What does the title of The Bluest Eye mean?
The title of The Bluest Eye is a direct reference to the profound wish of Pecola Breedlove, who is the subject of the novel. To Pecola, blue eyes represent the beauty, love, and admiration white girls like Shirley Temple and the Fishers’ young daughter have. Struggling with low self-esteem and a loss of self, Pecola prays for blue eyes because she believes having them will improve her life and solve her problems. At the end of the novel, a series of traumatic and violent events have permanently scarred Pecola’s mind, leading her to develop a second self who she has animated conversations with. During one of the conversations Pecola voices her fear that her new blue eyes aren’t the bluest, and asks her new self to help her find the bluest eyes in the whole world. This demonstrates that although in her mind Pecola has her ultimate wish fulfilled, she is destined to continue wanting what she cannot have.
What was Toni Morrison’s purpose for writing The Bluest Eye?
In her writings and interviews about The Bluest Eye, Morrison has revealed that the inspiration for her first novel came from a classmate she had in elementary school. The girl told Morrison that she wanted blue eyes, and Morrison at first recoiled at the mental image those words created in her mind. Years later, she began to wonder why the girl didn’t recognize her own beauty, and how she came to learn racial self-loathing. By writing The Bluest Eye, Morrison hopes to answer these questions, and peck away at the gaze that condemned her childhood classmate, and her character Pecola.
How are Pecola Breedlove and Maureen Peal foils to one another?
From the moment she is introduced in the “winter” section of the novel, it’s clear that Maureen is the polar opposite of Pecola. The first thing noted is Maureen’s skin color, which is on the other end of the spectrum from Pecola’s. Maureen’s “high-yellow” skin gets her very different treatment at school than Pecola’s dark skin. Everyone wants to be her friend, while Pecola is shunned and avoided like a plague. Teachers call on Maureen and smile encouragingly at her, while they only call on Pecola as needed and never try to even look at her. Furthermore, the schoolyard bullies continuously ridicule and torment Pecola, whereas when Maureen appears, they stop their bullying behavior because her “springtime eyes” cow them into inaction (Morrison 49). These differences in treatment demonstrate the pervasive power of colorism in everyday black life.
Another way that Pecola and Maureen are foil characters is their radically different family circumstances. Though we never meet Maureen’s family, it’s clear from her perfectly starched and expensive school clothes and her meticulously packed school lunches that she comes from a household that at least pays attention to her, if not dearly loves her. The opposite can be said of Pecola, whose family barely has time for her, so preoccupied they are with their own problems and demons. All of this results in Maureen being confident and having a strong sense of self, while Pecola is insecure and suffers from crippling self-doubt. By juxtaposing Pecola and Maureen, we see what Pecola could have been, had her parents, community, and society treated her the same way as they have treated Maureen.
How does Claudia rationalize Cholly’s actions?
When she’s older, Claudia looks back and reflects on what happened to Pecola. One of the conclusions she comes to is that Cholly in fact loved his daughter, “loved her enough to touch her, envelop her, give something of himself to her” (Morrison 154). This is in contrast to everyone else’s treatment of Pecola. For example, when Pecola goes to buy candy, Mr. Yacobowski, the store owner, is loath to even touch Pecola’s hand to take her money for the candy. At school, no one wants to sit next to Pecola, out of fear of accidentally touching her or being associated with her. And finally, even Pecola’s own mother gives nothing of herself to Pecola, and neglects her in favor of caring for the daughter of the white Fisher family. So in a perverse way, Claudia rationalizes Cholly’s rape of Pecola as an act of love, the most love she ever received. However, Claudia also asserts that Cholly’s love filled Pecola with death, because “love is never any better than the lover” (Morrison 154). Cholly was evil and perverted, and thus his love was the same.
What does “Pecola’s unbeing” mean, and who is to blame for it?
Pecola’s unbeing is one way Morrison refers to Pecola’s collapse and splitting of self. Though our gut reaction is to blame characters like Cholly, Mrs. Breedlove, Geraldine, and Pecola’s schoolmates for Pecola’s unbeing, this would be the simple and easy answer. In her 1993 Kopf edition afterword, Morrison makes it clear that while several characters in the novel contribute to Pecola’s unbeing, she did not want “to dehumanize the characters who trashed Pecola and contributed to her collapse” (Morrison 157). That’s one of the reasons why she shows us Cholly’s and Mrs. Breedlove’s formative years, to humanize them and show us that they too suffered from many of the insecurities and trauma they pass onto their daughter Pecola. Thus, characters such as Cholly, Mrs. Breedlove, etc. aren’t actors who cause Pecola’s unbeing, they are agents for the true sources of her collapse—colorism, racial self-loathing, poverty, and violence.