The Consequences Of Racial Inequality Through Pecola’s Character In The Bluest Eye

May 18, 2022 by Essay Writer

Introduction

Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison (born as Chloe Ardelia Wofford) as known as Toni Morrison, was an American novelist, editor, teacher and Robert F. Goheen Professor at Princeton University. Toni Morrison has been hailed as “ black America’s best novelist and one of America’s best.” In her own words, she writes “village” or “peasant” literature about the American black experience and culture. But she does so with language of such lyrical power and such vivid dialogue that, regardless of her subject reading her words is a genuine pleasure. Toni Morrison won the National Book Critics Award in 1977 for Song of Solomon, the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for beloved and the Noble Prize for Literature in 1993.

Summary of the book

The Bluest Eye, published in 1969, is the first of Toni Morrison’s ten novels. “It announced the arrival of one of the most important literary voices of her time and has remained for nearly thirty-five years her consistently best-read book”. Oprah’s Book Club selected The Bluest Eye in 2000, assuring its yet wider readership. The Bluest Eye is the story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove—a black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others—who prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning and the tragedy of its fulfillment.

Pecola’s character

Pecola is the protagonist of the book, but despite this central role she is passive and remains a mysterious character. Morrison purposely tells Pecola’s story from other points of view to keep Pecola’s dignity and, to some extent, her mystery intact. Her aim is to prevent us from labeling Pecola or thinking that we understand her. Pecola is a fragile and delicate child when the novel begins, and by the novel’s close, she has been almost completely destroyed by violence. At the beginning of the novel, her emotional life is based on two desires: first, she wants to learn how to get people to love her; second, during seeing her parents brutal fights, she simply wants to disappear. Neither wish is granted, and Pecola is forced further and further into her fantasy world, which is her only defense against the pain of her existence. She believes that being granted the blue eyes that she wishes for would change both how others see her and what she is forced to see. At the novel’s end, she delusively believes that her wish has been granted, but only at the cost of her sanity. “Pecola’s fate is a fate worse than death because she is not allowed any release from her world—she simply moves to “the edge of town, where you can see her even now.””

Pecola is also a symbol of the black community’s self-hatred and belief in its own ugliness. Others in the community, including her mother, father, and Geraldine, act out their own self-hatred by expressing hatred toward her. At the end of the novel, we are told that Pecola has been a scapegoat for the entire community. Her ugliness has made them feel beautiful, her suffering has made them feel comparatively lucky, and her silence has given them the opportunity for speaking. But because she continues to live after she has lost her mind, Pecola’s aimless wandering at the edge of town haunts the community, reminding them of the ugliness and hatred that they have tried to repress. She becomes a reminder of human cruelty and an emblem of human suffering.

1940s America

The problems of the Great Depression affected virtually every group of Americans. No group was harder hit than African Americans, however. By 1932, approximately half of black Americans were out of work. In some Northern cities, whites called for blacks to be fired from any jobs as long as there were whites out of work. Racial violence again became more common, especially in the South.

Racism is a belief in the superiority of one race to another which leads to discrimination and prejudice towards people based on their ethnicity. The life of African-American cloured people have been affected by racism. Social systems and restrictions make black people to feel inferiors. This novel is facing us with the harrowing yet but true consequences for coloured people personalizing the values of a white culture that rejects them both directly and indirectly. Even though slavery is abolished legally through the efforts of eminent leaders but still the black people are not considered equal to the whites due to their skin tone and class. The Black people are trying to identify themselves with the white and their cultural ways which is why the main character of the story, Pecola goes through having a low self-steam, mental instability and many other consequences which reflects in her daily life. Toni Morrison insists on Black cultural heritage and wants the African-Americans to be proud of their Black identity which we can partly see in Claudia and Frieda’s character. However throughout the book we can see almost every character struggle for their race and endurance in a predominantly multicultural post colonial white America, specially Pecola.

Toni Morrison is portraying the consequences of racism though Pecola’s character by narrating what does affect Pecola’s opinions, decisions and personality and how does this inequalities lead everything to a tragic fate for Pecola. Themes such as ” Whiteness as the Standard of Beauty”, “Seeing versus Being Seen”, “Sexual Initiation and Abuse”, “Satisfying Appetites versus Suppressing Them” are seen in the book and we can gradually see what are the consequences of racial inequality through out the book.

Symbols

The house

The novel begins with a sentence from a Dick-and-Jane narrative: “Here is the house.” Homes not only indicate socioeconomic status in this novel, but they also symbolize the emotional situations and values of the characters who inhabit them. The Breedlove apartment is miserable and decrepit, suffering from Mrs. Breedlove’s preference for her employer’s home over her own and symbolizing the misery of the Breedlove family. The MacTeer house is drafty and dark, but it is carefully tended by Mrs. MacTeer and, according to Claudia, filled with love, symbolizing that family’s comparative cohesion.

Bluest Eye(s)

To Pecola, blue eyes symbolize the beauty and happiness that she associates with the white, middle-class world. They also come to symbolize her own blindness, for she gains blue eyes only at the cost of her sanity. The “bluest” eye could also mean the saddest eye. Furthermore, eye puns on I, in the sense that the novel’s title uses the singular form of the noun (instead of The Bluest Eyes) to express many of the characters’ sad isolation.

