believed that they were all ugly. There is a scene in the story where some boys, who are black, in her school are making fun of her on the playground and talking about how her father sleeps naked. This shows that not all of the racist acts in the novel are by whites. This is one of the examples in the novel that involves racism among black characters as well. However, Pecola mistakes their teasing for something personal.
“That they themselves were black, or that their own father had similarly relaxed habits was irrelevant. It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth,” the text reads, and then goes on to describe how this behavior was fueled by their “cultivated ignorance” and “self-hatred”. But Pecola believes that her own ugliness was the cause of the teasing, she suffered from self-pity. She believes that “if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different….If she looked different, beautiful, maybe Cholly, Pecola’s father, would be different, and Mrs. Breedlove, too”.
Pecola’s desire for blue eyes is imaginative and is based on one insight into her world: she believes that the cruelty she witnesses is connected to how she is seen. If she had beautiful blue eyes, people would not want to do ugly things to her. The accuracy of this insight is affirmed by her experience of being teased by the boys—when Maureen comes to her rescue, it seems that they no longer want to behave badly under Maureen’s attractive gaze. Pecola and her family are mistreated because they have black skin. By wishing for blue eyes rather than white skin, Pecola indicates that she wishes to see things differently. By blinding herself she can only then receive this wish.. Pecola is able to see herself as beautiful only at the cost to see accurately both herself and the world around her.
The Bluest Eye ends with Claudia’s indictment of the society which that ‘this soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live.’ The novel thus comes full circle to the images of infertility with which it began, and this search for a whole self is finished. It seems through the action of the novel that Pecola’s doomed quest is but a heightened version of that of her parents, of Church, and of countless others in her world. Having inherited the feeling of inferiority from her parents and community, Pecola is brought up with “a fear of growing up, fear of other people, fear of life”. Bell Hooks also addresses this destructive opinion in black people’s minds that disconnects them from the reality: “Like Pecola, black folks turn away from reality because the pain of awareness is so great”
Throughout the entire novel, the theme of whiteness as a standard of beauty is reflected. The title itself is a window into the desire Pecola has, “A little black girl yearns for blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.” Pecola simply wish for blue eyes so that she too look beautiful, but at the end of the novel she sees through her blue eyes, that her wish has also caused her mental deterioration. Ignored by her teachers, other adults, classmates and ultimately raped by her father, Pecola experiences all forms of ugliness, retreating finally into her mad yearning to be the opposite of her self – that is, a white child, like the universally beloved Shirley Temple, with the blondest hair and the bluest eyes. Pecola’s death represents what happens when a society pushes its unachievable standards onto a miserable person. Pecola’s insanity was result of her father raping her, result of meeting Soaphead Church and result of the world telling her she was invisible and ugly. Pecola is a representation of desire to be beautiful, loved and respected by all. Perhaps this novel shows a dictum which is clearly expressed by Calvin Hernton: ‘if you are white you are all right; if you are brown you can stick around; but if you are black….get back’.
Beauty in The Bluest Eye English Literature Essay
In “The Bluest Eye”, the author, Toni Morrison, presents in the book that the ideal beauty is having pure white skin and blue eyes. During the 1940s, two psychologists Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie K. Phipps Clarks created an experiment using dolls. They use four identical dolls but a different color to test Childrens’. The children are ages three to seven and were asked to see which one they like. According to the study, most of the children chose the white doll. This is known as “the doll tests”. This shows how young children prefer the white dolls than the black dolls. I’m am writing about how beauty is one of the biggest topics in the story. The standard of beauty is having light-skinned and blue eyes. The beauty of being white, having blue eyes, and able to be seen is what Pecola wants in her. In order to learn why beauty is a central theme in the book, I will use secondary sources to back up my point. I am stating how beauty in The Bluest Eye is express thoroughly in the novel.
This novel goes by the four seasons. Through the four seasons, she repeated the prologue of the family Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane. This prologue helps us analysis the ideal home, family, race and the ideal of beauty. In this prologue, it shows the lack of connections between the parents and jane which also connects to the experience Pecola had for her family. The structures that the author uses to show the difference between the life of Pecola and white people. The repetition of the words is same but loses some as it goes through each season.
Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl with dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes who grew up in 1940s who wants beauty. She wants blond hair and blue eyes and people will give her the attention she wants. Pecola grew up in a poor neighborhood where people in school would call her ugly and no one wants to play with her. “But their ugliness was unique. No one could have convinced them that they were not relentlessly and aggressively ugly.” The Breedlove family would consider themselves ugly and how the color white or being white is the ideal beauty. In the book, they describe how adults and girls would prefer blue eyes, yellow hair, and who wants to own a pink-skinned doll as a child. Shirley Temple was an American Actress who everyone admires because she has blue eyes, blonde hair and pale skin which during the 1930s and 40s was consider the ideal of beauty. Shirley Temple symbolize pure beauty and Pecola admire her and by drinking milk is showing the values of being white which foreshadow her for wanted blue eyes.
In the novel, Pecola had enter Mr. Yacobowski store. He didn’t bother to look at her. “At some fixed point in time and space he senses that he need not waste the effort of a glance. He does not see her, because for him there is nothing to see. How can a fifty-two-year-old white immigrant storekeeper with the taste of potatoes and beer in his mouth, his mind honed on the doe-eyed Virgin Mary, his sensibilities blunted by a permanent awareness of loss, see a little black girl?” He didn’t bother to look at her because she wasn’t white and doesn’t have blue eyes which catches the attention. Pecola thinks having blue eyes and being white would be the best thing ever for her. She can see the world differently and people will treat/see her differently too. “It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights-if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different.” This explains Pecola really wants blue eyes, so it changes how the society and people see/treat her.
Here comes to the foreshadow in the beginning. When Pecola loves Shirley Temple, which symbolize pure white beauty and by drinking in her cup that made her wants blue eyes. “Please. If there is somebody with bluer eyes than mine, then maybe there is somebody with the bluest eyes. The bluest eyes in the whole world”. When Pecola asked for blue eyes and she think she has it, she wants it bluer. She obsesses with the blue eyes and the damage that she has done. “A little black girl yearns for blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.” Pecola thought her eyes were blue but never did. She wanted blue eyes so badly because that’s what she thinks the standard of beauty is. Having blue eyes to be able to be seen and people would treat her differently. She never thought of what is going to happen. She been talking to an imaginary friend about her blue eyes.
In the White Beauty Standard in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Morrison explains how the standard of beauty is socially set up. She is saying how the black women challenges their daily life due to the white beauty standard. She claims how young African American had to blend in with beauty standard while growing up to be recognized. The structure of the writing is giving background information’s and an introduction to the story by giving a brief info of the character. She uses the story of Dick and Jane, and quotes in the Bluest Eye book showing how Pecola wasn’t seen because there is nothing to see. This support my thesis because it depicts the theme beauty and explaining how the standard of beauty was a huge part of the society during that time and how a young girl had to grow up facing.
The author state “Morrison portrays the psychological devastation of Pecola Breedlove who searches for love and acceptance in a world that denies and does not value people of her race. The white established European standard of beauty: white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. This Eurocentric standard of beauty which the black girl lacked was used in judging and qualifying beauty, thus causing blacks to develop disdain for their own black skin as it counters the dominant ideals”. This connects to my theme beauty because it connects to how Pecola wanted to look like an ideal beauty girl. People around her in school and community who called her ugly and won’t give her the attention which makes her think having blue eyes or being white has more priority.
Pecola thinks she has blue, but she doesn’t really know that she is still black, poor, and ugly. In the novel, she thinks she has blue eyes, but she wants it bluer. “Why, look at pretty-eyed Pecola. We must not do bad things in front of those pretty eyes”. However, regardless these stuffs, Pecola still is unaware that though her eyes were changes into blue she would still be regarded as a black, poor, and ugly. Nothing would change, obviously. “No one else will see her blue eyes. But she will. And she will live happily ever after”. It means that she still considered as ugly and black, the blue eyes she already has do not change her identity that she is black and ugly”. Pecola wanted blue eyes since the day she got call ugly and how she admires Shirley Temple. As long she gets her blue eye, she thinks the world is different, but she won’t realize she is still the same.
Another article called Out of Sight: Toni Morrison’s Revision of Beauty is about how Morrison analyzed the American culture and the nonacceptance of the ideal of white beauty in female in the novel. The author in this article is stating the standard of beauty. And how Pecola in the novel, is being compare to others why white standards. She gives examples from the novel. One example from the novel is when Pecola enter Mr. Yacobowski store. Because she is not the ideal of the white standard, she is not seen by the owner. Another example from this author is the “ugliness” that Pecola think she have to go through her rest of her life. The author said, “she hides her self behind the ugliness the mainstream culture won’t look at.”. Pecola is hiding from the society because of her color and where people absent her. The author gave background information from the Song of Soloman and What the Black Woman Thinks About Women’s Lib” And Discusses how Morrison explain the image of the black female beauty. This supports my thesis because not only explain the beauty in the novel but the image of being black facing the society of the white beauty.
