Home » African American » Racialized Beauty

Racialized Beauty

Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. “In the novel, Morrison challenges Western standards of beauty and demonstrates that the concept of beauty is socially constructed. Morrison also recognises that if whiteness is used as a standard of beauty or anything else, then the value of blackness is diminished and this novel works to subvert that tendency. ” (Sugiharti, “Racialized Beauty: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye”). Her goal in writing the novel was to make a statement about how “something as grotesque as the demonization of an entire race could take root nside the most delicate member of society: a child; the most vulnerable member: a female” (Morrison 210).

Toni Morrison began writing the novel in the 1960’s, a time when African-Americans fought for racial equality. The Black is Beautiful movement, in particular, took place during the 1960’s. The movement’s intention was to reclaim African-American beauty. Though the novel was initially rejected by 12 publishers, John Leonard says The Bluest Eye is “poetry, history, sociology, folklore, nightmare and music. ” Today, the novel is widely read in high schools.

The Bluest Eye has been an inspiration in music and in literature. The Bluest Eye is a novel that has received controversial criticism by readers, critics, and reviewers over time. In the novel, two sisters, Claudia and Frieda MacTeer, the ages of 9 and 10, live with their parents in Lorain, Ohio in 1941, the end of the Great Depression. To help pay their bills, they take in two borders, one of which is Pecola Breedlove. Pecola is a poor, 11 year old, black girl whose father tried to burn down their family’s house, explaining why Pecola had to live with the Macteers temporarily.

Pecola is described as ugly by society and even her own mother. Pecola eventually is misled into thinking beauty is outlined by the white Shirley Temple actress which leads her to have a strong desire for blue eyes. Pecola is harassed by the boys at her school and when she is able to go back home, her mother and father argue and fight. To make matters worse, Pecola’s father rapes and impregnates her. Out of desperation, Pecola goes to Soaphead Church to ask him for blue eyes. At the end of the book, Pecola’s baby was born prematurely and dies, contributing to Pecola going mad and believing that she had been given blue eyes.

According to Sparknotes, Toni Morrison began writing the novel in the 1960’s when the Black is Beautiful movement was working to reclaim African-American beauty. The Black is Beautiful movement was started by African Americans in the United States, and later spread to South America. The reason the movement begun was because both society and the media had a negative perception of the African American body as only suitable for slave status. The goal of the movement was to eliminate the idea that the typical features of African American people are less attractive than that of a white person, created by a history of white supremacy.

Morrison states that “The reclamation of racial beauty in the sixties stirred these thoughts, made me think about the necessity for the claim” (210). In the afterward of the novel while interpreting the novel Morrison says, “If they have any success, it will be in transferring the problem of fathoming to the presumably adult reader, to the inner circle of listeners” (214). Considering the definition or the word presumably, this quote tells the reader that the Morrison expected the novel to be read by adults.

The author, in the afterward, discloses why she feels the novel wasn’t as successful as she expected One problem was centering: the weight of the novel’s inquiry on so delicate and vulnerable a character could smash her and lead readers into the comfort of pitying her rather than into an interrogation of themselves for the smashing. My solution–break the narrative into parts that had be reassembled by the reader–seemed to me a good idea, the execution of which does not satisfy me now. Besides, it didn’t work: many readers remain touched but not moved. The other problem, of course, was language. Holding the despising glance while sabotaging it was difficult.

The novel tried to hit raw nerve of racial self-contempt, expose it, them soothe it not with narcotics but with language that replicated the agency I discovered in my first experience of beauty” (Morrison 211). According to an ineterview of Toni Morrison on Telegraph. co. uk, Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, was initially rejected by 12 publishers and African American critics found it shaming. However, the first critic to review the novel only months after it was published, John Leonard, describes the novel as poetry, history, sociology, folklore, nightmare and music.

It is one thing to state that we have institutionalized waste, that children suffocate under mountains of merchandised lies. It is another thing to demonstrate that waste, to re-create those children, to live and die by it. Miss Morrison’s angry sadness overwhelms (Leonard, “Book of the Times”). In the afterward of the novel, Morrison expresses her opinion on about the book, “Hearing ‘civilized’ languages debase humans, watching cultural exorcisms debase literature, seeing oneself preserved in the amber of disqualifying metaphors–I can say that my narrative project is as difficult today as it was thirty ears ago.

With very few exceptions, the initial publication of The Bluest Eye was like Pecola’s life: dismissed, trivialized, misread. And it has taken twenty-five years to gain for her the respectful publication this edition is” (Morrison 216). Currently, The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s most widely read novel in the high school curriculum and is the most challenging of her eight books. However in Steven Otfinoski’s novel, Outsider Fiction, he describes incidents where concerned parents sought to remove the novel from being read in high school due to its explicit sexuality and domestic violence.

The author explains that the idea of writing the novel developed from a conversation with a friend when they first started elementary school. Her friend said the she wished for blue eyes like the white children. When Morrison imagined her friend with the blue eyes that she so heavily desired, she was disgusted by what she would look like. “Until that moment I had seen the pretty, the lovely, the nice, the ugly, and although I had certainly used the word “beautiful,” I had never experienced its shock—the force of which was equaled by the knowledge that no one recognized it, not even, or especially, the one who possessed it.

It must have been more than the face I was examining: the silence of the street in the early afternoon, the light, the atmo-sphere of confession. In any case it was the first time I knew beautiful. Had imagined it for myself. Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do. The Bluest Eye was my effort to say something about that; to say something about why she had not, or possibly ever would have, the experience of what she possessed and also why she prayed for so radical an alteration. Implicit in her desire was racial self-loathing.

And twenty years later, I was still wondering about how one learns that. Who told her? Who made her feel that it was better to be a freak than what she was? Who had looked at her and found her so wanting, so small a weight on the beauty scale? The novel pecks away at the gaze that condemned her. ” Inspired by Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Black Star wrote “Thieves in the Night”. Towards the beginning of the song Talib Kweli says, “‘Give me the fortune, keep the fame,’ said my man Louis I agreed, know what he mean because we live the truest lie I asked him why we follow the law of the bluest eye

He looked at me, he thought about it Was like, “I’m clueless, why? ” The question was rhetorical, the answer is horrible Our morals are out of place and got our lives full of sorrow … Still livin’ like mental slaves Hidin’ like thieves in the night from life Illusions of oasis makin’ you look twice … “ According to Wikipedia, in the Blackstar album liner Talib Kweli wrote that he read the novel in high school when he was 15 years old and it struck him as “one of the truest critiques of our society … It is especially true in the world of hip hop because we get blinded by these illusions. ”

Lydia R. Diamond, a nationally renowned playwright, commissioned by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, adapted The Bluest Eye novel into a full-length stage production. The Bluest Eye received it world premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, Illinois in February 2005. In November 2006, The Bluest Eye play premiered off-Broadway at the New Victory Theatre in New York. The Bluest Eye has also been produced by Theatre Alliance, Washington, D. C. , in October 2006; Playmakers Repertory Co. , Chapel Hill, North Carolina in March 2007; and Plowshares Theatre Company, Detroit, Michigan.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.