“Father of mine, tell me where have you been? You know I just closed my eyes, and my whole world disappeared.” These are words sung by the singer Art Alexakis of the band Everclear. Alexakis grows up and experiences life without a father to guide him. Although Alexakis becomes a successful musician, he lives his life with a void left by his father. Toni Morrison presents an extreme view of life without a father in The Bluest Eye. His incapability of showing love and feeling are shown through his interaction with those closest to him: his wife and children.
In order to truly understand Cholly’s interaction with others, one must see the circumstances of his childhood. Cholly, never having a father figure himself, learns only from negative experiences in his life. A specific event that helped shape his attitude and effect on others was his first sexual experience. When Cholly sees Darlene at his Aunt Jimmy’s funeral, his first impression of her is an innocent attraction. As their relationship transpires in a matter of hours, Cholly has his first sexual experience. However, the event becomes flawed when two white men find them in the woods. In his helplessness, Cholly’s hatred for the white men becomes a hatred for Darlene.
Cholly, moving faster, looked at Darlene. He hated her. He almost wished he could do it – hard, long, and painfully, he hated her so much. The flashlight wormed its way into his guts and turned the sweet taste of muscadine into rotten fetid bile. He stared at Darlene’s hands covering her face in the moon and lamplight. They looked like baby claws. (Morrison 148)
Later, Cholly finds that he has reason to believe that Darlene is pregnant. Left with the impression that his father left soon after he was born, Cholly decides to run away to Macon to find his father. Cholly’s impression of his father is validated by the indifference his father showed to him. His father says, “Something wrong with your head? Who told you to come after me?” (Morrison 156) At this point, Cholly feels helpless, confused, and scared. Startled that his father would choose gambling over his own son, Cholly froze in his tracks. As he began to regain control of himself, he ran away. His loss of control and helplessness in the situation are represented through his loss of control of his bowel movements. From here, Cholly feels free of responsibility and boundaries set on him by society. He becomes:
Dangerously free. Free to feel whatever he felt–fear, guilt, shame, love, grief, pity. . . . Abandoned in a junk heap by his mother, rejected for a crap game by his father, there was nothing more to lose. He was alone with his own perceptions and appetites, and they alone interested him (pp. 159-60). This dangerous freedom is ultimately what leads him to his endangerment to his wife and children.
Cholly’s wife and children are the ultimate victims of Cholly’s lack of self control, his loss of ways to express his love, and lack of integrity. As he immerses himself in drinking, Cholly becomes additionally separated from his family. Cholly’s indifference to Pauline leads to a dysfunctional marriage that will be a major part of a child’s insanity. In the quarrelsome household Pauline feels that he is “getting meaner and meaner and wanted to fight me all the time.”(Morrison 118) Pauline’s employer understood that Cholly had negative influences on Pauline and claimed that she would not pay Pauline until she left Cholly. Although Pauline viewed leaving Cholly as a benefit, she felt obligated to stay with Cholly, the only man who ever “loved” her.
Cholly’s relationship with his children (or lack thereof) truly shows his inability to interact with those around him. “Having no idea of how to raise children, and having never watched any parent raise himself, he could not even comprehend what such a relationship could be.” (Morrison 160) Cholly, not being burdened by responsibility and morals, often acts impulsively and destructively. His impulse and view of love culminate in the rape of Pecola. “He put his head down and nibbled at the back of her leg. His mouth trembled at the firm sweetness of the flesh. He closed his eyes, letting his fingers dig into her waist…But the tenderness would not hold.”(Morrison 162) Trying to be tender, Cholly’s impulses lead him to rape his own daughter. After the reprehensible act, Cholly (like his father) leaves his family. The rape leaves Pecola pregnant with an abjured child.
Although one might say Cholly tried to act humanely, such as his first meeting with Pauline and his attempt of tenderness with Pecola, the reader must understand that Morrison intended not to dehumanize any of her characters regardless of their actions. “That is, I did not want to dehumanize the characters who trashed Pecola and contributed to her collapse.”(Morrison 211) Morrison convincingly created Cholly’s actions to be justified through his past and various experiences. In the case of his marriage to Pauline, Cholly used the marriage for a personal gain. Cholly views Pauline as a tangible object to be exploited because of her maimed foot.
Cholly’s incapability of showing love ultimately victimizes those closest to him: his wife and children. Although Cholly’s life without a father is an extremely unfortunate, it is also an extremist case. Art Alexakis of Everclear shows that it is possible for one to bring triumph from a tragic childhood.