Pecola is a young black girl who does not fit in to the white culture. She doesn’t have blond hair or eye blues. Because of this, she is absent for her existence. This article gave examples that connected to my theme and my examples. For example, “Pecola and the Breedlove internalize their absence and their invisibility. They “w[ea]r their ugliness,” because all the visual representations around them reject them as ugly”. Pecola think she is not beautiful and accept what people say about her, she absence herself to the society. She cares about what people judge her and the standard of beauty forces her to have lack of confidence in herself. The only way for Pecola to fit in was having blue eyes.
Another article is They Treated Me Like A Geography Lesson:” Beauty Culture and Ethnicity in Toni Morrison’s ‘The Bluest Eye’ and Julia Alvarez’s ‘How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents’ is about not just the idea of beauty but the standards that woman wants to achieve. In this article the author uses the book The Bluest Eye and The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf. The author gave examples stating how beauty is determined by people and how it affects all women of any age or color. Wolf describes the different side of beauty. They gave an example from the novel The Bluest Eye, that people called the Breedlove family: Pecola, ugly, and that’s when Pecola took it from there. Just one word she held it forever. Since then, she prayed for blue eyes and wanted to be beautiful. This related to my thesis because all women want beauty that everyone will agree and be recognized. And Pecola is a great example since she is black, and she wanted blue eye so she can look like others and see the world differently.
An example in this article is “Using this standard, society punishes people for innate traits over which they have absolutely no control. Only the beautiful faces, those leaning from the billboards, movies, and glances, are worthy of notice”. This example connects to my theme and explanation because the society does affect what people see in them. Pecola classmates call her ugly and she wishes for blue eyes every day. In this article, it said society changes the people perspective and they can’t even control it. Also, people who are famous and are pretty are recognized. This connects to Shirley Temple in the novel. Shirley was an American actress and known for standard of white beauty because she has blond hair, white and pretty. Pecola relies on other peoples’ opinion, white culture, than having confidence in herself.
In the novels and articles, the author uses different perspective to explain “Beauty”. In the novel by Toni Morrison, she explains how beauty had affected Pecola through four seasons and how she wishes every day for blue eyes after she wasn’t accepted by other people. She then admires Shirley Temple and trying to be like her where she be recognized. In the article written by Cardona, she explains the white culture and how the society changes someone’s thoughts. She also uses information’s from other resources to connect to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. For example, “Beauty is a currency system like the gold standard. Like any economy, it is determined by politics, and in the modern age in the West it is the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact”. In this case, beauty is being judge by other people. It is being judge from yourself to public. It will affect all women and no matter what age or race; all women want to be pretty. Another example from Walther, “Out of Sight: Toni Morrison’s Revision of beauty” states not only beauty but also connects to sexual desire. “Women look at other women to determine social status and to make comparisons to themselves, which is an objectifying act; men look at women as sexual objects”. Not only beauty, but women also cares about social status. Beauty to them is white, blond hair and blue eyes and the higher your social status the better it is. Also, in Islam article “White Beauty Standard in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye” talks about status and beauty. “These studies have demonstrated that attractive people are more successful both socially and economically”. This remind us of Shirley Temple from the novel. She is a success American actress who represents the ideal of beauty. Clearly, the articles give us some background information’s and provides connection to the theme beauty in the novel. The differences are the articles had other resources and themes that connected to Pecola and the theme beauty.
In conclusion, the standard of beauty is connected to social classes and gender. In the novel, clearly states how beauty changes one young girls mind in wishing to have blue eyes but nothing will change for her. The ideal beauty is what every woman wants in the 30s to 70s. Being white and having blue eyes, blond hair and the nice appearance will sure give them attention. As I said in the introduction, young children prefer the white doll than the others. Just like Pecola, she is black and she wants to be white. The articles also explain the connection between the novel and other resources. Explains beauty, race, status, and gender. All these effected how women see and judge themselves. Pecola is a great example in the novel showing how beauty had affected her in her young life and she still thinks having blue eyes will change everything. The novel and articles give us a whole concept of beauty. Even though beauty in the 30s-70s, beauty standards still exist now. People still care about how they look and dress every day and afraid of what people will say to them. Not only Pecola, but we probably in the same situation as her too.
Comparison Of Main Themes in Everything Is Illuminated And The Bluest Eyes
Everything is Illuminated vs The Bluest Eyes
The novels, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer and The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison, both focus way that the past effects people in the present or future plays a significant role. In Everything is Illuminated we see how his upbringing and the anti-semantic culture in Ukraine has affected the life of Alex. In The Bluest Eyes we see how childhood trauma and bullying affect the main character, Pecola. Similarly, in both books we see how family relations can negatively impact children as they grow up.
Well recognized psychologist, Sigmund Freud, first introduced the idea of The Unconscious, the Desires, and the Defenses. This theory loosely suggests that humans tend to repress painful memories in our subconscious and because of that these repressed memories in turn into either desires or defenses. We are first introduced to Alex, in Everything is Illuminated, as a seemingly rich, popular, and vibrant young man, however in reality he lives a quiet, suppressed, and somewhat abused home life. He describes how his father yells at him and has a very hard hit and how his Grandfather sometimes berates him. Dealing with this from a very young age has causes Alex to desire a life away from his family and his “destined” path in the family business and his defense against his harsh home life is creating a whole new pers ona within himself. Pecola Breedlove, from The Bluest Eye, is the victim of bullying, hate, and abuse from the moment she is born. She is “ugly and black”, made fun of from the kids at school, talked about by the adults in the town, and hated by even her own parents. She desires to have blue eyes because she believes that with blue eyes, she will gain a new outlook on life. Her defense against all the negativity in her life is dreaming about her blue eyes and eventually convincing herself that she has blue eyes. These blue eyes give her a delusional sense of happiness which leads to everyone seeing her as mad.
In The Bluest Eye, the Breedlove family is full of misfortune, darkness, and tragedy. Cholly Breedlove is a devout alcoholic man, with a tragic past, who cannot support his family, but instead abuses them. Pauline a.k.a Polly Breedlove is Cholly’s wife who was once beautiful before she lost her front tooth and reverted to working as a house main. Sammy Breedlove, their oldest child has a habit of running away from home to escape from the depressing reality of his home life. Finally, Pecola Breedlove is the youngest in the family who passively endures the abuse and neglect from her family. In their small hometown, there was an air of sadness and shame that followed whenever someone brought up the Breedloves. “You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question.” (Morrison) Nobody loved the Breedloves, including themselves, and this was most detrimental to Pecola.
At the tender age of twelve Pecola has gone through so much sadness and shame that no child at her age should suffer from. From the second she was born as a Breedlove she was doomed. She was ugly, dark, poor, abused, and impregnated and still no one wanted to help her. As, Morrison shows throughout the story, all of these things had a visibly negative effect on Pecola. Being a young child, still innocent in thought Pecola desperately wanted to have blue eyes. To her, having blue eyes would change her whole life for the better. “It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights—if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different.” (Morrison) Tragically, however, Pecola’s fight for blue eyes mixed with her doomed reality, Pecola went mad.
In Everything is Illuminated, the first character we are introduced to is Alex. From the readers first impression of Alex, he is a handsome, intelligent, and rich young man who is often sought out by women. “If you want to know why so many girls want to be with me, it is because I am a very premium person to be with. I am homely, and also severely funny, and these are winning things.” (Safran Foer, 2) However, it does not take long for the readers to see that the depiction that Alex is sharing of himself, is a mere facade. The perfect, happy Alex is shown to be fictional as we meet Alex’s family and see the relationships they share. Alex lives with his father, mother, little brother, and grandfather. The most notable relationship is that of Alex and his father. From the very beginning Alex shares that he and his father do not get along and that his father uses his fists to discipline him. “When I look in the reflection, what I view is not Father, but the negative of Father.” (Safran Foer, 54). Alex wishes to be the opposite of his father, he wishes to leave the Ukraine and go to Russia and he wishes to be a better man than his father. However, his father does not care what he wants and often shuts down Alex’s dreams and desires.
Throughout the novel, we get to see Alex from a more vulnerable side and it is clear that he is struggling with finding himself. He has been hidden under the strong arm of his father for so long that when he gets the chance to be special, he lies about himself to others whenever he gets the chance. “This is a thing I have never informed anyone, and you must promise that you will not inform it to one soul. I have never been carnal with a girl. I know. I know. You cannot believe it, but all of the stories that I told you about my girls who dub me All Night, Baby, and Currency were all not-truths, and they were not befitting not-truths. I think I manufacture these not-truths because it makes me feel like a premium person. Father asks me very often about girls, and which girls I am being carnal with, and in what arrangements we are carnal. He likes to laugh with me about it, especially late at night when he is full of vodka. I know that it would disappoint him very much if he knew what I am really like.” (Safran Foer, 114). Eventually, Alex admits to Jonathan that the reason he lies about himself is because he is afraid of disappointing his father and others around him. From a psychology point of view, Alex uses these lies as a way of escaping reality and because he seeks validation from others, which is a result of his unhealthy relationship with his father.
