Bluest Eye

Bluest Eye Literary Elements


Bildungsroman, Tragedy, African American literature

Setting and Context

The novel is set in Lorain, Ohio, in the years following the Great Depression.

Narrator and Point of View

The story alternates between the first-person narrative of Claudia MacTeer, and a third-person omniscient narration.

Tone and Mood

In the prologue, the tone is cryptic and tragic. Claudia has an awful story to tell us, but will tell it on her own terms. Thus, heading into the autumn chapter, the mood is warily anticipatory. During the third-person omniscient sequences, the tone is explanatory, reflective, and distantly sympathetic, as the narrator doesn’t have a personal connection to the characters whose stories they’re telling, but still empathizes with their plights. The result is a mood that is largely dependent on the events transpiring. So for example during Cholly’s rape of his daughter, the narrator’s tone is a studied calm, but the mood is horrified disgust as Cholly assaults Pecola.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is Claudia MacTeer, a young black girl who’s righteously indignant over society’s treatment of Pecola Breedlove. The antagonists are Cholly Breedlove, and the forces of racial self-loathing, American beauty standards, and racism.

Major Conflict

The major conflict in The Bluest Eye is Pecola’s struggle to survive amidst a family and society that strike at her very sense of being.


The climax is when Cholly rapes Pecola.


“And while we waited for the coin to reappear, we knew we were amusing Mama and Daddy. Daddy was smiling, and Mama's eyes went soft as they followed our hands wandering over Mr. Henry's body. We loved him. Even after what came later, there was no bitterness in our memory of him" (Morrison 10).

In this quote, the phrase "even after what came later" foreshadows Mr. Henry's eventual sexual assault of Frieda.




The Great Depression is never explicitly mentioned but rather alluded to throughout the novel. One example of this is Mrs. MacTeer mentioning President Roosevelt and the CCC, or Civilian Conservation Corps, during her rant about Pecola drinking three quarts of milk.


See “Imagery” section of this Classicnote.


“The creditors and service people who humiliated her when she went to them on her own behalf respected her, were even intimidated by her, when she spoke for the Fishers” (Morrison 98).

A paradox is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true. "Paradoxical" is an apt way of describing the effort and dedication the ironically named Mrs. Breedlove puts into her work for the Fishers, an effort and dedication that she doesn’t even consider putting into herself or her own family.


Morrison draws several parallels in The Bluest Eye. The major one is the parallel between the picturesque Dick and Jane story that she gradually distorts in the novel’s prologue, and the disastrous life of the Breedloves. There are also parallels drawn between Pecola and her mother Pauline, and Pecola and her father Cholly. Although they are decades and a generation apart, Pecola and her mother both have an endearing leg scratch mannerism that attracts Cholly to them as objects of sexual desire. Both women are also recipients of Cholly’s violence. Pecola and a young Cholly are paralleled as two children whose parents abandoned them, though in Pecola’s case this is mentally and emotionally, whereas in Cholly’s the abandonment is physical as well. Finally, Claudia and Pecola are paralleled, with Claudia demonstrating what happens when young black girls are raised in strict, but loving and safe homes, and Pecola demonstrating what happens when they are not.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

“Then why left you to sell tail?” (Morrison 41).

In a synecdoche, a part of something is used to refer to the whole entity, or a whole entity is used to refer to part of something. In this quote China uses tail as a euphemism for Marie’s rear end, but she doesn’t mean Marie has sold just her derriere. She uses tail to refer to Marie’s whole body, because she’s alluding to Marie using her body for sex work.


“So when I think of autumn, I think of somebody with hands who does not want me to die” (Morrison 6).

In this example Claudia personifies the season of autumn, treating it as a living person with a vested interested in her survival.