The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, is a story about the life of a young black girl, Pecola Breedlove, who is growing up during post World War I. She prays for the bluest eyes, which will make her beautiful and in turn make her accepted by her family and peers. The major issue in the book, the idea of ugliness, was the belief that blackness was not valuable or beautiful. This view, handed down to them at birth, was a cultural hindrance to the black race. A main theme in this novel is the influence of family relationships in the quest for individual identity.
Our family or lack thereof, as children, ultimately influences the way we feel as adults, about ourselves and about others. The effects on us mold our personalities and as a result influence our identities. This story shows us the efforts of struggling black families who transmit patterns and problems that have a negative impact on their family relationships. These patterns continue to go unresolved and are eventually inherited by their children who will also accept this way of life as this vicious circle continues.
Having inherited the myth of ugliness and unworthiness, the characters throughout the story, with the exception of the MacTeer family, will not only allow this to happen, but will instill this in their children to be passed on to the next generation. Beauty precedes love, the grownups seem to say, and only a few possess beauty, so they remain unloved and unworthy. Throughout the novel, the convictions of sons and daughters are the same as their fathers and mothers. Their failures and accomplishments are transferred to their children and to future generations.
It is interesting that the story begins not in January, but in the fall, when school starts, and a new chapter in life begins according to the rhythm of a childs life. In this Autumn chapter, Claudia MacTeer uses flower imagery to describe how she and Frieda respond to their environment. This metaphor calls attention to the importance of nurture and environment for these young children, especially during these formative years of childhood.
Like flowers, we depend on our environment for sustenance, so in turn, Pecola Breedlove, Soaphead Church, and Louis, Jr. nherit the legacy of self-loathing and Claudia and Frieda MacTeer inherit the legacy of self-worth. The mother/daughter relationship between Mrs. MacTeer and her two daughters, Claudia and Frieda, is loving and strong. They are taught their own self-worth through their mothers strength and example, although this love isnt fully appreciated by the girls until they are older. During Claudias illness, she is treated with a mixture of concern and anger. Although Claudia is scolded and her mother complains of cleaning her vomit, at the same time her mother is nursing her, giving her medicine, and checking on her throughout the night.
Claudia discovers later that her mothers anger is not directed at her, but at the world, as she must raise her black family in a world ruled by white culture. She protects her children and equips them for survival in a hostile environment. The Dick and Jane primer in The Bluest Eye reminds us of the persuasiveness of the happy, middle-America myth of the perfect family, which, of course, did not exist in black culture. Although they are good parents, the MacTeers whip their children, complain about burdens and barely make ends meet, exploding the Dick and Jane myth.
They dont measure self-worth by symbols of domestic white culture and accept their difference as a given, not a deprivation. Mrs. MacTeer takes in Pecola, put out on the streets when her father burns down her house, even though its a strain on their finances. As a temporary mother figure in Pecola Breedloves life, Mrs. MacTeer bestows on Pecola the care and intimacy that she has never before and never again will receive. She is loved and accepted for the first time when Mrs. MacTeer hugs Pecola and Frieda after she begins ministratin.
Mrs. MacTeer then takes Pecola inside to the bath to help her and laughter is heard. The relationship between Mrs. MacTeer and her daughters is in sharp contrast with the relationship between Pauline Breedlove and her daughter, Pecola. Pauline and her husband, Cholly, hate their children, Pecola and Sammy as much as they hate themselves. Again, we see unworthiness breeding unworthiness. Mrs. Breedlove wanted her family life to disappear and is happiest when she is working for the white family that employed her, without any reminder of her failures.
Similarly, Pecola wants to disappear and become invisible during her parents violent fights and Sammy physically disappears as he runs away from home frequently. Experiences transferred Pauline into a product of hatred and ignorance, leading her to hold herself up to unrealistic standards that she could not attain. Pauline, the ninth of eleven children, was ignored by her family and she in turn, ignores her family. She learned early in life to be separate and unworthy because of her limp that she acquired by stepping on nail at age two. She assigns this unworthiness to Pecola when she is born, so she too will be separate and feel unworthy.