“I knew that some victims of powerful self-loathing turn out to be dangerous, violent, reproducing the enemy who has humiliated them over and over. Others surrender their identity; melt into a structure that delivers the strong persona they lack. Most others, however, grow beyond it. But there are some who collapse, silently, anonymously, with no voice to express or acknowledge it. They are invisible. The death of self-esteem can occur quickly, easily in children, before their ego has “legs,” so to speak. Couple the vulnerability of youth with indifferent parents, dismissive adults, and a world, which, in its language, laws, and images, re-enforces despair, and the journey to destruction is sealed.” (Morrison) This quote from the General Introduction of The Bluest Eye, best encompasses both Pecola and Alex. Pecola allows herself to become passive and invisible, eventually succumbing to the negativity in her life. However, Alex tries to surrender his identity, he attempts to make a whole new version of the man he wishes he could be. Unlike Pecola, Alex has people in his life that love and care about him and because of this he is able to prevail and overcome his self-loathing.
External Pressure On Women in The Bluest Eye Novel
The Black Woman’s Burden
In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Morrison explores the duality between the external pressures of the white community on black communities as well as the internal segregation within the black community itself. Through the eyes of 9-year-old Claudia MacTeer, the book follows Pecola Breedlove and the Breedlove family. Throughout the book, Morrison focuses her work on a group previously voiceless and overlooked: African American women. Specifically, in the chapter titled “Spring”, Morrison analyzes the daily struggles and deleterious environment of these women. She delves into the role of white men and women as well as the role of black men on these black women. Ultimately, Morrison uses metaphors and irony to express African American women’s responses to societal oppression in the 1940s.
Morrison uses body part metaphors to demonstrate the unrecognized burdensome responsibility of black women. Morrison writes, “They patted biscuits into flaky ovals of innocence – and shrouded the dead,” (Morrison, 138). On one hand, these women have to shroud the dead; on the other hand, these women are able to enjoy some level of comfort in their hobbies. This juxtaposition represents the enormous responsibility of African American women in and out of the household but more importantly the societal need for these women to take up this work. Morrison describes the flaky biscuits of innocence to symbolize the unpredictability of their discomfort and volatile nature of the men around them. In addition, Morrison uses a hyphen to link the biscuits to the burial of the dead because the breaking of innocence itself directly leads to the conflict and death of people in these communities. These extreme circumstances with death directly lead to the deterioration of their mental state. Directly after the previously quotation, she describes the outcome of these conditions. Morrison says, “And the lives of these old black women were synthesized in their eyes – a purée of tragedy and humor, wickedness and serenity, truth and fantasy,” (139). The amount of pressure explained in the first quotation directly culminates in the contrast expressed in the second quotation. Morrison uses the metaphor of the eye to communicate the lives of these women in order to illustrate the comparison between the joys and burdens of life. Furthermore, the use of the word “purée” parallels the cooking imagery if the first quotation. Morrison hopes to invoke the sense of responsibility African American women held in the household and their contributions to the community around them.
Morrison uses irony to display the anguish of African American women in the 1940s. Morrison contrasts the power dynamics within these white households as the black female servants try to maintain a sense of self-respect. Morrison writes, “The only people they need not take orders from were black child and each other. But they took all of that and re-created it in their own image. They ran the houses of white people, and knew it,” (138). Morrison reveals that black women needed to take orders from everyone, even Caucasian children, because of the stark racial hierarchy in the 1940s. These African American women physically run through the houses and do all the labor work for the white families. This act mirrors house slaves before abolition of slavery in the US as house slaves also had to take care of the houses and children of white families. However, the women feel in control of their lives when they are in control of the materials of white people. Emboldened by their dominion over these houses, these black women feel a sense of dominance and self-respect. Although the women are subjugated, the ownership of the household empowers them. Despite this ephemeral delight, this liberation quickly subsides as the women are unable to maintain their freedom. Morrison describes, “They were old enough to be irritable when and where they chose, tired enough to look forward to death, disinterested enough to accept the idea of pain while ignoring the presence of pain,” (139).” Morrison writes this quotation at the end of the paragraph to parallel the end of the lives of these women. More importantly, Morrison invokes the idea of choice for these black women. While unable to control the other white men and women or the African American men, they have learned to control their own emotions and accept their state of being. The women “look forward to death” because they have been fighting against the oppressing forces their entire lives with little success. At the end of these women’s lives, they not only lose a sense of innocence and well-being, but also distance themselves from the ideals of humanity itself: love and hope. After decades of societal repression these women are forced to recognize the painful truth of subordination in the eyes of the men and women around them.
This passage itself represents the transition of the mental state of these African American women. Throughout the entire passage, Morrison explains how these women try to balance their sorrows with their moments of happiness and even try to demonstrate their authority. However, she ends with the previous quotation to point out that many African American women had learned to endure this type of injustice; Morrison not only criticizes this type of mistreatment but also hopes to improve on the issues facing African American women by giving them a voice in literature.
Dualistic Relationship Between Concept of Jealousy and Envy in The Bluest Eyes
In The Bluest Eye, the author Toni Morrison illustrates the difference between jealousy and envy. Morrison thinks jealousy is a feeling of hatred of another. Jealousy is felt when you feel hatred towards someone else because they have something you want and do not have. The feeling makes one either desire it, or wish that the one obtaining it, lacks it.On the other hand, Morrison thinks envy is a feeling of self hatred because of something you do not have. In my life, I often feel jealously but rarely feel the self hatred that Morrison defines as envy.
To Maureen, jealousy is a desire to have something another has, while envy is what her jealousy escalated to when she couldn’t stand it anymore. Jealousy is the first level of envy. One can be upset when someone possesses something that individual does not have. The individual is frustrated with the possessor. Maureen thinks jealousy is “natural- a desire to have what someone else had” (Morrison, 74). Maureen felt that this was a healthy and normal feeling. When Maureen felt envious, she had “such intense hatred” for herself and was afraid of the new feelings(Morrison, 74).The feeling of envy is often felt when one is no longer upset with another’s possessions but upset with themselves.Maureen has envious feelings and is scared of the feeling because it is new and she has not felt it before.
My experience with jealousy is similar to Maureen’s. I have been very jealous of my classmates’ possessions. As new technologies are created and new devices are created, people want the best and purchase it. I have been jealous of peers of mine that purchase new equipment that can do more than mine can. After having these feelings, my natural instinct is to try and get it too. In reality, I cannot get every piece of equipment each of my friends has, so I need to cope with the fact that some people have more or better possessions than I do. I have not had a negative feeling towards them because of their possessions. At Francis Parker, more than one person normally has the popular possession. I am not jealous of the person, but rather, the object they possess. Since so many people have these things, it is irrational to get upset with everyone for having them.
Envy is a feeling that is more serious and can be dangerous. It is normal for me to occasionally feel jealous, although envy normally leads to depression. The closest I have felt to envy is when I was younger and learning to read. In lower school, I was a much slower reader than my peers. To help me keep up, I worked with tutors and therapists every week. Most of my friends at school were progressing without the extra help while I was struggling. I felt like I was spending a lot more time practicing but my reading speed and comprehension was worse. I was not upset with my peers because they were doing what the teacher wanted and were all progressing. I felt upset with myself because I spent a lot more time practicing and didn’t see the same results. I don’t think I was fully envious because I don’t feel self hatred but I am unhappy with my reading level.
In the book, Maureen is jealous of the beauty the other girls have. She will do anything for these qualities. Then, her jealousy turns into envy when she realizes that she cannot have their qualities and must live with what she has. The envy I feel is not as intense, but I still am jealous of others’ possessions, although I am jealous of the possession and not the person. I am not envious of others reading abilities anymore because I don’t hate myself for it, despite not reading as well as most of my peers.
The issue of accepting ones inner beauty in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Pecola was an eleven year old black girl who feels as if being white is the true meaning of beauty to society and to herself. The Title of this novel is ‘The Bluest Eye’ written by Toni Morrison in the African American Literature. The novel’s focus, however, was on a young girl named Pecola Breedlove. And Pecola, as we are told in Chapter 11, will be raped by her father around the novel’s end.
The beginning states the story so that the reader can know about Pecola’s story ending tragic. The Breedloves were unhappy, and poor. Their story had seemed in many ways to be settled, as they were often the victims of events of which they have no control over. Their situation was a huge contrast to the MacTeers, who were of the slender means but had a really strong family force, The MacTeers were never really passive victims as in the way that the Breedloves were in this novel.
The use of descriptive imagery in this story is used in a way such as Pecola describing on how both the media and the public were looking up to women with “Blue eyes, Yellow hair and White skin” for being the most beautiful and that being the only way that beauty was to be seen as. Other than Women of color being used to promote beauty in the media like a white woman/girl could have been at the time, Shirley Temple was an example of the way that beauty was being represented through her time and it made Pecola feel as if she was not seen as beautiful.
Pecola Breedlove in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye was not at all any different from other little girls. She wanted to be beautiful, And though America had already set the standards for being beautiful a woman that must have ” blue eyes, blonde hair, and white skin” lead Pecola to nothing but insanity because just when society couldn’t accept an ugly little black girl neither could both she and those around her do so. Pecola wasn’t like the other children, she did not involve herself in any of the teasing, She was so used to all of the criticism she got because she is not only black but “ugly” too. And on Second thought, there was also Maureen Peal. Who also is not white but light- skinned which lead to her being accepted by everyone like the black boys wouldn’t trip her, the white girls didn’t suck their teeth at her as they did to Pecola, the white boys would stone her,and the black girls would step aside for her whenever she wanted to use the sink.
