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The Bluest Eye and the development of the American Novel

In The Bluest Eye, Morrison describes the absurd and racist standard by which the characters are judged. And through the actions taken by each character, that absurd standard becomes more defined, the conflict more poignant. In this particular work, it is the American ideal of beauty that makes Pecola resign her self-image as ugly and it is Pecola’s reaction to this standard, her futile wish to become beautiful, that drives her into madness and thus completely exposes the absurd and wrongful nature of this standard. And yet who created this standard?

It is present in movies, on candy wrappers. It is completely visible, yet the creator of this standard is somewhere else, never appears as a character. It is this fate in which a character pits him/herself against that we have seen in our study of the American novel. Faulkner has used perhaps the most obvious “absent” character to drive the standard, the dead mother. The family must react to the conflict, yet the conflict is set by someone who dies early in the novel. Social standards are apparent in James’s world, and perhaps the father is the cause of these social standards.

Yet they often seem outrageous to us as readers, as there seems not to be a moral cause driving the doctor’s decisions, only stubbornness. In Munro’s stories, we see the poor react to the standard of the rich. Munro provides an example of the rich, but the character’s come across as flat, underdeveloped. This is not a criticism of Munro’s technique; it furthers the development of each character who holds themselves against this standard. Vonnegut provides an outrageous world in which the standards that life imposes seem absurd. And who has created this absurd world in which the characters seem forever at odds with?

The creator we are provided is admittedly a lie. Yet the absurdities force the reactions from the characters. These characters, every character we have studied in these novels, define themselves by an absurd standard or outside force and ultimately, as the creator of the standard refuses to defend the standard or even appear in each work, the character’s development becomes the moral standard which the reader is left with. Because the very thing that each character is fighting against is never fully developed, the way in which each character reacts becomes more important than the outcome of the reaction.

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