Toni Morrisons novel, The Bluest Eye, presents the lives of several impoverished black families in the 1940s in a rather unconventional and painful manner. Ms. Morrison leads the reader through the lives of select children and adults, describing a few powerful incidents, thoughts and experiences that lend insight into the motivation and. behavior of these characters. In a somewhat unconventional manner, the young lives of Pauline Williams Breedlove and Charles (Cholly) Breedlove are presented to the reader.
Through these descriptions, the reader comes to understand how they become the kind of adults they are. Background information is given not necessarily to incur sympathy but to lend understanding. The narrator makes the point that Paulines young life is filled with excuses because of her crippled foot. She could not understand why she of all the other children in her family had no nickname, no funny anecdotes about the things she had done or why she never felt at home anywhere.
These experiences made her draw in upon herself and rely on a life she created, “restricted as a child to this cocoon of her family spinnings, she cultivated quiet and private pleasures, she liked most of all to arrange things. ” Thus as she approached womanhood, Pauline began to search for the life she did not have as a child. After her marriage and children, Pauline becomes employed with a well to do white family who satisfied much of this hunger. As the narrator says, “praise, power and luxury were hers in this household… re she could arrange things, clean things, line things up in neat rows… here she found beauty, order, cleanliness and praise. ” Morrison describes another important phase in Paulines life, saying, “Pauline was fifteen, still keeping house, but with less enthusiasm. Fantasies about men and love and touching were drawing her mind and hands away from her work. ” Thus it seems perfectly obvious how Pauline fell for the mysterious figure of Cholly Breedlove, “when the stranger, the someone appeared out of no where, Pauline was grateful but not surprised.
Pauline and Cholly loved each other he seemed to relish her company and even to enjoy her country ways…. She was secure and grateful, he was kind and lively. ” For the first time Pauline realized love and acceptance could be hers and she fell into a relationship with Cholly Breedlove with ease. By describing Paulines yearnings for order beauty companionship and love as a child, Toni Morrison makes it very clear to the reader how Pauline could fall in love with the idea of Cholly and then quickly learn to hate him as his shortcomings manifested themselves.
Thus, Paulines actions as an adult are more easily understood through this knowledge of her childhood. One of the most striking images is the description of Cholly Breedloves is his memory of a picnic where a family is enjoying a watermelon which the father smashes against a rock. Cholly is impressed with the image of the father holding the melon high above his head like the devil holding the earth up, ready to smash it. “He never felt anything thinking about God, hut just the idea of the devil excited him.
And now, the strong black devil was blotting out the sun and getting ready to smash open the world. ” This passage is a foreshadowing of Chollys adult life. He is attracted to the idea of power, strength and excitement and as a strong black adult, Cholly feels his freedom and uses it against himself and his family. Another powerful incident, Chollys first sexual experience, gives insight into the rage, confusion and tenderness he feels towards women in his adult life. The narrator describes the incident with Darlene and the white men through Cholly’s eyes.
The reader understands the initial excitement of young sexual energy, and the later humiliation of being caught by the cruel white men. Cholly directs his anger towards Darlene rather than towards the white men so that he can cope and go on. Cholly did not necessarily understand at the time but, “hating them would have consumed him, burned him up like a piece of soft coal,” so, “for now, he hated the one who had created the situation, the one that bore witness to his failure, his impotencethe one who he had not been able to protect, to spare, to cover from the moon glow of the flashlight.
The desire to protect and the fear of not being able to are a recurring theme throughout Chollys life. Even in Chollys final scene of the novel, the rape of his daughter, Cholly feels tenderness through the brutality of his actions. The sight of Pecola washing dishes “filled him with a wondering softness. Not the usual lust to part tight legs with his own, but a tenderness, a protectiveness. If this scene had not been told through Chollys eyes, the reader would have had no idea what was going on in his mind.
Tenderness is not an emotion often equated with rape, The initial assumption would have been immediate judgement without understanding. As the scene is presented however, the reader is free to make judgements from an informed view, not necessarily to excuse brutality but to understand, By developing the novel in such a way that the reader understands the motivation behind desperateness, fear, and brutality, Toni Morrison walks the thin line of the relationship between sympathy and judgement of the characters lives.
I found this book provocative in that it examined the “bad guys” life to such an extent that sympathy was possible. One obvious argument against this style is that explanation excuses cruelty and therefore Pauline and Cholly’s actions as adults are justified. However, this reaction is based solely on the responses of the reader. Morrison presents the facts of the Breedlove’s young lives without making pronounced judgements. The author presents a spread of experiences and actions and it is up to the individual to pick and choose what he must to create his own responses to the novel.
I think that it is possible for each individual reader to have completely different responses to the ways in which Cholly and Pauline are presented. I found the spectrum of interpretation o$ this novel to be a broad as each individual’s experiences. The reader seems to get as much from the novel as he brings into it. Possibly, Toni Mossison intended the reader to be involved in her novel to the extent that he is forced to explore the relationship between sympathy and judgment, understanding and blindly condemning.