None of the treatment that Maureen had gotten from people was ever given to Pecola and this is part of what Pecola was explaining because of Maureen have lighter skin, she was seen as beautiful, she was given what Pecola wished she could have ever had and happiness…Happiness, Is what she wanted that so is the reason why She believed that being white could have given her, the Privilege of her having the slightest of Possibility to not having to go through what she has. She seen them smiling and she wanted that, Pecola wanted the beauty and the happiness. The Physical appearance of one lead to an alter in another’s psychological condition. “It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes…were different,that it is to say,beautiful,she herself would be different.” Voiced by Claudia MacTeer and she was showing how Pecola felt strongly towards the fact that she was physically seen was “ugly” and she didn’t accept her for any of it whether she or others criticized her over how she was and This connects really strongly towards my thesis on how Pecola felt as if she were only seen as an “ugly” little black girl to the society around her who believed being white was the only beauty.
American culture had promoted the idea of whiteness that should be desired, and Pecola is along with society that being white was having beauty, she quoted that “Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers window signs—all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every child treasured.” This supports the claim being Beautiful, Happy and Accepted in society was about being white. To be happy was to know happy, Pecola did not know how to be happy, she didn’t know to accept that to be black is to be “ugly” in the society, and as Maureen pointed out to Pecola for being like a character who “hates her mother because she is black and ugly” and Maureen had been different because she has accepted the American Standards and Pecola didn’t not know how to accept it because all she has ever known about beauty was for being white and having blue eyes was always the right thing in American culture.
A person cannot be happy without knowing happiness, Pecola could have never been happy because she has never known happiness, From the beginning when her own mother wouldn’t see her as anything but “ugly” the person who is supposed to love her regardless the appearance she had, Pecola wanted to be happy, she wanted to be like the blue eyed white girls, the society that made blue eyed white girls the meaning of beauty was not able to become something that Pecola could have done, and without Accepting Ones Inner Beauty was to face the American Standards in her Society.
An Analysis of Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison as Examples of Intersectionality
“Intersectionality” is term coined by the academic scholar Kimberle Crenshaw to recognize the dimensions of identity when classifying an individual by gender, race, class, or sexuality. Each group holds a space of distinctive experiences that allows them to identify with unique struggles. Two written works that are examples of intersectionality are Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Both works give unique experiences that intersect the identities of race, gender, and sexuality through the journey of Black females in America.
Identifying the unique experiences of the main characters in both works presents a common theme about the effect of discovering identity within the aspect of intersecting categories while living in an ultimately racist and sexist environment. Understanding women and their identity is significant in order to recognize the unique experiences that occur because of intersectionality. This paper will explore the Black female experience in America by identifying intersectionality of the significant characters in the works of Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison, and determining how having multiple identities effects their everyday lives. It will also support the claim that individuals with intersecting identities experience unique and different struggles.
The first written work being analyzed through intersectionality is the novel Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, a biomythtography, or a form of biographical storytelling with the unification of fact and fiction. In the novel, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, the author Audre Lorde uses this opportunity to take a reflective account of journey growing up as a Black, lesbian, woman in 1960’s America, a time of Jim Crow, sexism, and homophobia. A critical perspective of Zami: A New Spelling of My Name demonstrates a journey of a young woman navigating her way through issues such as identifying her sexuality, and confronting racial oppression and poverty. Through the figurative journey of Lorde’s search for herself, her multiple oppressed identities are not separated. All in all, she is impacted the effect of discovering her identity within the aspects of the intersecting categories of race, gender, and sexuality.
In Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Lorde faces the racially oppressed system otherwise known as the Jim Crow era. At a young age, she finds a hard time comprehending the “rules of racism” as her mother was a light skinned woman who could pass as white, while her father was undeniably Black. She took her trait from her father and experienced racism first hand while growing up in New York. Lorde shows the readers how she experienced racism even as a young age. “She had divided the class into two groups, the Fairies and the Brownies. In this day of heightened sensitivity to racism and color usage, I don’t have to tell you which we the good students and which were the baddies…” (Lorde 36). This quote is an example of the environment of Lorde’s childhood. Essentially, during this time period, light was seen as good while dark was seen as bad. This is also a point in the beginning of the novel and her life in which she is confronted with racism. As Lorde grows up she begins to identify the racism that affects her life. She realizes the racial oppression of society. “But in high school… my teachers were racists; and my friends were that color I was never supposed to trust.” (Lorde 81). By the time she is in high school, she experienced racism through her teachers and peers, and recognizes what her own struggle will be as an African American.
In part, the reason for Lorde’s struggle in comprehending the “rules of racism” while growing up is because her mother often tried to keep her ignorant to the oppression of racism. The impact of Lorde’s relationship with her mother, in result, closed her off to the struggles she may later on face as an African American. “They [Lorde’s parents]… believed that they could best protect their children from the realities of race in America and the fact of American racism by never giving them name, much less discussing their nature.” (Lorde 85). Lorde had to discover through her own experiences with racism the effect and oppressive nature of racial discrimination. These examples of racism in the novel helps the reader identify racism as a factor of the unique experience of the author. Racism effected the way she grew up and how she reacted to her environment. After realizing that the effects of racism are more complex for her and other African-Americans than society makes it out to be, it begins to influence her views on what makes her journey different from the other women she meets. Altogether, racism even affects how she lives and encounters her environment and surroundings. Lorde’s experiences with racism from the ignorant eye of those expressing racist ideology against her shows that society overlooked the plight of racism and discrimination on African-Americans.
Understanding the plight of racism on African-Americans can guide the identification of the unique experiences that people face while living in America. In “Invisibility Syndrome: A Clinical Model of the Effects of Racism on African-American Males” the author states that, “…adaptive behavior and psychological well-being of African-Americans can be affected by personal experiences of perceived prejudice and discrimination. Encountering repeated racial slights can create within the individual a feeling of not being seen as a person of worth. This subjective sense of psychological invisibility takes the form of a struggle with inner feelings and beliefs that personal talents, abilities, and character are not acknowledged or valued by others, nor by the larger society, because of racial prejudice.” (Franklin 33). From this information, the racist culture in America ultimately effects African-Americans psychologically and socially. This disparity is unique to the identity of being African American. The result of years of racial discrimination and prejudice makes the recognition of racism significant to identity of being Black in America.
Using the same context, Lorde experiences gender oppression or sexism, at a young age. The gender oppression that Lorde faces growing up is another unique quality that society overlooked. Lorde, a feminism advocate and activist, was also involved in the Civil Rights movement, which accomplished many goals for the African-American community during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, being published in 1982, is criticizing the lack of women recognition in regards to the Civil Rights movement. In “Invisible Southern Black Women Leaders in the Civil Rights Movement: The Triple Constraints of Gender, Race, and Class”, Barnett states that “…women (such as Septima Poinsette Clark, McCree Harris, Shirley Sherrod, Diane Nash, Johnnie Carr, Thelma Glass, Georgia Gilmore, and JoAnn Robinson) remain a category of invisible, unsung heroes and leaders. Utilizing archival data and a subsample of personal interviews conducted with civil rights leaders, this article… offers explanations for the lack of recognition and non-inclusion of Black women in the recognized leadership cadre of the civil rights movement… most illustrative of how the interlocking systems of gender, race, and class structure Black women’s movement leadership and participation.” (Barnett 162). The media often portrayed men at the forefront of the movement and didn’t recognize the contributions of women. However, women were in as many positions of leadership as men. Lorde’s identity as a woman gives her a unique position within the movement that isn’t recognized by society because the movement took place during a time period when men still appeared to dominate in every aspect. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name is an example on why identifying the different identities of a person’s struggle impacts the understanding of the unique challenges they face. Lorde’s criticism of the Civil Rights movement questions the rights given to African-Americans because of the movement’s lack of recognition of women within the movement and misunderstanding of the plight and struggles of the Black woman. In the novel, Lorde states “The first rude awakening came when she announced that the boy chosen would be president, but the girl would only be vice president. Why not the other way around?” (Lorde 77). Lorde was confronted by sexism when she was denied the right to be class president because she was a girl. She questions this action for the moment but accepts it as the way things are. This is an example of the way male-dominated patriarchal views shaped this country in aspects of everyday life.
Lorde also interlocks the struggle of racism to relate to the feminist movement, which was dedicated to exposing the inequality between men and women as a result of living in a patriarchal society. By the time Zami: A New Spelling of My Name was published, it was well after the height of the feminist movement. As stated in “Theorizing Difference from Multiracial Feminism”, “Since the late 1960s, U.S. women of color have taken issue with unitary theories of gender…the wide spread concern about the exclusion of women of color from feminist scholarship and the misinterpretation of our experiences… Speaking simultaneously from “within and against” both women’s liberation and aintracist movements… as women whose lives are affected by our location in multiple hierarchies.” (Zinn 321). Lorde was using the impact of racism on her experience to criticize a flaw in the feminist movement that didn’t identify with African-American women or other women of color.
