By constructing the chain of events that answer the question of how Pecola Breedlove is caste as a pariah in her community, Toni Morrison in The Bluest Eye attempts to satisfy the more difficult question of why. Although, unspoken, this question obsessively hovers over Pecola throughout the novel and in her circular narrative style Morrison weaves a story that seeks to answer this question by gathering all of the forces that were instrumental in the creation of a social mishap. By using what seem like tangents in the story, we are shown examples of how forces beyond human control such as nature, an omniscient being and primarily a legacy of rejection have come together to establish the heritage of desolation that has been passed on to Pecola Breedlove.
A pattern of precedence is pieced together in the story, showing the seeds of Pecola’s present barrenness to have been planted in the lives of preceding generations. By profiling the lives of Soaphead Church and Pauline Breedlove, Morrison makes a case for the validity of generational curses. Their narratives are appropriately placed in the Spring division of the novel as an indication of the characters sowing the seeds that will be reaped by Pecola. Seemingly, as an example of the ways in which the transgressions of the fathers revisit the sons, the narrator gives an extensive account of Soaphead Church’s family history, constantly citing instances in which traits of the fathers (or effects of their traits) followed the sons for generations. Of his family the author says, “They transferred this Anglophilia to their six children and sixteen grandchildren” and the family is described as one entity, the accomplishments and …
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…g the Girl’s Own Story.” The Girl: Construction of the Girl in Contemporary Fiction by Women. Ed. Ruth Saxton. New York: St. Martin’s P, 1998. 21-42.
Kubitschek, Missy Dehn. Toni Morrison: A Critical Companion. London: Greenwood, 1998.
Kuenz, Jane. “The Bluest Eye: Notes on History, Community, and Black Female Subjectivity.” AfricanAmerican Review 27.3 (1993): 421-31.
Middleton, David. Toni Morrison: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1987.
Middleton, David. Toni Morrison’s Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. New York: Garland, 1997.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1993.
Peterson, Nancy J. Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.
Pettis, Joyce. “Difficult Survival: Mothers and Daughters in The Bluest Eye.” SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women 4 (1987): 26-29.
Morrison’s Bluest Eye Essay: The American Way
The Bluest Eye: The American Way
Ownership, class structures, and consumerism go hand in hand. Morrison illustrates this throughout the novel and in the characters’ identities. Many of the characters identify themselves based on material possessions: the simple ownership of a car, the use of consumer products, and property ownership. Although African Americans may take these things for granted now, in the early 1900’s this would be considered a major accomplishment.
There is an apparent contradiction of class status among the characters illustrating how beauty determines social stratification. Morrison places each person in the class hierarchy based on how close they are to the white standard of beauty. The Fishers, the white family Pauline is employed by, are at the top of the class stratification. The only upper middle class family is white and they are the ultimate model of the blonde and blue eyed standard.
Rosemary, whom the girls also have a tinge of jealousy for, is on the same class level as Frieda and Claudia, except that her Italian features classify her as white. Rosemary’s phenotype is white yet she is also a minority. In the opening scene of the novel she is “sitting in a 1939 Buick eating bread and butter.” Claudia and Frieda are characterized as envious:
We stare at her, wanting her bread, but more
than that wanting to poke the arrogance out
of her eyes and smash the pride of ownership
that curls her chewing mouth. (12)
Morrison opens the novel with a feeling of envy, because she is depicting how consumerism and ownership evoke competition. Each character wants to be superior to the others. Rosemary views herself as better than the African American girls because bla…
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… Bluest Eye (New York: Washington Press, 1970).
Susan Willis, “I Shop Therefore I Am: Is There a Place for Afro-American Culture in Commodity Culture?” in Changing Our Own Words: Essays on Criticsm, Theory and Writing by Black Women, ed. Charyl A. Wall (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989): 173-95.
Elizabeth House, “Artist and the Art of Living: Order and Disorder in Toni Morrison’s Fiction,” Modern Fiction Studies 34(1998):27-44.
Bessie W. Jones, “An Interiew with Toni Morrison,” in The World of Toni Morrision, ed. Bessie Jones and Audrey Vinson (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt, 1985).
Robert Stepto, ” `Intimate Things in a Place’: A Conversation with Toni Morrison,” in Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Art, and Scholarship, ed. Michael S. Harper and Robert B. Stepto (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979).