The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
THESIS:In the novel The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison incorporates various techniques in The Bluest Eye, such as her use of metaphors, the ironic use of names and the visual images that she uses.
I. Background information on Toni Morrison
A. Where she was born.
B. Where she attend college
C. Why she changed her name
D. When she got married
II. The Bluest Eye
A. Summary of The Bluest Eye
B. What is a theme?
1. The main theme of The Bluest Eye.
C. What is a Plot?
1. What is the plot of The Bluest Eye?
D. How Toni Morrison plays with the names in The Bluest Eye, so they are not what they seem to be.
1.The significance of Pecola’s name
E. What are the two major metaphors used in The Bluest Eye?
Toni Morrison the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. She was the second of four children to George and Ramah Wofford. Her parents moved to Ohio from the South to escape racism and to find better opportunities in the North.
Lorain was a small industrial town populated with immigrant Europeans, Mexicans and Southern blacks who lived next door to each other. Chloe attended an integrated school. In the first grade she was the only black student in her class and the only one who could read.
Chloe attended the prestigious Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she majored in English with a minor in classics. Since many people could not pronounce her name correctly she changed it to Toni, a shortened version of her middle name. Toni Wofford graduated Howard University in 1953 with a B.A. in English. She attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and received a master’s degree in 1955.
After graduating, Toni was offered a job at Texas Southern University in Houston where she taught introductory English. In 1957, she returned to Howard as a member of the faculty. At Howard she met and fell in love with a young Jamaican architect, Harold Morrison. They married in 1958 and had her first son in 1961. Toni continued to teach while taking care of here family, she also joined a small writer’s group as a temporary escape from an unhappy married life.
Each member was required to bring a story or poem for discussion. One week, having nothing to bring, she quickly wrote a story loosely based on a girl she knew in childhood who had prayed to have blue eyes. The story was well received by the group. Toni put it away thinking that she was done with it. When her sons where asleep, she started writing. She dusted off the story in which she had written for discussion in her writers group and decided to make it into a novel. She drew on her memories as a child and expanded on them with her imagination so the characters developed a life of their own. The Bluest Eye was published in 1970, too much critical acclaim, although it was not commercially successful.
The Bluest Eye is a novel of initiation set in Lorain, Ohio. Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, desperately wants blue eyes, thinking that they would make her beautiful. She drinks several quarts of milk at the home of her friends Claudia and Frieda McTeer just to use their Shirley Temple mug and glaze at young Temple’s blue eyes. One day Pecola is raped by her father, when the child the she conceives dies, Pecola goes mad. She comes to believe that she has the bluest eyes of anyone.
In the novel, The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison incorporates various techniques, such as her use of metaphors, the ironic use of names, and the visual images that she uses. The theme of The Bluest Eye, revolves around African Americans’ conformity to white standards. A woman may whiten her skin, straighten her hair and change its color, but she can not change the color of her eyes. The desire to transform one’s identity, itself becomes an inverted desire, becomes the desire for blues eye, which is the symptom of Pecola’s instability.
The Bluest Eye opens with a Dick and Jane paragraph, a white American Myth far removed from the realities illustrated in the novel. Thereafter, the black narrator Claudia MacTeer relates much of the story, and the reminder, which concerns events that Claudia could not have witnessed, is narrated mostly by an unidentified voice. Claudia’s narrative reveals the guilt that for a long time plagued her and her sister in connection with another girl’s miscarriage. The girl, Pecola Breedlove, was pregnant with her own father’s child in the fall of 1941. Told by the different narrators, the understanding of events up to her tragedy is organized according to the four seasons.
In the Autumn, the tense shifts form present to past, indicating shifts between the nine year old Claudia and the adult Claudia acting as narrators. The story begins with the arrival of Mr. Henry Washington, a border who will live with the MacTeers. At the same time, Pecola Breedlove comes to live with the MacTeers. She has been “put outdoors” by her father who has gone to jail and not paid the rent on the apartment. Frieda and Pecola talk about how much they each love Shirley temple. Claudia rebels. She does not like Shirley Temple nor the white dolls that she receives each Christmas with the big blue eyes. To the dismay of the adults, she dismembers these dolls, trying to see if it was that all the world said was lovable. The text shifts to the third person omniscient point of view and gives the reader a brief of the inside of the Breedlove’s two-room apartment. The whole family shares one bedroom and there is no bath, only a toilet. At the same time the Breedlove family is introduced. The family is described as ugly. Pecola’s only refuge from her life is with the three prostitutes who live upstairs and who treat her with affection the only people who do so.