In another light, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name portrays sexism through sexual assault. Lorde, at a young age, is raped by a boy. “…because a boy from school much bigger than me had invited me up to the roof on my way home from library and then threatened to break my glasses if I didn’t let him stick his “thing” between my legs” (Lorde 92). She also befriends a girl named Gennie, who is discovered by Lorde to have been molested by her father. These reoccurrences of sexual assault toward women by men in the novel are acts of violence by way of sexism that Lorde faces throughout her journey. In Kimberle Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color” she states that, “…battering and rape, once seen as private and aberrational (errant sexual aggression), are now largely recognized as part of a broad-scale system of domination that affects women as a class.” (Crenshaw 1241). Recognizing that women as a class face sexual assault as part of a larger system of domination, shows that this form of sexism they face is unique to their experience. Lorde expresses how her identity as a woman makes her journey unique. She used examples of sexism and gender oppression that she experienced while growing up to let her audience know that identifying as a woman makes your experiences different from that of a man; and your experience is even more unique if you are a woman of color.
Through Lorde’s journey she is also confronted with the issue of understanding her own sexuality as lesbian. This is the final piece in understanding Lorde’s identity in society. Lorde is trying to criticize society’s lack of recognition of those in the LGBTQ community. People in the LGBTQ community have a unique identity and face oppression in America, but this identity is often unacknowledged as it is a topic of taboo for the conservative thought and mindset of society. An excerpt from Michele J. Eliason’s “Identity Formation for Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay Persons: Beyond a ‘Minoritizing’ View” states that, “The very concept of homosexuality is a social one, and one cannot understand the homosexual experience without recognizing the extent to which we have developed a certain identity and behavior derived from social norms.” (Eliason 36). Lorde, in her novel, explains how discovering and developing her sexuality as a part of her identity made her struggles and experiences growing up different from those of a straight, African-American woman.
In the prologue of the novel, Lorde states “I have always wanted to be both man and woman, to incorporate the strongest and richest parts of my mother and father within/into me… I would like to enter a woman the way any man can, and to be entered…” (Lorde 15). This prologue gives the reader insight on the sexuality that Lorde identifies herself with. In the duration of Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Lorde shares her experiences on discovering this identity. The beginning of Lorde’s desire for female companionship was when she met a little white girl while waiting on the steps for her mother to get dressed. She and the girl arrange to play and Lorde began to undress her out of curiosity. Her curiosity fills her with excitement but her mother interferes without discovering her true intentions. Another instance when Lorde is trying to come to terms with her sexuality is when she gets her first boyfriend and doesn’t enjoy the sex. Though her friends try to convince her that she’ll “get used to it”, she never does. Lorde, later in her journey, drops out of college and essentially begins to label herself as a lesbian. “That summer I decided that I was definitely going to have an affair with a woman…” (Lorde 140). She then shares her experiences with women as sexual partners and companions.
Even during 1982, LGBTQ identity was a taboo topic to discuss. However, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name criticizes society’s lack of recognition of the struggle of those who identify as LGBTQ. Lorde’s experiences in discovering her sexuality, identifying it as a part of her identity, and living in an environment of homophobia, that refuses to acknowledge this part of her identity, has impacted her life as an African American woman. Understanding that this is a unique experience to her journey will help to expose the homophobia and unwavering opinion of society in regards to what is believed to be morally correct.
These examples of race, gender, and sexuality present themselves within the novel Zami: A New Spelling of My Name to identify with struggles of the narrator, Audre Lorde. Although these examples are presented in categories, her oppressed identities of being a Black lesbian woman are all synonymous. Recognizing her multiple oppressed identities helps to better understand her challenges growing up and living in a white patriarchal society. Lorde experiences her life challenges in all the dimensions of her identity and not each dimension separately. Therefore, she confronts and reacts to these challenges in her own unique way.
Later in the novel, Lorde discovers this intersectionality between her identities. “It was hard enough to be Black, to be Black and female, to be Black, female, and gay in a white environment…” (Lorde 260). She begins to identify with her distinct and diverse experiences as they differ from those of her white lesbian friends, and she realizes that her white lesbian friends cannot identify with some of her struggles as a Black lesbian woman because of the specific dimension of race that separates their experiences. The quote, “Those who embrace multiplicity of social identity dimensions and explore how they intersect also posit that uneven power distribution in a society complicates situated identities by more firmly entrenching some people at the center and others in the margins.” (Pompper 45) as stated in the article International Perspectives on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is referring to the lack of acknowledgment that one can have multiple identities. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name is a written illustration that exemplifies the effects of discovering one’s own intersectionality.
Acknowledging one’s own intersectionality criticizes society and the norms taken towards social justice and equality. Discovering how multiple identities intersect will essentially further the understanding of the inequality and injustice that many people face in America. Identifying the dimensions of intersectionality can help society recognize what needs to be done in order to achieve equality and justice for all. “The author’s dream of a community of women free from sexism, racism and classism falls to pieces as soon as she begins to frequent lesbian circles in New York. Lorde criticizes Black women’s homophobia and white lesbians’ racism. She is conscious that women’s inability to cope with their differences and the response of silence produce a simplification of women’s oppressions, which is a mistake because the variety of differences require diverse responses.” (Sanchez Calle 165). These “diverse responses” are steps toward receiving social justice for those with intersecting identities. Lorde, in writing Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, wanted to express why the understanding of intersecting identities is needed in order to achieve social justice. She used her own life as an example to why identifying all parts of her struggle and experiences made her journey unique. Thus, the idea of intersectionality is present within the novel in order to emphasize change or social justice in society.
Similarly, to encourage change and social justice, specifically within the Black community, Toni Morrison wrote The Bluest Eye in the 1960’s during the “Black is Beautiful” movement. With her novel she wanted to reclaim African-American beauty by exposing how internalized racism and societal norms can have negative impacts on young Black girls. Her inspiration to write the novel came from her recollection of a time when a black girl she knew told her how desperately she wanted blue eyes. The novel also takes place in her birth place of Lorain, Ohio during the Great Depression in which she herself grew up.
This coming of age tragedy places the reader in a journey that portrays the specific struggles of young Black girls while they encounter experiences of racism, gender expectations, and sexual exploitation. These aspects of struggle place significance on understanding the unique identity of Black females in America. The novel gives insight on the impact of a society that places importance on standards of beauty for women, particularly Black women, and how this affects young Black girls.
In The Bluest Eye the impact of racism and racial disparities is powerful in the lives of each of the characters. The characters in the novel experience a system of internalized racism encouraged by the concept of white supremacy. “Whiteness” is essentially the standard of beauty. This in itself takes a large toll on the lives of the young Black girls and adult women. The characters are somewhat obsessed with the ideas of acceptance, beauty, and purity which “whiteness” represents for them. For example, “Frieda and she had a long conversation about how cute Shirley Temple was. I couldn’t join them in their admiration because I hated Shirley. Not because she was cute, but because she danced with Bojangles… giving a lovely dance thing with one of those little white girls whose socks never slid down under their heels.” (Morrison 17). This quote from the novel is expressing how the idealization of white women and European standards of beauty affects young Black girls. “Lighter skin color was positively related to higher levels of racial identity attitudes (immersion/emersion); the more satisfied darker skinned individuals were with their skin color, the lower their self-esteem, and gender differences existed in perceptions of others’ preferences for skin color. Implications of this study for providing therapeutic clinical services and fostering the healthy psychological development of African American men, women, and children…” (Coard 2256). Internalized racism or colorism within the Black community led people to place favoritism on those with lighter complexion because they resembled European standards of beauty more than those with a darker complexion.
The adult women play a huge role in this internalized racism and idealization of white standards of beauty toward their Black daughters. In essence, the adult women build a hatred of their Blackness and take this out on their daughters. In the novel, Mrs. Breedlove tells her own daughter, Pecola, that she is unattractive because of her blackness, which Mrs. Breedlove believes for herself as well. There is even a time where Mrs. Breedlove places preference of the little white girl she works for over her own daughter. “The Breedloves did not live in a storefront because they were having temporary difficulty adjusting to the cutbacks at the plant. They lived there because they were poor and Black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly.” (Morrison 31). The “Breedlove” surname is ironic for this family because they essentially represent self-hatred and don’t actually “breed love”. This is significant because, Pecola is one of characters who suffers the impacts of internalized racism the most. She begins to believe that if she had blue eyes she would be loved and that the tragic experiences she faced would have never occurred.
The novel at this point is saying that this desire to fulfill white standards of beauty can lead to madness. This is seen by the end of the novel when Pecola is labeled as a crazy woman because of her obsession with obtaining blue eyes. “She spent her days, her tendril, sap-green days, walking up and down, up and down, her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so distant only she could hear. Elbows bent, hands on shoulders, she flailed her arms like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely futile effort to fly. Beating the air, a winged but grounded bird, intent on the blue void it could not reach—could not even see—but which filled the valleys of the mind.” (Morrison 204). The obsessive need to fulfill white standards of beauty caused an intense case of racial self-loathing. Knowing the novel’s aspects of internalized racism, these experiences can be related to the uniqueness of the identity of Black females in America. Black women are affected by a standard of society that idealizes “whiteness”. Black girls grow up learning that European standards of beauty are right which can ultimately lead to racial self-loathing.
