As the family at the center of The Bluest Eye, much care and attention is spent on sketching the Breedloves. Morrison begins with their living situation, where she describes the family as being “nestled together” like a den of animals (Morrison 24). She also uses the word “fester,” reminiscent of infected wounds, to explain how they live. This suggests a toxic and dangerous home life that’s only getting worse. Morrison then moves onto the Breedloves themselves, and describes how they don their ugliness like it is a piece of clothing. By comparing the Breedloves’ ugliness to something they can choose to put on or take off, Morrison is telling us that the Breedloves’ ugliness isn’t an unchangeable physical trait. Rather, it’s a mindset, a feeling, and a conviction that the Breedloves must shake themselves free of if they’re ever to change their life circumstances. Tragically, this is easier said than done, as we see when the story unfolds.
One of Pecola’s coping mechanisms for when her parents fight is imagining herself disappearing. In Pecola’s mind, her disappearance follows a typical process, which she details. First, her fingers go one by one, followed by her arms then her feet. On her legs, her thighs are the hardest part, but finally they go too, and eventually so do her stomach, chest, and neck, until only her face is left. If she concentrates hard, she can make her face disappear too, but she can never get her eyes to recede. To Pecola, her eyes are the most crucial part, so their refusal to disappear make all her other efforts pointless. The outlining of Pecola’s disappearing process reveals the importance of her eyes in Pecola’s mind. We begin to realize that her eyes are critically tied to Pecola’s sense of self.
Men, particularly fathers, are given a predominantly harsh and unflattering representation in The Bluest Eye. Fathers are at best absent, like Cholly’s father, and at worse abusive, like Cholly himself. The lone exception is Claudia and Frieda’s father, Mr. MacTeer. Though more attention is spent on Mrs. MacTeer, Claudia does take some time to describe her father in the beginning of the “Winter” chapter. Claudia makes effective use of personification to describe how the winter moves into her father’s face and presides there. For example, Mr. MacTeer’s brown skin lightening during the sunless winter is described as his skin taking on “the pale, cheerless yellow of winter sun.” His chin becomes “the edges of a snowbound field,” and his high forehead “the frozen sweep of the Erie” (Morrison 45). All of this figurative language would suggest that Mr. MacTeer is a cold, unfeeling, and uncaring father, but this proves to be the contrary when he learns Mr. Henry Washington sexually assaulted Frieda. Instead of blaming his daughter, like Mrs. Breedlove does to Pecola when she learns of Pecola’s pregnancy by Cholly, Mr. MacTeer holds Mr. Henry responsible and seeks vengeance. The dichotomy between his outward appearance and his actions demonstrates that though characters may appear a certain way in The Bluest Eye, this doesn’t mean that they must act a certain way.
The Bluest Eye is an exploration of how “the demonization of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society: a child"; it is also a portrait of African American life in the mid-20th century. The lived experiences of African-Americans are as varied and diverse as their white counterparts, but in the 1960s when Morrison was writing her first novel, there was a dearth of literature depicting this diversity. So in The Bluest Eye, Morrisons takes great pains to show us a full spectrum of black life, from the ugly, poor, and slovenly Breedloves, to the prim, well put together, and beautiful Geraldine. Using a series of parallel sentences beginning with “they,” Morrison describes black females like Geraldine, who fight “to get rid of the funkiness...of passion...of nature...of the wide range of human emotions” (Morrison 62). If black women like Mrs. Breedlove feel the wrong things, black women like Geraldine strive to feel nothing at all, in exchange for appearing perfect. Despite their differences, both women are driven by the same forces—the forces of anti-blackness, racial self-loathing, and gender violence that tell them there is a “proper” or “right” way to be a woman. So though African Americans in America are quite diverse, they sometimes grapple with the same issues.
Bluest Eye Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Bluest Eye is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Feester: To worsen, especially due to lack of attention. The prejudice and treatment that Pecola receives because of her skin color is called "colorism," a sister type of discrimination that has only recently been studied and researched. In...