In the winter, Claudia and Frieda endure the gray Ohio winter until a disrupt of seasons, a new girl named Maureen Peale, comes to school . She is lighter skinned than Claudia, Frieda and Pecola, and her family is wealthy. Claudia and Frieda, both hate her and love her. One day on the way home from school, the three girls encounter Pecola, who is being teased by a group of boys. Frieda rescues her, and Maureen appears to befriend her. However, Maureen soon turns on Pecola taunting her with her blackness and her ugliness. The focus of the book shifts to a description of the “Mobile girls,” women who attempt to control and modify their blackness and her ugliness. In imitation of the dominant culture, they straighten their hair, control their odors, and learn to behave in order to do the white man’s work.
In the spring, Mr. Washington, the border fondles Frieda’s breasts, and Mr. MacTeer beats him up and throws him out of the house. Later, Frieda and Claudia go and visit Pecola who is at the Fisher’s where Mrs. Breedlove works as a housekeeper. While the children are there, Pecola spills a pan of hot blueberry cobbler all over herself, the dress of the white girl, and the clean white floor. Mrs. Breedlove viciously abuses Pecola and comforts the little white girl. In the next section, a third person omniscient narrator flashes back to Pauline’s young adulthood and her marriage. This narration only tells how Pauline came to work as a servant, for the white rich family.
Also in the third person narration are sections of Pauline’s voice in the first person. She talks of her life with Cholly and why she stays with him in spite of his drunkenness and abuse. The narration then shifts again, this time it is Cholly story. We read how his mother abandoned him when he was just four days old. His Aunt Jimmy raised him until she died when he was a young teen. After the funeral, he took a young girl into the woods and had his first sexual experience. He and the girl were discovered by a group of white men who force him to repeat the act for their entertainment. Cholly never forgets nor forgives the humiliation. At the end of this chapter, Cholly returns to his home in Lorain, drunk, and finds Pecola washing dishes. He is overcome with both love and hatred for her; his response is to rape her. He leaves her passed out on the floor, under a quilt. Pecola’s awakens to her mother’s angry eyes. Again, the scene shifts to the room of Soaphead Church, an educated West Indian now living in Lorain. Pecola is now pregnant with her father’s child.
It is summer when Claudia and Frieda hear that Pecola is pregnant with her father’s child. They overhear adults talking about the child and how it will probably not survive. Claudia and Frieda seem to be the only ones who want the baby to live. They make a promise to God to be good for a whole month and plant marigold seed that will serve as a sign for them; when the seeds sprout, they will know that everything will be alright. However, as readers already know that “there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941” and nothing turn out right for Pecola.
The next chapter is a deranged dialogue carried out between Pecola and herself in which she discusses her new blue eyes, questioning if they are “bluest eyes” in the world. We also discover that Cholly has raped his daughter more than once. Her madness, then, appears to be a defense against the pain of living her life. The last voice that we ear in the novel is that of Claudia’s, now looking back as an adult, trying to assign the blame for the tragedy of Pecola. She tells us that Pecola’s baby died soon after birth, Cholly is died as well, that Mrs. Breedlove still works for the white people and Pecola spends her days talking to herself and picking at the garbage in a dump. The novel closes with the indictment of the community and the culture.
The narrative structure in The Bluest Eye is important in revealing, just how persuasive and destructive the “Racialization” (Morrison’s term for racism that is a part of every person’s socialization) is (Leflore) Narration in The Bluest Eye comes from several sources, but most of the narration is from Claudia McTeer as a nine year old child. Morrison also gives the reader the benefit of Claudia reflecting on the story as an adult, some first person narration from Pecola’s mother, and by Morrison herself as an omniscient narrator.
Morrison intentionally kept Pecola from any first person narration of the story. She wanted to ” try to a little girl as a total and complete victim of whatever was around her” and she needed the distance and the innocence of Claudia’s character to do that (Stepto479). The experience would have been less meaning coming from Pecola herself because, ” A total and complete victim would be an unreliable narrator, unwilling (or unable) to tell relate the actual circumstances of that year (Stepto479).
In addition to the narrative structure, the structure and typography of the novel itself helps to illustrate how much and for how long white ideas of family and home have been forced into black culture. Instead of your usual chapters and sections, The Bluest Eye is broken up into seasons, fall, winter, spring and summer. This type of organization suggests that the events that have occurred in The Bluest Eye have happed in the past and will happen again in the future. Further dividing this book up are the small excerpts, from the Dick and Jane that is the epitome of the white uppermiddle class lifestyle. Each excerpt has in some way to do with the section that follows. The excerpts for Dick and Jane that head each “chapter” are typeset without any spaces or punctuation marks.
The “Dick and Jane” snippets show just how prevalent and important the images of white perfection are in Pecola’s life. Morrison’s strange typography illustrates how irrelevant and inappropriate these images are.