Understanding this unique experience that Black women face can allow the understanding of racial self-loathing and other aspects of internalized racism. Acknowledging these challenges and struggles that specifically impact Black women can have a positive effect on Black communities as a whole. Understanding the plight on the shoulders of Black women can stop the degrading of Black women in the media and the lead to the respect of Black women as people in society.
The Bluest Eye’s context surrounds the experience of Black women during this time period. The general life course for women of color were either working for white families or becoming prostitutes. The culture of women throughout the novel appears as Morrison describes the idealization and obsession with beauty magazines and celebrities. Throughout the novel, Black women are consistently placed into boxes of expectations. Overall, the narrator, Claudia, has a negative attitude toward gender restrictions and often responds to the expectations that other women have of her with a loathing. When she received a white baby doll, “To hold it was no more rewarding. The starched gauze or lace on the cotton dress irritated any embrace. I had only one desire: to dismember it…but apparently only me…all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured.” (Morrison 18). Other girls did not understand Claudia’s feelings toward the doll because they believed the doll was beautiful. Her parents figured it was something all little black girls wanted.
That was just one example of an anti-feminist tone within “women culture” taking place in the novel. Women were expected to idolize celebrities, gossip, and correlate their acceptance in society to the standards of beauty. In this specific setting, Black women were expected to idolize white celebrities, gossip, and correlate their acceptance in society to the standards of white beauty. This is anti-feminist because the women are only to have a restrictive lifestyle. As stated before, Black women were either mother working for white families or prostitutes. These restrictive options impacted the way women saw each other and influenced self-hatred. This type of culture essentially brought uneasiness between women who didn’t fit into these boxes and allowed women to conform to this oppression by objectifying the women that live different a lifestyle. The respect of women came from whether the women conformed to society’s expectations what women should look like or become. Claudia’s experience with the doll baby led her to be ostracized for being different. Acknowledging this restrictive culture that women, specifically women of color, face helps in understanding the unique experiences that Black women face in America. Revealing this voice of women of color challenges the restrictions that society sets for women and criticizes the oppressive nature of a patriarchal society.
The sexual exploitation of Black women is also present in The Bluest Eye. The women characters most often face violent acts of rape and sexual abuse by the men characters in the novel. The younger Black girls that are usually the main victims of these violent acts of rape and sexual abuse. The sexual exploitation of young Black girls influences them in believing they are sexually and socially powerless. The young Black girls in the novel are essentially deprived the opportunity to discover their own sexuality for it is used to make the men that abuse them more powerful.
An example of this power dynamic between Black males and females would be, “He would rather die than take his thing out of me. Not until he has let go of all he has, and give it to me… when he does I feel a power.” (Morrison 91). Sex in the novel is associated with the empowerment of men. Morrison presents a controversial point of view in the novel that this empowerment that men get from the sexual acts of violence taken against women somewhat plays a role in the justification of the acts of violence. Pecola is also raped by her father. “What could he do for her – ever? What give her? What say to her? What could a burned-out Black man say to the hunched back of his eleven-year-old daughter? If he looked into her face, he would see those haunted, loving eyes. The hauntedness would irritate him – the love would move him to fury. How dare she love him? Hadn’t she any sense at all? What was he supposed to do about that? Return it? How?” (Morrison 112). This is an attempt to justify her rape because of his (her father’s) inability to express his feelings toward her. However, this concept is similar to today in rape culture and sexual abuse. Women are victims of such violence believing that there is some justification for these acts of violence taken against women. Morrison showing how this concept of justifying and contextualizing sexual abuse can have negative impacts on the mental health and confidence of Black women. As a result of this, the women and girls in the novel are seen as powerless as well as embodying large amounts of self-hatred. Understanding this power dynamic that Black women encounter through acts of violence, such as rape, can lead to identifying reforms that need to be put into place in order to prevent them. The Black female experience in The Bluest Eye is a unique one because the women are affected by the negative impacts of their multiple identities. They face specific disparities because of their intersecting identities.
The common theme between Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison is the effect of discovering identity within the aspect of intersecting categories while living in an ultimately racist and sexist environment. Black women hold a space of distinctive experiences that allows them to identify with unique struggles. Society must recognize these different dimensions of a Black woman’s identity in order to create and develop law practices that help Black women and to ultimately encourage American culture to acknowledge their struggles as human beings. This idea of recognizing the dimensions of one’s identity for legal or social reform is called The Critical Race Theory.
The Critical Race Theory is a development in legal studies by many progressive intellectuals of color whom believe that “the historical centrality and complicity of law in upholding white supremacy (and concomitant hierarchies of gender, class, and sexual orientation)” (Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement) exists in American society. The laws and practices that are fundamental to American society were developed through the eyes of white supremacy and patriarchy. It shows how law plays a role in maintaining “social domination and subordination”. The Critical Race Theory explains “the way in which race and racial power are constructed and represented in American legal culture and, more generally, in American society as a whole” (Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement). The theory explains the extent in which racial power is practiced both legally, through law practices, and ideologically, through social norms, within American culture.
More specifically, in Kimberle Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color” she states that “the embrace of identity politics, however, has been in tension with dominant concepts of social justice. Race, gender, and other identity categories are most often treated in mainstream liberal discourse as vestiges of bias or domination – that is, as intrinsically negative frameworks in which social power works to exclude or marginalize those who are different” (Crenshaw 1242). Identity politics is a legal theory dedicated to the recognition of the social and systemic struggles of people of color and LGBTQ. Crenshaw is saying that the issue with identity politics is identifying the struggles of categories within the larger scope. For example, in examining the violence against women, in order to fully understand the violence against women one must recognize and acknowledge the violence women face shaped by the multiple dimensions of their identities, including race and class. “Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices” (Crenshaw 1242). Black women are therefore marginalized within both practices of feminism and antiracism because of the lack of recognition of their intersectional identity as both Black and female.
In Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde acknowledges this intersectionality through her own life example as a Black woman. Not only was her experience unique because she was a Black woman, but her sexuality gave her another dimension to her identity. Lorde’s used her own life as an example to show how knowing these different dimensions of a person’s identity can impact how their journey is seen and how their struggle is understood. As shown in previous examples, Lorde faced many issues within her race that identify with her struggle as a woman and coming to terms with her own sexuality. All in all, this journey made her who she was. Understanding that her multiple dimensions made her who she was, allowed her to acknowledge her struggle and confront the issues she faced, living in a white supremacist patriarchy.
In The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Morrison uses her characters to examine of lives of Black people in America during the Great Depression. She specifically focuses on the issues that Black women and young Black girls face in their own communities as a result of a racist and sexist culture. She compares the experiences of Black men and women and their roles in society. Then, Morrison emphasizes on the disregard of the space and identity that Black women and girls have within the overall struggle of Black people living in America. Morrison uses, like in Kimberle Crenshaw’s article, the violence against women to help express how unique the struggle is for Black women. In this particular novel, Morrison showed how not acknowledging the ident
Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye: The Stylistic Analysis of Metaphor
The Bluest Eye: Tough Love at the Core of Color
We as humans strive for many things- comfort, success, money, beauty, but among everything, our core revolves around love. A child is born and is innocent, and as that child grows through their experiences, love fuels the way they survive. How do we as humans deal with survival? In addition, how does a powerless black girl survive in an era that doesn’t deem her important or beautiful? Understanding that survival is a skill set and that love comes in many different forms, protrudes from within the characters in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Called in these instances are “tough love” moments, where emotional survival mixes with perceptive qualities that the little girls in this book possess.
In all chapters there are underlying metaphoric references to the seasons. In “autumn”, we are first introduced to the girls, Claudia and Frieda. They are given the impression that they are somehow different from other little girls on a constant basis. From the start is a scene where a white neighbor, Rosemary, is making fun of Frieda and Claudia from their Buick. Morrison makes it very clear in this instance that there is an automatic sense of entitlement, this representing the decade and white privilege. The girls, recognize this arrogance, and imagine in their heads how they would treat Rosemary if she were to get out of the car. This shows the reader that we can assume Claudia and her family are poor and “different” from other little girls, so much different, that they are being made fun of. It is not yet mentioned, but this moment in particular paves the way for the rest of the novel regarding the standard of white beauty and white privilege. This scenario also tells that the reader is reading from a little black girl’s perspective and sets the pace in a beautifully tragic story (Morrison 9).
The first example of “tough love” in the book is when Claudia gets ill from collecting coal in the cold. Her mother is seemingly angry with her because she is sick, although Claudia does not initially understand that she is not upset with her, but her sickness. Claudia feels guilty for being sick, like it’s her fault, and begins to cry. Her mother, regardless of her blameful nature, tends to Claudia, and Frieda, Claudia’s sister, sings her to sleep. “So when I think of autumn, I think of somebody with hands who does not want me to die (Morrison 12).”
These words are true to the meaning of tough love from mother to daughter. Mrs. MacTeer is inconvenienced by Claudia’s sickness, but her maternal instincts are to care for her immediately by wrapping blankets around her and placing her in bed. This is why Claudia understands that her mother does not want her to die and that her sister is there in a time of need as well. The strength and importance in family is emphasized throughout the novel (“The LitCharts”).
