I’ve wanted to go through Toni Morrison’s works for the longest time, but up until recently, had only read Beloved. I really enjoyed that novel, and was confident that I’d like Morrison’s other famous works, including The Bluest Eye, which has been on my “To Read” list for years. Well, I finally got around to reading that one, and it was indeed a thought-provoking story.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): The Bluest Eye takes readers through the events of a year in the life of young Pecola Breedlove, a 12-year-old girl whose home life is absolutely despicable. Her mother Pauline is impatient and both physically and verbally abusive towards Pecola, and her father Cholly is a shiftless drunk who doesn’t provide for the family. After Cholly and Pauline have a fight in which Cholly ends up trying to burn their house down, Pecola becomes a ward of the state and is sent to live with the MacTeers. Most of the novel’s events are told by Claudia MacTeer, a nine-year-old girl.
We then learn a bit more about Pecola, including the way she used to pray fervently for God to give her blue eyes. She was jealous of the way blond-haired, blue-eyed white children were treated kindly by everyone from teachers to shopkeepers, and she felt that if she could have blue eyes, then people would think she was pretty and would be nice to her, too.
Once Pecola is situated in the MacTeers’ household, Cholly and Pauline’s personal histories are revealed in flashbacks. We’re shown how rough their childhoods were, and how they never had much of a chance to succeed in their adult lives. Nevertheless, these hardships certainly can’t excuse their abusive ways, nor can they come close to explaining why Cholly commits the ultimate in repulsive acts when he later rapes Pecola — twice.
Pecola becomes pregnant, but soon miscarries. After that, she goes mad, carrying on conversations with herself as she develops a split personality.
My Reaction: This was truly a dark, haunting novel, and even though Morrison herself says she didn’t quite achieve the effect she was going for with the way the work was structured, I thought it was brilliant. Pecola was such a tragic figure that it was impossible not to be moved by the horrific circumstances of her young life.
I know Morrison wanted to portray these characters and events in such a way as to show that Pecola’s descent into madness was the cumulative effect of a lot of different factors, but as a reader, it’s hard not to think that Cholly did the greatest damage. I’m not sure that insanity and a split personality would have been on the menu if Cholly had, say, taken off a couple years beforehand.
And of course no one can read The Bluest Eye without examining society’s ideas about beauty and goodness. Unfortunately, the answers today are just as depressing as they were when this novel was written in 1970.
Overall, The Bluest Eye is definitely worth reading. Pecola and her plight will remain etched in your memory long after you close the book and move on to other things.