Engaging the Reader’s Judgement in The Bluest Eye and Hamlet
Controversial issues such as incest and murder are tough to discuss and even more difficult to resolve. Literature often employs such realities to leave the reader in a state of thought, rarely offering answers or even stances on the issues. In Hamlet, Prince Hamlet murders Polonius and Claudius, while causing the death of Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Ophelia, Laertes, and Gertrude. In The Bluest Eye, Cholly rapes his own daughter, Pecola. In their respective works, Shakespeare and Morrison do not offer answers to these issues. Rather such actions raise questions of morality, compelling the reader to make their own judgments and to truly engage with the text.
In Hamlet, Prince Hamlet kills Polonius and Claudius, raising the question of whether “justifiable murder” can be justified. The initial source of Hamlet’s murderous rampage is the command of his father’s vengeful spirit, which reveals the truth behind the king’s death and Claudius’ betrayal. Prince Hamlet devotes himself to avenging the death of the late King Hamlet, accidentally killing Polonius and eventually killing Claudius. Societal norms dictate that murder is wrong and thus Prince Hamlet’s murders ought to be viewed as immoral and unjust. However, the play presents a situation where the criminal (Claudius) would not be persecuted, as he is the king of Denmark and leaves no evidence of King Hamlet’s murder. Therefore, the reader must ultimately judge whether Prince Hamlet’s revenge on Claudius is justified and whether the people who died in his rampage are “acceptable casualties”. Since the play engages the reader to be a judge, the reader has a moral obligation to consider both sides: the morality of Prince Hamlet’s actions and Prince Hamlet’s own obligations to exact revenge on the man who wronged him and the kingdom. Giving weight to Prince Hamlet’s obligations to the kingdom, the reader must consider the Prince Hamlet’s worthiness as royalty. He endangers the integrity of the kingdom by killing Claudius, as this act leaves the kingdom vulnerable to Prince Fortinbras’ army. On the other hand, Prince Hamlet’s killing of Claudius prevented the king from getting away with murder. Shakespeare’s purposeful ambiguity on the issue allows for the reader to consider the justice of Prince Hamlet’s actions on their own.
In The Bluest Eye, Cholly rapes his daughter Pecola, bringing the societal taboo of incest to the forefront of the novel. Cholly’s own abandonment and emotional distress provides context for his actions (155), but the reader must decide if and to what extent Cholly’s background excuses his raping Pecola. Should Cholly be held accountable for his daughter’s rape? Or does his possible insanity – the result of emotional abuse – exonerate him? Morrison does not offer a conclusive stance, forcing the reader to judge the issue. In this instance, Pecula’s rape raises the question of moral obligation. Morrison presents the reader with two choices: either the reader is obligated to sympathize with the emotional distress of the victim or the reader is obligated to consider Cholly’s background as an excuse for his actions. Because Morrison compels the reader to delve into these questions the reader is more involved in the plot, having to make inferences and assumptions based the presented facts. Such a strategy compels the reader to analyze the text more closely and think about the implications beyond the pages of the novel.
Raising controversial topics, writers compel the reader to be more involved in their works. Because the writer does not take a stance, the reader is left without bias and must therefore use the text to come to their own conclusion. It is up to the reader to decide if Hamlet’s revenge on Claudius is justified and only the reader has the power to judge Cholly’s rape. Ultimately, both Hamlet and The Bluest Eye delegate the judgment of controversial topics to the reader, engaging and empowering them.
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