Pecola Breedlove is a little black girl introduced to the MacTeer’s household as well. Forced from her home, Pecola, is naturally drawn to befriend Claudia and Frieda. One morning, Mrs. MacTeer assumes that the girls are “playing nasty” as Rosemary describes, and beats Frieda, under the impression that they are exploring their bodies inappropriately. This moment is important. Pecola has started her period and the girls have some idea of what it is but they are fearful of what Mrs. MacTeer (or anyone else for that matter) will do if they are seen. Pecola’s moment of starting her period is a physical and literal metaphor for coming into womanhood. The thought of something as large of a deal as getting her period is impacting enough, but the fact that Pecola is a young, black girl, makes it an even more fearful and daunting experience. Morrison highlights this moment clearly by putting the reader in Pecola’s shoes. Frightened, Frieda explains her definition of what Pecola is going through as “ministratin’” (menstruating), and offers to help by taking her around the corner and tasking Claudia to clean Pecola’s blood off the steps that dripped from under her dress. Once Mrs. MacTeer realizes what was really happening, Morrison writes, “Her eyes were sorry” (Morrison 31).
These moments in autumn signify concerns that revolve around certain individual reactions. The reader can tell that not only is Frieda trying to help Pecola by taking her off the front steps, but she is trying to protect her from fear of how her mother will react. Mrs. MacTeer initially assumes that what Rosemary is saying is true, and once she realizes that her assumption was wrong, she doesn’t apologize, but speaks with her eyes that she is sorry for the misunderstanding. There’s a continued and subtle sense of empathy throughout the novel that implies that many characters are sorry, but they don’t know how to relay that message by just saying so, and there are also times where “sorry” isn’t enough.
When “winter” appears, the reader is introduced to a new type of character. Maureen is a light skinned girl who comes from a rich family. After school, Pecola is being teased and fights with a group of boys who are discriminating her for her “blackness”. Upon arrival, Claudia and Frieda attempt to help Pecola, but the boys continue to scuffle with the girls until Maureen appears. Maureen helps Pecola up and the boys leave the group alone because they don’t want to fight around Maureen. This is because the boys view Maureen as exotic and beautiful. Because Maureen is light skinned and comes from money, she is automatically considered accomplished and pretty. Although Claudia hates Maureen mostly because of her skin, the girls have a moment of unity in helping Pecola out of the fight before they get in an argument with each other. It is important to note this moment as tough love, because it is not a traditional act of love, but the girls recognize Maureen to be humane enough to help Pecola up and not give into continuously taunting her like the boys. There is a small moment of pity and reflection upon Pecola in this instance, where Maureen recognizes that she in some ways is just like Pecola, in that she is a little black girl as well. Maureen then offers to go get some ice cream which sort of breaks the silence of the situation (Morrison 68).
In previous chapters the reader has experienced Pecola’s mother, Mrs. Breedlove (aka Pauline), as cold, strict, and turned away from her own daughter. In “spring” the reader experiences Mrs. Breedlove’s back story, where she herself as a child was ignored and neglected. She was taught in her adolescence that she was ugly because she had a slight limp from impaling her foot on a nail when she was a two-year old. Throughout her back story, as Pauline moves on in life, her family continues to neglect her and she is left to her own devices to maintain her sanity. She fantasizes of a god or a lover to come fulfill her empty gaps in life, and eventually finds Cholly. Initially, they are happy together, but once Pauline becomes pregnant with Pecola (their second child), her and Cholly’s relationship evolves into an abusive rollercoaster. Morrison illustrates Pauline’s past so that the reader can understand where she came from and why she is the way that she is. Later, after the birth of Pecola, Pauline describes how smart her baby is and how she likes to watch her figure out the world with her “…greedy sounds. Eyes all soft and wet.” Pauline continues on to say how ugly Pecola is (Morrison 126).
Although the tough love during Pauline’s pregnancy is not apparent at first, it comes more to life during her relationship with Cholly. It isn’t mentioned, but their relationship was based off trying to fix themselves by having another person in their life that they thought would fill the empty gap in their hearts, with love. Their fighting and then staying together is a tell tale sign that they were once crazy about each other and possibly afraid to leave each other at the same time. Although they exist in an ongoing abusive relationship, maybe Cholly feels like no one will love him again, so he must stay with Pauline to prove that he needs her, and vice versa. There is a sense of wanting their marriage to end up like the movies that Pauline goes to…but of course it is emphasized that because she is a black woman in that decade, that it will never be like the movies for her. Pauline, always fantasizing about a life she’ll never have, describes a sort of tough love for herself. By taking that time for her to be happy and soak in that fantasy world, she is showing some self strength and perseverance, even though her reality is nothing like the movies she sees, she knows when to not take a moment like this for granted (Morrison 123).
The final season of the book, “summer”, dawns a lot of emotions for the reader to feel. Here, we not only witness Pecola’s breaking point in sanity, but we also hear more about how her father, Cholly, has in most ways been the primary contributor to her downfall. The girls, Claudia and Frieda, have an extreme amount of pity for Pecola and attempt to save her baby, which was a result from her own father. Like Pauline’s back story, the reader is reminded that Cholly is the way he is because of his own past traumas (“Summer: Chapter 11”).
There are a lot of directions and themes that are contained in this book, but Cholly is depicted as a human who doesn’t know any better, so he feels he is showing his tough love by raping his daughter. Although his past does not justify Cholly’s actions, his back story helps the reader understand that there’s a humanizing effect to him, and that “good people can do bad things”.
This book is showcasing black characters that deal primarily with their own personal struggles and view Pecola as a reflection of themselves. All of their reactions are different, but Pecola is the centerpiece that either helps or hurts others realize who they are and why they are the way they are. Their struggles are personal and their survival is based off “black girls in a white world”. Tough love is present and also subtle in many instances, but tough love’s strongest character is through its emotional, little “survivor”, Pecola Breedlove.
The Bluest Eye and Beloved
Power is the ability to overcome and influence the behavior towards an internal personal struggle. Stereotypes are the oversimplified idea of a specific gender, class, or race. A demonstration of the aspect of power in the female protagonists can be found in Toni Morrison’s novels, The Bluest Eye, and Beloved. The Bluest Eye is set in the early 1940’s in the state of Ohio, before the American Civil War, where Claudia MacTeer narrates the fight of the black community’s idealization of white beauty standards. Cholly rapes his 13-year-old daughter Pecola which forces Pauline, the mother, to make the choice of a husband or her daughter. Beloved takes place just after the American Civil War and is inspired by the escape of Margaret Garner, a slave from Kentucky. The main character Sethe devotes her life to her kids; first by escaping slavery, and then keeping her two daughters and two sons safe which causes her to kill her youngest daughter to avoid being recaptured by the slave owner. The female protagonists obtain power by overcoming the negative stereotypes of women in the 1940’s and 1960’s, through the external resolution of conflict, the positive family values of the main female characters, and the negative portrayal of the emotional traits of the women.
The Bluest Eye and Beloved shows the female protagonists obtaining power by overcoming the negative stereotypes of the women in the 1940’s and 1960’s; because of the way the Mothers resolve the external conflict of being enslaved by power-hungry males. In The Bluest Eye, after Cholly rapes his daughter, it forces conflict on Pauline by making her choose between her husband or her daughter, “The hatred would not let him pick her up, the tenderness forced him to cover her… trying to connect the pain between her legs with the face of her mother looming over her” (Morrison 163). Cholly’s failure to control his behavior forces his wife, Pauline, to choose a side. Pauline goes against the stereotype of women by choosing to believe her daughter’s word instead of going with the man that supports her financially.
In Shubhankar Kochar’s essay “Chapter 2: Treatment of violence in The Bluest Eye” discusses how the men belittle the women which makes women search for power to overcome the negative stereotype the men have of them: The novel also unfolds how a few individuals direct their anger and frustration at others who are below them in status and power because they cannot raise their voice against their exploiters who are in any case superior to them. (Kochar 4) This demonstrates the power of the females because when they are facing conflict it forces them to stand up and gain power over the males that are socially above them. Similarly, in Beloved Sethe brings freedom to her family by escaping slavery and Sethe thinks to herself, “I did it. I got us all out. Without Halle too. Up until then it was the only thing I ever did on my own”(Morrison 190).
Sethe fights the conflict of going against the men enslaving her and her family, but, when the men track her down and are threatening her family, she makes the harsh decision to send herself to jail and her kids to child care by slitting the throat of her youngest daughter. In both cases, the mother’s overcome the external conflict of the males that are controlling their lives by Pauline disowning her husband for his negative actions, and by Sethe escaping the slavery to the white men, by doing this they also overcome the negative stereotype of women being weak. The female protagonists positive family values help to defeat the negative stereotype of women because they choose their family over a house and income. The positive values the main female protagonists have for their families help them obtain the power to overcome the negative stereotype of women. When the children are in danger it forces the mothers in Toni Morrison’s, The Bluest Eye and Beloved to act at the moment which breaks the stereotype. In The Bluest Eye Pauline beats her children whenever they are acting out, however, when it comes to someone else abusing her children she stands up for them as proven through her value of loyalty. The narrator describes Pauline’s love as odd, however, she stays loyal to the ones she does love, “She regarded love as possessive mating, and romance as the goal of the spirit”(Morrison 44).
