Slave labor is the foundation that the nation was built on and is a crucial part of United States history, from the colonization of Jamestown up until present day. African Americans, more often called blacks, were viewed in society as the defective, secondary race and it negatively impacted the lives of millions of African Americans living in America. The concept of racism is extremely prevalent in the novel The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison, and provides the characters in the story justification for many of their thoughts, actions, and problems.
The main character, Pecola, is an eleven year old girl growing up with low self- esteem due to her abusive parents, discrimination of her skin, hair, and eyes. Morrison develops the idea that the character’s judgement and perception is clouded by race: the characters see it as not only a cause of their problems, but also as a justification for their actions and beliefs. Throughout the novel, Pecola states multiple times that the roots of her problems stem from not having blue eyes.
In her mind, blue eyes represent the privileges and happiness that she observes from little white girls and she strives to one day have he same privileges and find the same happiness. Many nights, “without fail, she prayed for blue eyes” (Morrison 36) and she truly believes that “something as wonderful as that would take a long, long time” (Morrison 36). Store owners would refrain from touching her hand (Morrison 49) and teachers would ignore her: she concluded that “the distaste must be for her, her blackness. ” (Morrison 49).
Pecola’s parents mistreat her, physically and emotionally, by constantly fighting with each other and taking their rage out on Pecola, to the extent that she was removed from the home. Additionally, they engage in intimate actions in front of Pecola, which traumatizes her and leads her to believe that blue eyes are “the sum total of the highest level of human worth” (Bracewell). She deduces that if she had blue eyes, she would never experience such sickening situations and this conclusion impacts her entire life.
Pecola’s total existence revolves around her skin, hair, and eye color. Every decision she makes, thought that she thinks, and problem that she encounters is connected to her race. She dwells on it in every aspect of her life and thinks her only way to find her truth, to find her happiness in knowing who she is and her worth to herself and others” (Napieralski) is by developing her personality based upon her race. Pecola accepts the discrimination against her and brings it upon herself, by acting timid and small around white people.
Furthermore, Pecola’s parents have the same opinions as her: “The Breedloves did not live in a storefront because they were having temporary difficulty adjusting to the cutbacks at the plant, They lived there because they were poor and black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly. (Morrison 38). Pecola’s parents inflict these opinions on her and force her to have the same mindset as them, which is that colored people are foul and hideous and warrant less respect and happiness than white people.
Pecola considers her sum purpose in life to be a black girl. And “the world in which Pecola and other black girls like her live in is dominated by white standards of human worth and beauty. ” (Bracewell) which is devastating as these girls, including Pecola will never find their interior or exterior beauty, which eventually drives Pecola to the brink of insanity. Towards the end of the book, Pecola’s need to have blue eyes drives her to madness. She is living in a fantasy world, where she has finally gained blue eyes.
She talks to her imaginary friend, which Pecola believes is envious of her newly gained eye. Pecola’s condition worsens to the point that she can no longer go to school or function as a normal part of society. Bloom writes that “Morrison’s critical point is that the experience of living under the damaging influence of a ‘superior race” has “crippling consequences” (32). Pecola’s constant want to be onsidered the superior race combined with her father’s abuse drives her to hysteria.
Bishop states that “Pecola’s final madness, marked by an interior dialogue, between two halves of her fractured consciousness, one with blue eyes and one without, is the final marker of the damage done by her (and her mother’s) vain wish to reconcile the ‘black and ugly. ” In the final details that Morrison gives of Pecola’s life, she is not lucid to society and genuinely believes that she has blue eyes and her life’s mission has been completed. Finally obtaining blue eyes puts Pecola at peace.
Many characters during the novel often made judgements, decisions, and actions based on the race of themselves or someone else, although not all characters were racist towards black people. Claudia, Pecola’s friend, was extremely racists towards white people and would destroy white baby dolls that she would receive. She used words such as “dough-white face” (Morrison 30) and “big blue-eyed baby doll” (Morrison 20) to describe her dolls, although she did not mean these words to be positive.
In return though, her classmates were extremely racists towards her, but Claudia had stable, loving family, so she was able to handle this torment better than Pecola was. Additionally, wealthy black people discriminated against impoverished black people by differentiating that “colored people were neat and quiet; n****** were dirty and loud. ” (Morrison 87) Discrimination partitions all citizens living in the United States: black, white, rich poor, and many other labels that were given to people living during this time.
There was one little girl that fit many labels: white, little, and famous. Shirley Temple was a major icon during this time period to countless little girls. She was the accumulation of all that little girls aspired to be: black and white alike. Claudia saw through this propaganda and therefore despised Shirley Temple, as Claudia believed that she was beautiful and Shirley Temple was not. Claudia complains that “I hated Shirley.
Not because she was cute, but because she dance with Bojangles, who was my friend, my uncle, my daddy, and who ought to have been soft-shoeing it and chuckling with me. Instead he was enjoying, sharing, and giving a lovely dance thing with one of those little white girls. ” (Morrison 19) Claudia ealizes that Shirley Temple is dancing with a black man, which everyone thinks is adorable, when in reality, a majority of the population would normally think that was socially unacceptable.
Shirley Temple had blonde hair, blue eyes, and white skin: she was considered the prettiest little girl, which made all black little girls think that they were unsightly. Bishop states that “Hollywood;s image of beauty: ‘black’ is ‘ugly’, ‘mulatto’ is ‘pretty’, and, by extension, Shirley Temple is prettier stillI. ” Pecola fell into the trap of this propaganda and Shirley Temple became another motivator for Pecola to desire blue eyes. Pecola’s entire life was altered due to discrimination, which eventually led to her mental deterioration.
Racism marred Pecola’s childhood, as well as millions of African Americans living during the times of segregation. Segregation shattered blacks’ self esteem and their will to live and made them feel essentially inhuman. Although segregation has been outlawed in the United States, racism is still strikingly prevalent in today’s society. African Americans continue to be assessed based on the color of their skin and Pecola’s story demonstrates how detrimental discrimination can be to a person’s mind and soul.