The Marigolds

Claudia and Frieda associate marigolds with the safety and well-being of Pecola’s baby. Their ceremonial offering of money and the remaining unsold marigold seeds represents an honest sacrifice on their part. They believe that if the marigolds they have planted grow, then Pecola’s baby will be all right. More generally, marigolds represent the constant renewal of nature. In Pecola’s case, this cycle of renewal is perverted by her father’s rape of her.

Morrison writes about how many African Americans could not own a home and were constantly threatened by the fear of being ‘outdoors.’ Owned homes are described as ‘hothouse sunflowers among the rows of weeds that were the rented houses.’ Renters may be reluctant to plant seeds in the ground when the landlord could evict them at any moment. Poorer people have less money and time to lavish on growing abundant displays of flowers. The flowers most consistently mentioned in Claudia and Pecola’s neighborhood are sunflowers, which grow easily and produce edible seeds, and dandelions, which are weeds.

Contrast those images with the description of the stable African American communities described in ‘Seethecat.’ Morrison describes the girls ‘who have looked long at hollyhocks … their roots are deep.’ These communities have bountiful gardens: ‘rooster combs and sunflowers … pots of bleeding heart, ivy, and mother-in-law tongue line the steps.’ Morrison shows the reader abundant gardens in African American homes to make her point: in the proper environment, anyone can grow flowers. Morrison mimics this idea by identifying fake flowers—paper flowers, flower-printed clothes, and so on—in nicer homes, such as Geraldine’s house and the home of Mrs. Breedlove’s employer. Note Mrs. Breedlove’s employer has a wheelbarrow full of flowers in the front yard, a symbol of opulence known throughout the neighborhood.

At the end of the book Morrison returns to the imagery of seeds and flowers. Referring to Claudia’s community, she says, ‘This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers.’ Morrison wants the reader to see the lack of growth as a symptom of racial oppression: neither people nor plants can grow healthily in such an environment.

Movie Stars

The movies were a major influence on popular culture in 1941. Throughout the book, characters refer to movie stars in an admiring way. Pecola idolizes the child star Shirley Temple, a little blond girl with blue eyes and a sunny disposition who was extremely popular in the 1930s. Mr. Henry teases Frieda and Claudia by calling them Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers, the names of two movie stars famous for their glamour and their beautiful (white) faces. Greta Garbo was an exotic beauty who usually starred in romantic films, while Ginger Rogers was a famous dancer who often performed in musicals. Later in Pauline’s chapter, she describes how she aspired to be as beautiful as a movie star until her tooth fell out.

Any girl or woman in the 1940s might aspire to be Shirley Temple, Greta Garbo, or Ginger Rogers. But for the female characters in The Bluest Eye, these images also represent the unattainable goals society has given them. Pecola and Claudia will never look like Shirley Temple or Greta Garbo, and that should not be their ambition. Few girls or women of any ethnicity will look like movie stars, but it is even harder for African American girls to achieve the appearance of movie stars of the era, who were almost exclusively white and certainly not African American.

Beauty

beauty appears in the text it refers to a white baby doll. Claudia says she would like to ‘dismember it … to find the beauty, the desirability that had escaped me, but apparently only me.’ Beauty and beautiful are used multiple times in this chapter, always in reference to the dolls Claudia did not want. She is told every little girl wants a blond-haired, blue-eyed doll, and something must be wrong with her if she does not. Claudia learns the dominant societal attitude (white is better than black) from her African American family. Claudia struggles against these attitudes, but Pecola does not fight them at all.

Morrison tells the reader Pecola’s family is ugly because they believe they are ugly. Movingly, Pecola wonders if having ‘pretty’ blue eyes could lead her family to behave in a ‘prettier’ way. Pecola identifies other attractive features of her face: ‘her teeth were good’—unlike Mrs. Breedlove’s—and ‘her nose was not big and flat like some of those who were thought so cute.’ In bits and pieces Pecola can see herself as attractive, but without the unattainable blue eyes Pecola believes she will never be beautiful. Morrison says Pecola ‘would never know her beauty’ because she is so convinced of the necessity of blue eyes, which again remind the reader of how society formulates beauty: it requires a white person’s features.

Morrison consistently uses the word beauty to refer to the unattainable. Claudia says they resent Maureen because she possesses ‘the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us.’ Again Maureen has lighter skin and light-colored eyes, so she can achieve beauty while the other girls cannot. Beauty is also used to refer to concrete objects that are out of the girls’ scope of experience. When Pecola is in Geraldine’s house, Morrison twice describes the surroundings as ‘beautiful.’ Soaphead Church, whose family had an elevated social standing, collects objects of beauty. Again the message: beauty is out of reach for the average African American. Beauty is for white people and a few lucky African Americans.

Morrison says Mrs. Breedlove connected ‘physical beauty with virtue,’ which inspired ‘self-contempt.’ Mrs. Breedlove sees beauty every day in her employer’s house, but she keeps it separate. It is not part of her home or her children. The implication is they are not good enough to possess beauty—Mrs. Breedlove’s twisted binding together of beauty and virtue. This is also part of the dominant societal construction of beauty: white equals beautiful and beautiful equals good, therefore black equals ugly and ugly equals bad.

This message is destructive, Morrison warns. When Mrs. Breedlove learns about ‘physical beauty’ from the movies, Morrison calls it ‘probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought.’ It is destructive because so often beauty is defined by ugliness. Near the end of the novel Claudia says, ‘We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness.’ Pecola helped them see their own beauty because she could not see hers, but what a sacrifice she made. Morrison wants all people to recognize their inherent beauty, which is something she believes many African Americans are ill-equipped to do.

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