‘The Bluest Eye’ (1970) is a debut novel of the most formally sophisticated novelist and the 1993 Nobel Laureate black Afro-American writer Toni Morrison who was born in Lorain, Ohio, New York, America. The novel depicts the tragic story of young black girl Pecola Breedlove who wants blue eyes, is raped by her father, goes crazy and dies.
On one hand this novel marks the opening of the writing career of Toni Morrison, however, on the other hand, it brings forth the injustice, oppression and exploitation that Africans particularly women were facing on the hands of white Americans. The novel makes one of the powerful attacks on the relationship between Western standards of female beauty and the psychological oppression of black women in the 20th Century. Pecola Breedlove is the chief heroine in the story around whom the whole novel revolves. She is black school girl who grows up with two other black girls Claudia MacTeer and Frieda MacTeer in 1940s Ohio.
The larger part of the story is told by an eight year strong willed black girl Claudia MacTeer who cannot stand the sight of little blond haired blue eyed girls around her. It is she who narrates to us the tale of an eleven year black girl Pecola Breedlove who is growing up with them in the steel making Cleveland suburb of Lorain in 1941.
The central character of the novel Pecola Breedlove lives with her father Cholly Breedlove who is very cruel to his family and is driven to alcoholism. He is also one of the victims of racism, the primary theme that runs throughout the narrative. Her crippled mother Pauline Williams is not only a sufferer of torture and unbearable rage of her husband Cholly Breedlove but she at the same time portrays the appalling condition of the women in the patriarchal society of America. Another character in the novel is Soaphead Church, the reader and advisor who is believed to have turned god like power over the lives of people. It is Soaphead Church to whom Pecola Breedlove implores in the story to bless her with the blue eyes.
Pecola is a poor black girl who longs to have blue eyes in the poignant wistful hope that this will bring her the love she longs for and also somehow alleviate the multiple miseries of her hate-filled, quarrelsome, violent Breedlove family. She becomes the victim to a chain of black people including her mother and father who have been perverted by the false and often vicious standards of the whites. She suffers not only as a black but also as a female. She, in the novel, feels that blue eyes are a talisman of whiteness, of pride, of security and she seeks them through prayer and through the intercession of the spoiled priest Soaphead Church and ultimately through madness when she believes blue eyes have been granted her. Toni Morrison quite beautifully tells us about Pecola Breedlove in her first year of womanhood, is black, ugly and poor, living in a store front sharing a bedroom with her brother. She is young black girl on the verge of madness, seeks beauty and happiness in a wish for white girl’s eyes. The author makes her most telling statement on the tragic effect of race prejudice on children. But the scene occurs late in the novel-far too late to achieve the impact it might have had in a different construction. Pecola Breedlove gets sexually assaulted in her early adolescence by her father Cholly who is a drunkard. Pregnant by her father she goes to the priest Soaphead Church not only to get rid off the suppression and tyranny she was undergoing but also for the bluest eyes. Right from her girlish days till maturity in Ohio, she undergoes a series of afflictions, both physical and emotional, and lastly turns mad and dies a tragic death. Her desirability for blue eyes and whiteness not only is revealed to us by her portraiture of sufferings but also by her strong willed approach which kept her moving for the quest of purity, freedom and identity.
Historically, post World War-1 many new opportunities were given to the growing and expanding group of African Americans living in the North. Almost 50000 African Americans moved to the northern states between 1910 and 1920.This was the beginning of a continuing migration northward. More than 15 00000 blacks went north in the 1930s and 25, 0000 in the 1940s.Life in the north was very hard for Afro-Americans. Race riots, limited housing and restricted job opportunities were only a few of the many hardships that the African American people had to face at that time. Families often had to separate; people were in dire need of aid, crime rates increased with other plethora of problems. ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Morrison takes place during this time period. The main subject in the novel is the quest for individual identity and the influences of the family and community. The chief five characters besides the heroine Pecola are all embodiment of this quest for identity of Afro-Americans in northern states.
In her six novels consciously written in the course of 22 years Toni Morrison has reflected the problem of oppression of race, gender and class that Africans were facing with white Americans. Each successive novel of hers shows her growing understanding of the nature of solution to the African dilemma as she writes in The Bluest Eye that the eradication of capitalism ensures eradication of racism and sexism.
Superficially, the novel depicts how Pecola Breedlove, the heroine, gets tortured and subsequently goes crazy and dies, but allegorically, it portrays the story of the race oppression, gender discrimination and the economic exploitation of Africans by Americans. The novel leaves the reader with too many thoughts as he concludes reading the story i.e. in twentieth century Africans were suppressed by white Americans. The race and gender oppression was pernicious evils. The Africans who had black complexion were considered inferior and their women were treated as mere sex symbols. Toni Morrison further says that this oppression of racism, sexism and classicism was all the byproduct of Capitalism in America and the easy victim of this entire dilemma was the black women who were neither safe inside their families nor outside them because the societal norms, by far, were patriarchal. Pecola Breedlove’s desirability to have blue eyes does not only reveals her yearning to be attractive like other white American blond-haired pretty girls who surrounded her but it at the same time divulges the eagerness of every Afro-American to live life like white Americans who lived with full liberty, equality and fraternity, etc.
When we look at the present scenario, quite understandably things too have fallen apart with a woman. She is still the greatest sufferer of the patriarchal society. The societal norms have kept her caged and she is tortured in every part of the globe. She is treated as a mere child-bearer and a helpmate for her hubby. The social restrictions on her, in some aspects of life, are the clear signs of the injustice and discrimination that she is undergoing. Day in and day out, newspapers carry out the reports of suppression, minor rapes, harassments and harsh circumstances that a woman is facing.
Despite watching the whole show with our eyes wide open, we pretend to be mute spectators. The novel ‘The Bluest Eye’ is a modest attempt of Toni Morrison in this regard to divert attention of the society so that a woman must be honored and given due rights regardless of caste, color and creed. In whatever the color, she is, after all, a mother, a wife, a sister and a daughter.