In the 1940s women are supposed to be loyal to their spouses but in this case, she is more loyal to her offspring and kicks Cholly out of the house. Comparably, in Beloved Sethe forces her way out of slavery by running away from Sweet Home with her family. Sethe gets into an argument with Stamp Paid after he says: “‘Your love is too thick, they then go on to say’ ‘ Too thick? Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.’ ‘Yeah. it didn’t work did it… Your boys went you don’t know where. One girl dead, the other won’t leave the yard. How did it work?’ ‘They ain’t at Sweet Home. Schoolteacher ain’t got em.’” (Morrison 194)Sethe breaks the stereotype of the females in the 1960s by bringing her family to freedom and leaving her slave owner.
In Kochar’s critical essay Chapter 4: Conclusion he says: In fact, [violence] presents a series of cause and effect that creates a nice chain of interrelated incidents. For example, it presents how the families are disintegrated when violence is unleashed on its members. In The Bluest Eye, one comes across the Breedlove family that is disintegrated because of the violence that Cholly, the head of the family, directs on his own family members. Similarly, in Beloved, one comes across not one but many families that get disintegrated because of the cruel treatment of the white. The members of black families were auctioned away from each other for lucrative gains. For example, seven children of Baby Suggs were taken away from her. (Kochar para. 4)Throughout both novels, families disintegrate, however, the mothers of both families made difficult decisions that end up benefiting the children more than anyone else. Motherly instinct is what keeps both of the female protagonists loyal to their children and help them obtain the strength to overcome the negative stereotype of women. The undisciplined emotional traits help the female protagonists to obtain the power to overcome the negative stereotypes of women in the late 1900s by absorbing the negative abuse from the males that are above them in society until a point and then punishing them. In The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Cholly directs his hate for the white men that watched him have sex for his first time towards his wife Pauline. Morrison writes, “He hated her. He almost wished he could do it – hard, long, and painfully, he hated her so much.” (3.8.52). Pauline allows Cholly to abuse her and their children until Cholly rapes their daughter which causes Pauline’s undisciplined traits to beat him and kick him out of the house.
Self and Other Identification in Cortazar’s “Axolotl” and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye Essay
The theme of self versus other was pervasive throughout both Julio Cortazar’s “Axolotl” and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. In comparison, both protagonists have poor, confused concepts of self, and both measure themselves against unusual norms, which they cannot really compete with, and thus, set themselves up for a certain type of non-orthodox identification.
Ultimately, it could be argued, they really are not able to be true to themselves, in any healthy way. Thus, they are attempting to identify with “others” who are seen in their respective worlds, as being more dissimilar. However, there are differences in how both the characters acquire this, and the varying narrative techniques of the two authors help in this respect.
First, differences in author technique impact the themes in both stories. Toni Morrison has written a detailed novel, told from another’s viewpoint. Morrison thus delves further, in more detail, into the thought processes, of both her main character and others in the tale.
However, in contrast,. “Axolotl” is a short story by Cortazar and as such, doesn’t provide such variety in thought and action by the main character. As the saga is also recounted in the third person, although a very dramatic event, it’s thereby presented in a more straight forward factor, although also more mystical.
First, Pecola Breedlove, is never even loved by her own parents. This young girl’s life in 1940’s Ohio is told through the eyes of another young, black girl named Claudia. It quickly becomes clear to the narrator that Pecola’s circumstances are worse than her own, in white America. For the
Breedlove family is poorer, and Pauline, mother of Pecola, is most unkind to her own family as they do not compare favorably with the white family for whom Pauline works as a maid.
In addition, Pecola’s father is neither supportive nor caring, really, although she never gives up trying to win his affections.. In fact, he is a drunkard, and eventually rapes his own daughter. Pecola actually gives birth to his child, who dies soon after birth. Nevertheless, Pecola had always tried to create identity and seek love from Cholly, her father, despite the futility there. She says, “We loved him. Even after what came later, there was no bitterness in our memory of him.” (Morrison 16)
Next, it becomes apparent that Pecola thinks that if she could only be beautiful, she would have a better life. Like her mother, Pecola longs to be pretty, although her mother is seen to be quite attractive, for a black woman. In order to acquire the desired pulchritude, Pecola actually wishes for blue eyes, like some other whites, and like the popular child star, Shirley Temple.
Then, following attendance at the local Soaphead Church, a preacher there tells the young girl he has the power to turn her eyes blue. Pecola then actually begins to think that this has happened, and now she will be loved by all, because of it. However, because she experiences no caring from neither family nor schoolmates, and she is lied to, regarding her eye color, she experiences a mental breakdown. She has truly become a victim of her very own world, unlike Claudia, who is still loved by her family, despite her race.
As Pecola seeks beauty, identity and love, she finds it in a different form, upon viewing dandelions, and then finding herself an identity as an angry person. As Pecola attempts to find beauty in her perceived ugly world, she also finds disappointment here. She walks down the street and finds a clump of dandelions, which she initially finds lovely.
She speaks, fondly. “Dandelions”. (Morrison 50) However, since they fail to look at her and don’t return her affection, the girl is then disappointed and bitter. She thinks, ‘They are ugly. They are weeds.” (Morrison 50) As she is dwelling on these feelings
of distress, she trips herself on the sidewalk. Her rage is now fierce. Toni Morrison describes how Pecola finds self-validity in this ire. The author writes that Pecola is now feeling that “.There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth.” (Morrison 50) Hence, the only shred of self identity she is able to claim for herself now, is one of a sad and destructive anger.
Thus, a true theme of perception and isolation is present in The Bluest Eye. One who is not loved perceives this and cannot return love to others. This is her identity, or lack of it, which began with her very parents’ perception and lack of caring for her. This type of family neglect is not brought out in Julio Cortazar’s tale of “Axolotl”.
Next, Julio Cortazar’s short story “Axolotl”, is told by a man who has been turned into an axolotl, a type of salamander, after spending much time looking at axolotls in an aquarium. There is no mention of a dearth of love from others as with Pecola, but he too, as a Latino, is part of a minority, as is Morrison’s young girl. Living in Paris, he may feel somewhat of an outcast, as Pecola felt, in her locale.
However, Pecola does not identify herself really with any other human or being, yet the unnamed man in Cortazar’s short story makes this connection. He sees the salamanders as living beings, just as he is. So, then he suddenly and fantastically finds himself looking out of the glass at himself, through the eyes of a lizard. Yet he doesn’t completely break down, as Pecola did, although it can be argued that he possibly had a break with reality. However, he is still feeling better about things, unlike Pecola, through this association.
Even as an axolotl, the man still observes the being he was, and hopes the human will pen a tale of the individual who becomes an axolotl. In contrast to Pecola’s story, the man feels some communication and unity. However, like the Morrison tale, Cortazar wants his audience to comprehend that reality is truly experienced through another’s eyes, to some degree.
Self identity and identification with others are the story’s primary emphasis. Thus, the man as observer notes initially that he self-identifies with the larvae, on his first look at the aquarium. He actually felt a secret connection, although he couldn’t come up with a rational explanation for this.
He does note that the animals possess hands, and some other features, as humans do, though not nearly as evolved. Here, one could wonder whether or not, if perhaps, as a Modern Latin American man, he feels that his identity is lacking, is lost, and is not authentic, just as the character in the Morrison story.
Yet, the reader is left not sure whether or not the unbelievable has occurred. So, is he now ensconced within the body of the axolotl? Has he turned into the animal, or have they merged? He tries to figure this out, and states the following:
those eyes of gold without iris, without pupil. I saw my
face against the glass, I saw it on the outside of the
tank, I saw it on the other side of the glass. Then my
face drew back and I understood. (Cortazar 8)
Lastly, the visitor indicates that he has less future need now, to return as often to the aquarium, because of this inexplicable relationship. He takes comfort in the idea that maybe the “man” will tell their stories. He actually believes that they have communicated with one another.
And in this final solitude to which he no longer
comes, I console myself by thinking that perhaps he is
going to write a story about us, that, believing he’s
making up a story, he’s going to write all this about
axolotls. (Cortazar 9)
Therefore, it should be clear to readers that the theme of self versus other was indeed prevalent in both Julio Cortazar’s “Axolotl” and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. For since both characters are confused regarding their own identifies, and they both relate to impossible, seeming implausible norms, they may be ensuring that their individual self identities will not be anything usual or normal.
Some may see Pecola as being more tragic in this instance. However, surely, they are not really able to grasp a true and healthy reality. Both individuals have self identified with beings and worlds very unlike themselves and their own realities. This sometimes actually happens, and sometimes it’s different in each individual.
Nevertheless, the reading of these two works reminds the reader how truly vital to human happiness are the abilities to both self-identify and to also relate to others, and how they may or may not be interrelated with one another. Thus, both authors have effectively presented through their characters, the need for humans to focus on the search for identity of and with self and others..
Cortazar, Julio. Blow-Up and Other Stories. New York: Pantheon, 1967.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Random House, 1970.