Bluest Eye Essay, Research Paper
Robert B. Lewis V
March 1, 2001
A Quest for Personal Identity
Post World War I, many new opportunities were given to the growing and expanding group of African Americans living in the North. Almost 500,00 African Americans moved to the northern states between 1910 and 1920. This was the beginning of a continuing migration northward. More than 1,500,000 blacks went north in the 1930’s and 2,500,00 in the 1940’s. Life in the North was very hard for African Americans. Race riots, limited housing resulting in slum housing, and restricted job opportunities were only a few of the many hardships that the African American people had to face at this time. Families often had to separate, social agencies were overcrowded with people that all needed help, crime rates increased and many other resulting problems ensued. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison takes place during this time period. A main theme in this novel is the quest for individual identity and the influences of the family and community in that quest . This theme is present throughout the novel and evident in many of the characters. Pecola Breedlove is the main character, and on the quest for identity, as well as a symbol of the quest of many of the Black northern newcomers of that time.
The Breedlove family is a group of people under the same roof, a family by name only. Cholly (the father) is a constantly drunk and abusive man. His abusive manner is apparent towards his wife Pauline physically and towards his daughter Pecola sexually. Pauline is a “mammy” to a white family and continues to favor them over her biological family. Pecola is a little black girl with low self esteem. The world has led her to believe that she is ugly and that the epitome of “beautiful” requires blue eyes. Therefore every night she prays that she will wake up with blue eyes.
Brought up as a poor unwanted girl, Pecola Breedlove desires the acceptance and love of society. The image of “Shirley Temple beauty” surrounds her. In her mind, if she was to be beautiful, people would finally love and accept her. The idea that blue eyes are a necessity for beauty has been imprinted on Pecola her whole life. “If I looked different, beautiful, maybe Cholly would be different, and Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they would say, `Why look at pretty eyed Pecola. We mustn’t do bad things in front of those pretty blue eyes’” (Morrison 46). Many people have helped imprint this ideal of beauty on her. Mr. Yacowbski as a symbol for the rest of society’s norm, treats her as if she were invisible. “He does not see her, because for him there is nothing to see. How can a fifty-two-year-old white immigrant storekeeper… see a little black girl?” (Morrison 48). Her classmates also have an effect on her. They seem to think that because she is not beautiful, she is not worth anything except as the focal point of their mockery. “Black e mo. Black e mo. Yadaddsleepsnekked. Black e mo black e mo ya dadd sleeps nekked. Black e mo…” (Morrison 65). Shouted by her classmates on such a regular basis, this scorn seemed not to penetrate anymore. As if it were not bad enough being ridiculed by children her own age, adults also had to mock her. Geraldine, a colored woman, who refused to tolerate “niggers”, happened to walk in while Pecola was in her house. “Get out,’ she said her voice quiet. `You nasty little black bitch. Get out of my house’” (Morrison 92). By having an adult point out to her that she really was a “nasty” little girl, it seems all the more true. Pecola was never able to get away from this kind of ridicule.
At home she was put through the same thing, if not worse because her family members were the ones who were supposed to love her. Her mother was not able conceal her obvious affection towards a white girl over her. One day as Pecola was visiting her mother at the home where she is working, Pecola accidentally knocked over a blueberry pie. Obviously burned by the hot pastry, her mother completely ignored Pecola’s feelings of pain and instead tended to the comforting of her white “daughter”. “`Crazy foo…my floor, mess …look what you…get on out…crazy…crazy…my floor , my floor….’ Her words were hotter and darker than the smoking berries. The little white girl in pink started to cry. Mrs. Breedlove turned to her. `Hush, baby, hush. Don’t cry no more’” (Morrison 109). Her mother viewed Pecola as an obstacle that had the potential to get in the way of her white charge’s happiness and consequently her happiness. Her mother refused to show any love to Pecola because it might interfere with more important things. For a little girl, the love of her mother is the most important love she can receive. Without that, how can she think that she is worth anything at all?
Finally the rape by her father is the last evidence Pecola needs to believe completely that she is an ugly unlovable girl. While in most cases a father figure is one who little girls look to for guidance and approval, Cholly is the exact opposite. He hurts Pecola in a physical way that in one attempt measures up to the years of hurtful mockery. He took away from her the one thing that was utterly and completely hers. After the rape, Pecola was never even remotely the same.
She was so sad to see. Grown people looked away; children, those who were not frightened by her, laughed outright. The damage done was total. She spent her days, walking up and down her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so distant only she could hear. Elbows bent, hands on shoulders, she flailed her arms like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely futile effort to fly. In short, after the rape, Pecola went insane. Pecola’s search for identity was defined by her everlasting desire to be loved. Her purpose in life was to be beautiful and as a result of that to be loved. Her family and community made it impossible for her to ever be sanely content.
Pecola Breedlove yearned for blue eyes. At the end of the book she believes that she has those blue eyes. She believes that people treat her funny because they are jealous of her blue eyes and she has learned to happily accept that. Pecola yearned for the acceptance and love of society seen through her eyes. No matter if that acceptance and love were really there, she thought it was and therefore was able to survive. “I Soaphead Church, I have caused a miracle. I gave her the eyes. I gave her the blue, blue, two blue eyes… No one else will see her blue eyes. But she will. And she will live happily ever after” (Morrison 182). Pecola found herself only by going insane. Although Pecola is not accepted by society for reasons she does not understand, she puts her exclusion from society into terms she can comprehend. Society influences her identity. They mold her into what she becomes by not giving her the guidance and approval she needs.