Names play an important part in The Bluest Eye, because they are often symbolic of conditions in society and in the context on the story. The name if the novel, The Bluest Eye, is meant to give the reader thinking about how much value is placed on blue eyed little girls. Pecola and her family are representative of the larger African American community and their name “Breedlove” is ironic because they live in a society that does not ” breed love”. In fact, it breeds hate, hate of blackness and the hatred of oneself. The name “MacTeer”, can have an argument to be made, that it refers to the fact that the MacTeer girls are the only ones who shed a tear for Pecola. Soaphead church represents as his name suggests the role of the church in African American life. The implication is that the church’s promise that if you worship God and pray to him that everything will be alright is no better than Soaphead’s promise to Pecola that she will have blue eyes.
Morrison reveals the significance of Pecola’s name through the character of Maureen Peal. Maureen confuses Pecola’s name with the name of the character in the movie Imitation of Life.
“I just moved here. My name is Maureen peal. What’s yours”
“Pecola? Wasn’t that the name of the girl in Imitation of Life?”
“I don’t know. What is that?”
“The picture show, you know. Where this mulatto girl hates her mother cause
she is black and ugly but then cries at the funeral. It was real sad. Everybody cries in it. Claudette Colbert too.”
“Oh” Pecola’s voice was no more than a sigh.
“Anyway, her name was Pecola too. She was pretty. When it comes back, I’m going to see it again.”(Morrison56-57)
Maureen’s reference to the film illustrates how white cultural values shape the black community’s idea of physical beauty. But Maureen’s discrepancy, was that the name of the girl in Imitation of Life, is not in fact Pecola, but Peola. The irregularity is appropriate because it denotes Pecola’s failure to be like her cinematic double. Maureen’s mistake is relevance as well, for Morrison in her act of (mis)naming signifies the community’s power to deny an individual autonomy and to use people for its own needs.
In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison uses metaphors, in which she wants the reader to think one way, but in reality she is talking about a whole other subject. The definition of a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another subject to suggest a likeness or an analogy between them. She uses metaphors in The Bluest Eye to describe the conditions under which African Americans in general and Pecola are forced to live.
There are two major metaphors in The Bluest Eye, one of marigolds and of dandelions. Claudia, looking back as an adult says, at the beginning of the book, “there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941″(Morrison 9). She and her sister (Frieda) plant seed with the belief that the marigolds seeds would grow and survive, and so would Pecola’s baby (Morrison 149). Morrison’s scope to all African Americans on the last page ” I even think that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruits it will not bear(Morrison160). The implication is that Pecola like so many other African Americans never had the chance to grow and succeed, because she lived in a society (“soil”) that was inherently racist, and would not nurture her.
The other metaphor, the dandelion is also an important metaphor that Morrison uses because it represents Pecola’s image of herself. See, Pecola passes some dandelions going into Mr. Yacobowski’s store. “Why she wonders, so people call them weeds? She thought that they were pretty”(Morrison 41). After leaving the store and being humiliated by Mr. Yacobowski, she again passes the same dandelions and thinks; “They are ugly. They are weeds (Morrison 43). Pecola has transferred society’s dislikes of her unto the dandelions.
In all of Toni Morrison’s novels, she uses a systematic use of color imagery to promote particular responses or sensual experiences. The following is a list of the colors that she uses to create visual imagery in her novels and also what they stand for.
Red = alarm
Green = tranquillity
Blue = pleasure nurturing
White = mystical
Both the blue and the white used together in her imagery stands for, positive life-giving forces, peaceful, non-violent death or even insanity.
Toni Morrison is a very successful African American woman, who in her life has overcome a lot, not only in her personal life, but also in the world of being a writer. She has won the Nobel Prize in Literature in which she was the first African American woman to do so. The various writing techniques that she uses not only in The Bluest Eye, but also in all of her novels, are extraordinary.
I hope that many people have shared the experience that I have by reading her books by getting an insight to the many ways in which not only a writer but also anyone can incorporate in his or her writings.
Bakerman, Jane. “The Seams Can’t Show: An Interview with Toni Morrison.” Black American Literature forum. 12(1978): 56-60.
Dittermar, Linda.”Will the Circle be Unbroken?” The Politics of Form in The Bluest Eye.”Novel. 23.2 (Winter1990): 137-55.
Leflore, Fannie,”Author Morrison uses fiction to challenge prevailing images,” Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Journal, October 20,1990
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Washington Square Press-Pocket Books, 1970.
Stepto, Robert B. “Intimate Things In Place” A Conversation with Toni Morrison.” Massachusetts Review. 18(1977): 473-89