, Research Paper
Katie Shannon 1
English III Honors
March 15, 2001
Communal Ties in the Bluest Eye
In America, white culture dictates its cultural values to society and to the other cultures within it. In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison illustrates the effect of racism on the development of a black girl, Pecola. Racism that goes beyond whites belittling blacks but the effect that the white culture has on blacks and their appreciation of their culture and each other. It is not only the whites that stunt Pecola?s development but she becomes a scapegoat of the blacks who have been influenced by white culture. Pecola?s own people have learned that her obvious darker features place her at a level below those who are lighter-skinned or have less curly hair. Sense of self is a very important idea and one that develops from childhood to adolescence. One must have a sense of self to think one is worth anything. While Pecola never develops a positive sense of self, you also see that other characters lose the sense of self they had. In Toni Morrison?s novel The Bluest Eye, all of the main characters have lost their sense of self in one way or another. Morrison shows that by not having a clearly defined
culture, the black characters in The Bluest Eye lose not only a sense of culture but also a sense of themselves.
White culture devalues beauty in the sense that the blacks began to view themselves as ugly if they did not have white features. Ideas of physical beauty and romantic love are ?probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought? (Winchell 78). Shirley Temple is used in the novel as the ideal white image of beauty, one that is obviously white and ?devoid of any dreadful funkiness.? Pauline Breedlove, Pecola?s mother feels that to be considered beautiful one must conform to white values. She learns from the movies that every person is assigned to a category on the scale of absolute beauty (Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations: Toni Morrison?s The Bluest Eye, 150, 154). She allows white standards of beauty to be substituted for worthiness (Russell 154). Maureen, on the other hand, learns she is beautiful from the dominant society as well as from the African adults (Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations: Toni Morrison The Bluest Eye, 154). They think she is beautiful because she has lighter skin and more white features. Pecola believes that she is ugly based on white values and beliefs. Whites favor light skinned people, so she feels she is ugly because of this. She wants blue eyes, not just blue but the bluest, because she
thinks other cultures will then find her beautiful. There, of course, are two ways she could deal with this devaluing. She could outwardly fight back, or she could inwardly shrivel and go into madness.
During the spring section of the novel, the Dick and Jane primer begins by asking the white father to ?play? with his daughter and demonstrates a loving, caring father. In the Breedlove situation, the father?s love acquires a much less innocent connotation (Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations: Toni Morrison The Bluest Eye, 179-180). Cholly gives Pecola the only gift of love he has; he rapes and impregnates her (Russell 95). Cholly violates the societal taboo of incest and rape. He does not understand the true meaning of love. Cholly deals with self-hatred and oppression by becoming as evil as possible, even to the point of raping his daughter (Bloom, Modern Critical Views: Toni Morrison 57). Throughout the novel Pecola ponders the nature of love, she pursues it as if it is a ?potentially miraculous phenomenon? (Bloom, Bloom?s Major Novelists: Toni Morrison, 19).
?Troubled characters seek to find themselves and their cultural riches in a society that warps or impedes such discovery? (Winchell 1422). Pecola represents all dirt and disorder, and she has managed to shut this out of her
?perfect? world (Lee 349). Role of class plays a large part in this novel. Each of the three main families in the novel represents three main ideas of classes. The Dick and Jane primer represents the symbolic class. The MacTeer?s represent the exploited class; they are poor but can economically survive. The Breedlove?s are ?dirt poor,? they are stripped of their worth and left vulnerable to cultural propaganda (Bloom, Modern Critical
Interpretations: Toni Morrison?s The Bluest Eye, 154-155). Impoverishment is not only tied to racial identities but also to family values (Franks 76).
Pauline and Cholly Breedlove ruined Pecola?s sense of self. Pauline bought into white values and only saw ugliness in her family and Pecola. Cholly fought against whites and became ugly as a result of all of his actions. They both did a disservice to Pecola because they continued to tear her down instead of giving her self-esteem. The MacTeer?s, on the other hand, fought to try to keep their family normal. Love in the family was displayed when the mother gripes about the girls behaving badly, but she supports them and helps them when they need it. The MacTeer girls had a better sense of self. They express this by fighting back to Maureen. This shows how they will not accept others beliefs about them. Originally they did not like the white baby dolls or anything that was obviously white. But
as they grew older they lost a little bit of their sense of self. They grew to like the white dolls and seeing the beauty. Pecola?s need to become something she is not is the cord that eventually pulls her into madness (Russell 94). The thesis of the novel is that racism devastates the sense of self of the African female child in particular (Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations: Toni Morrison?s The Bluest Eye, 154).
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