These standards and feelings of rejection are the qualities that Pecola inherits from Pauline. Pauline suffers a separation of self in which she is constantly confronted with a world of Hollywood movies. Pauline differs from Pecola only in the sense that the image she believes in comes from the movie screen rather than the Shirley Temple milk cup. Whiteness is goodness. Pauline compensates for her lameness and ugliness by creating order whenever possible. When she can no longer do this at home, she abandons her family. She feels more at home in a white kitchen than with her black family at home.
She commits a role reversal by loving her employers daughter, the perfect little blue-eyed white doll that Pecola was never able to be and hates her own daughter denying her own children for a surrogate child that does not belong to her. We find that Pecola and Sammy call their mother Mrs. Breedlove, but the Fisher child that Pauline works for calls her Polly. This is endearing to Pauline, because she never had a nickname as a child, but ironically, it is actually condescending from a family that sees her as the ideal servant not a member of the family.
It is ironic that she finds such pleasure in colors. She describes her most intimate and happiest moments in colors, yet her daughters and her own color and ugliness is what makes her reject Pecola and hate herself. Pecolas first perception of her Mothers reflection of her was her own ugliness. As that little baby looked into its mothers eyes for the first time, she saw and felt her mothers disappointment and disgust. But Lord, she is ugly. For a little girl, her mother is the most important love that she can receive.
Without it, she feels worthless. Pecola is able to find herself only by going insane. The father/daughter relationship between Cholly Breedlove and Pecola is violent and hateful as opposed to Mr. MacTeers loving and protective relationship with his daughter, Claudia and Frieda. When Frieda is fondled by their boarder, Mr. Henry, her father beats him up and shoots at him with a gun as he runs away. In sharp contrast, Pecola is raped by her father on the kitchen floor. Again, breaking the Dick and Jane myth, Father played with Jane and raped her.
Cholly takes away his childs innocence in an instant and his rape of her is a turning point in her life, just as his own father had done to him emotionally years before. In most cases, a father is one who little girls look to for guidance and approval. Cholly is the exact opposite. (Morr. 158) His only image of a father figure is one who brings pain. His sexual history starts off painfully, just as Pecolas does. His father ran away from him and he will run away from his child who is carrying his child/grandchild. After the rape, Pecolas mother doesnt believe Pecola and beats her.
This final rejection leads to Pecolas downward spiral to insanity. Chollys only mother figure, Aunt Jimmy, dies, abandoning him as his parents did. Sadly, his only father figure, Blue Jack, shares a watermelon heart with Cholly and this small act of kindness is his happiest memory. The father in the Dick and Jane myth was strong and kind. The father/son relationship between Sammy and his father is full of hate and completely dysfunctional. Sammy hates his father and helps physically defend his mother against Cholly then asks her to kill him, as he lays unconscious.
He tries to establish some order to the Breedlove household. He doesnt understand that his mother depends on Chollys behavior for her own self-image. Sammy is unhappy and runs away for months at a time, searching, like his father had done at his age. In the case of Geraldine and Louis, Jr. , her fear of funk will cause her to brush her sons black hair forever in abortive attempts to wipe out the subtle and telltale signs of nigger. Geraldine experiences a self-division in order to expel her funkiness and blackness and this soon takes over her true black self.
Louis Jr. oo, experiences this self-division, when he yearns to play with other black boys as a young boy, but is told only to play with whites, with whom he is not accepted. Louis, Jr. , becomes an angry, violent child, just as his mother became, both of them angry at blackness rather than at the Dick and Jane myth. Geraldine favors her cat with black hair and blue eyes to her son, Louis, Jr. The cat becomes her surrogate child as the blue-eyed Fisher child became the surrogate child to Pauline Breedlove. The cat will die physically as Pecola will die mentally. Soaphead Church was a mixed black and white ancestry from the Caribbean.
He inherits the need to be British and to erase all color. His schoolmaster father developed his own legacy of Anglophilia into a narrow intellectual statement of the unworthiness of man. Being a mulatto, he knew the non-life he had learned on the flat side of his fathers belt. Because racism prevents Soaphead from getting the job that his education merits, he gives up, he ends up with a non-life, like his father and his wife, the only person he ever truly loved, abandons him. He uses little Pecola to rid himself of the mangy dog that represents non-white, non-perfect beings whom he despises.