, Research Paper
Topic: Discuss the issues of self-hatred and the aesthetics of beauty in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. What role do they play in the novel and how do they relate to its theme?
Self-hatred leads to self-destruction?
Self-hatred is something that can thoroughly destroy an individual. As it was fictitiously evidenced in Toni Morrison?s The Bluest Eye, it can lead an individual to insanity. Toni Morrison raises the idea that racism and class can detrimentally influence people?s outlook on themselves.
It is unfortunate that we live in a society that places such a great emphasis and consideration towards the aesthetics of beauty. What is more unfortunate is that beauty itself is not defined by any realistic qualities or pragmatics. Rather it is defined by society and what the particular or dominant class in society feels beauty is. In today?s society in order for a woman to be looked at as beautiful she must posses a combination of qualities, such as, a slim body, straight hair, fair skinned, full lips, straight sort of raised nose and so on. In the society that the Breedloves lived in, beauty had a lot to do with racism and the dominant class that influenced it. To be a woman of beauty in that society you had to be blond hair, blue eyed and fair skinned. If you couldn?t exactly look like that the closer you came to it the better you were viewed. You also had to behave in a certain manner i.e. well groomed, soft spoken, and have high morals. In other words you had to look like a stereo typical European and for colored women loose all the funky things that made them who they were: ?The careful development of thrift, patience, high morals, and good manners. In short, how to get rid of the funkiness. The dreadful funkiness of passion, the funkiness of nature, the funkiness of the wide range of human emotions.? (P. 83)
For the Breedloves what society defined as beauty was not something they felt
they could ever be. They were condemn by society for being ugly and they themselves succumb to that labeling. They never tried to rise above it and thus raised their children in the same manner. This created a feeling of self-hatred and worthlessness in their children especially their young daughter Pecola. From birth Pecola was said to be ugly by her mother and the poor child was never given a chance to ever establish herself: ?But I knowed she was ugly. Head full of pretty hair, but Lord she was ugly.? (p.128) She was never loved but rather she was neglected and made to have self-contempt because she didn?t look like someone that her parents and society would love. She disliked herself so much that she started fantasizing, dreaming and praying that she was a pretty blue eyed girl whom her parents would love: ?It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights?if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different?.If she looked different, beautiful, maybe Cholly would be different, and Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they?d say, ?Why, look at pretty-eyed Pecola. We mustn?t do bad things in front of those pretty eyes.? (p. 47)
Loathing oneself can cause many problems. Pauline Breedlove (Pecola?s mother) didn?t like herself, in turn she projected that onto her kids and they will suffer a lifetime of rejection for it. Because she didn?t like herself, she also found fault with everything that reminded her of her ugliness which only escalated every problem she had: ?There I was, five months pregnant, trying to look like Jean Harlow, and a front tooth gone. Everything went then. Look like I just didn?t care no more after that. I let my hair go back, plaited it up, and settled down to just being ugly.? (p. 123) She neglected her home, her children and her husband and only cared for things that she thought were beautiful: ?Soon she stopped trying to keep her own house. The things she could afford to buy did not last, had no beauty or style, and were absorbed by the dingy storefront. More and more she neglected her house, her children, her man?they were like the afterthoughts one has just before sleep, they early-morning and late-evening edges of her day, the dark edges that made the daily life with the Fishers lighter, more delicate, more lovely.? (P. 127) Self-hatred was so destructive that it ruined the Breedloves family.
Other than the Breedloves being labeled as ugly by people in their society, they were also the poorest, thus poverty enhanced the problems. Morrison also brought into play the issue of racism, which was due to the dominant class being European who were supposedly superior to all other class at the time (may still be thought today). Racism and class differences lengthened the existing problem if not causing it entirely.
Morrison, however, does not seem to bring out the point of class as much as she shows racism. As one literary critic describes Morrison addressing the topic of racism and class: ?Although her class analysis is immature at this point, Morrison is at least conscious of a limited role that economics plays in the exploitation of African people.? ?Still, Morrison is more interested in developing the skin-color conflict (race) than the class conflict (capitalism).?
Although Morrison is criticized for an immature class analysis in The Bluest Eye I am going to speculate here to say it may have been on purpose that she looked at race more so than class causing the problems of the Breedloves?. In this story there was a lot of intraracial prejudices, which should not have been. So maybe that is why Morrison chose to address race more so than class. (Although, class does come into play between the different groups within the African American race, which caused one group to think they are better than the other.) She probably wanted the particular race (African Americans) to examine themselves first. They should fix the problems they have internally as a race before they can address the ones that had to do with another race. For example, in The Bluest Eye there were three classes of people within the African American society. There were the poor, (which had poorer/poor) the middle class and the upper class. These three classes within the African society differentiate among each other not only by who had more wealth, but rather who came closest to looking, sounding and behaving like the dominant class, the Europeans: ?White kids; his mother did not like him to play with niggers. She had explained to him the difference between colored people and niggers. They were easily identifiable. Colored people were neat and quiet; niggers were dirty and loud. He belonged to the former group: he wore white shirts and blue trousers; his hair was cut as close to his scalp as possible to avoid any suggestion of wool, the part was etched into his hair by the barber?The line between colored and nigger was not always clear; subtle and telltale signs threatened to erode it, and the watch had to be constant.? How are the Breedloves?, who are in the poorer of the poor class suppose to ever overcome their trials and tribulations of being born African Americans (who actually look like they are suppose to) when their own people condemn them? They would have to aspire to become more like people in the middle and upper classes before they can ever get over the hurdle to be accepted by any other race. This is why I think Morrison addresses the internal prejudices that was going on more so than the influence that the dominant European classes put on the lower classes. This was best summarized by a literary critic who said, ?Clearly, Morrison?s class consciousness, however weak, is reflected in her condemnation of these families who share the class aspirations of their oppressors. All suffer from what Kwame Nkrumah called the crisis of the African personality?Africans so bereft of their own national identity that they exhibit distorted, even psychopathic, behavioral patterns. Morrison is certainly aware of these crises, for in this work as in later ones, she harshly criticizes those characters who divorce themselves from the African community. In fact, she considers this petty bourgeois sector of the African population the living dead, a buffer group between the ruling and the oppressed classes who are always portrayed as abnormal in some sense.? It is obvious to me, as it may have been to this critic, (though she feels that Morrison?s argument is weak) that Morrison wanted the African people to examine themselves first. She wanted them to overcome whatever self-condemnation or self-hatred they had before they can ever overcome being oppressed by the ruling, dominant class.
I have shown how self-hatred can lead to self destruction because if an individual or a race cannot love themselves and accept themselves for what they are they cannot overcome any stereotype or stigmatism that is put on them by any other race or class. Morrison may have written this novel in hopes that the African Americans would read it and do a self-reflection and realization. She wanted to them to take a long and hard look at what they were and for them to change and become better individuals thus improve their race: ?From the outset, Morrison is interested in having the characters achieve a more authentic existence than those who submit to conventional standards, one that emerges from their personal efforts to realize their responsibility to become fulfilled individuals.?
She wanted them to see themselves through their own eyes, not the eyes of another race. If they can only accept who they were, they would become happier and more prosperous as individuals and lead to improvement of the entire race. The goal is for them realize their own beauty and self worth before it leads to destruction.
Mbalia, Doreatha Drummond, Toni Morrison?s Developing Class Consciousness, (Associated University Presses, Inc. 1991) P. 31.
Samuels, Wilfred D. and Hudson-Weems, Clenora, Toni Morrison, (Twayne Publishers, Boston) P. 10.