Bluest Eye

Genre/Style

Toni Morrison's work The Bluest Eye breaks the long tradition of narratives that discuss the hardships of war and depression in the 1940s, as she brings forth a unique and untold point of view in American historical fiction.[2] Morrison purposefully writes stories that defy the “American mainstream ideology” by focusing in on the realities of African-American life at the time.[2] Thus, The Bluest Eye serves as a counter narrative, a method of the telling the accounts of people whose stories are rarely told and deliberately hidden.[11][22] As Morrison once stated, “my job becomes how to rip that veil drawn over proceedings too terrible to relate. The exercise is also critical for any person who is black, or who belongs to any marginalized category, for, historically, we were seldom invited to participate in the discourse even when we were its topic.”[23] In this novel, Morrison depicts a protagonist, Pecola, an ugly black young girl who is a victim of this perpetual racism and denial that Morrison discusses.[24]

As the Civil Rights Movement began to decline in favor of conservative ideals and white power, American culture soon fostered a national identity that excluded anyone who was not white.[17] One example of this is how historically racist ideologies influence the Soaphead Church in the novel. University of Oxford professor Tessa Roynon, who studies African-American literature, states that “the racial theories of Hume, Kant, Jefferson, and others, derived from innovations in classificatory systems by scientists such as Linnaeus, have been collected in useful readers such as Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze's anthology Race and the Enlightenment (1997). The well-read, race-obsessed Soaphead Church in The Bluest Eye is the inevitable product of these theories."[2] These perpetual racist beliefs shape Pecola's self destructiveness, she is suspicious of even her own blackness, and desires the characteristics of a white person, like those in the Dick and Jane primers.[11] As Abdellatif Khayati, professor at the Moroccan Cultural Studies Center, articulates, The Bluest Eye shows how the historic white narrative creates an “epistemic violence of the Other [which] operates through the internalization of the self-as-other. Pecola exists only in the image reflected by the Other.”[11] Just as Pecola's rape is concealed throughout the story, the novel exposes a history of failed pursuits of hiding the racist and sexist establishments that directly provoke each character's hardships.[17]

While Morrison is a notable female writer, she is quick to deny her works being categorized as “feminist,” as she believes the title denies the specific necessities of black women.[2] Rather than depict strong female protagonists, Morrison creates characters who are actually defeated by the racism and sexism of the historic time period.[24] Anne Salvatore, a professor of English at Rider University, interprets this failure of the “anti heroine” as a stark contrast to the typical bildungsroman, where a male character defeats obstacles and grows from experience.[24] Instead, in The Bluest Eye, Pecola fails to develop an individual identity in the face of an oppressive society, and her self-hatred forces her to retreat from reality completely.[24]

The points of view in the novel are also significant to its unique style. Morrison combines many narratives: two perspectives of Claudia at different times in her life, as well as an omniscient third person who connects the many tragedies of the characters.[2] By the end of the novel, the jumbled words of the Dick and Jane primer, as well as the increasingly confusing narratives, hint at Pecola's descent into madness.[2] This breakdown in the novel's structure also represents a destruction of the harmful ideologies which Morrison's stories seeks to debase.[2]


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