Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Bluest Eye

"Quiet as it's kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that is was because Pecola was having her father's baby that the marigolds did not grow..."

And so Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye begins.

Set in Ohio in the 1940's, the story is narrated by Claudia MacTeer, both as young black girl growing up against the backdrop of the american midwest, and later on in life, as an adult looking back on her childhood. Parts are also narrated by an omnipresent third party.

Claudia remembers the autumn Pecola Breedlove comes to stay, her family having been put 'oudoors' with nowhere to go after her father sets fire to their home and is sent to jail. Believing herself to be ugly, Pecola's most fervent wish is to have blue eyes. Unloved by her damaged parents and surrounded by a lack of hope, she is bullied and has few friends.

Despite being the main protagonist, Pecola's character is the one to remain the least developed, perhaps as a way to reinforce the idea that she becomes a font for the shortcomings of those around her; a reflection of a brutal world.

As the story continues we learn that both her parents also had damaging and abusive upbringings. In the afterword, Morrison explains that she felt it important not to dehumanize the characters who ruin Pecola: this she achieves marvelously. (Though she herself, is unsatisfied with her depiction of Pauline Breedlove.)

The novel reaches it's peak with the rape of Pecola at the hands of her father. Not only does it represent the central point in the novel, for me it brought together all of the separate threads of narrative that Morrison weaves up to that point. It showcases her incredible ability to explore the complexity of seemingly simple, brutal events; to not only move you, but to make you question why you are moved.

In the aftermath of the rape and Pecola's subsequent pregnancy, it is through Claudia's childlike, innocent desire for Pecola's baby to survive that Morrison deftly shows societies ability to turn a blind eye. Pecola, transparent for much of the novel, simply disappears from the adults view.

My thoughts

The Bluest Eye is a stunning examination of societies perception of beauty and the importance we place on appearance. Written by Morrison in the 60's it has obvious racial implications, but there are still lessons to be learnt today, in our (hopefully more equal) society. It's certainly not a light read, nor an uplifting one but Morrison's rhythmic, almost poetic writing carries the reader through and captivates from the start.

The Bluest Eye may be a smaller in size than some of her more famous novels, but don't be fooled. It packs a heavy punch.


  1. It does indeed pack a heavy punch and that opening line really grabbed me and didn't let me go.

  2. This is one of Morrison's books that I have not read but I loved Sula and Tar Baby. I own a copy and this post has inspired me to move it up in my to be read list.

    I also think that while Morrison's books speak to a large audience about many issues, they are still very relevant in regards to the racial issues. While we have made some leeway since the 1960's we still have a lot of issues in regard to ethnicity and race. Her books always seem to slice through time and hold their relevancy.

  3. I'm really glad this has made you look it up. I was introduced to Morrison (like many) by Beloved but I think this little, much overlooked book sums up all of what I admire about her writing. Try and find one with her afterword in the back. She is so scathing!