The Bluest Eyes Essay, Research Paper
The story of Pecola Breedlove in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison is very dramatic. Like a seed planted in bad soil and in a hostile condition, Pecola, a very young and innocent African American girl, does not have a chance to grow up normally like her peers. Her parents’ personal history is shown to have played out in extreme measures in her life. Her father, abandoned since childhood, does not have a sense of fatherhood. Her mother is a product of hatred and ignorance. The Breedlove’s all are confronted by prejudice on a daily basis, both classism and racism, and for the first time, the white standard of beauty. Growing up in this environment, Pecola is vulnerable in every way and becomes the victim of discrimination by both white and black people in her community.
Inherited from her mother the feelings of rejection, Pecola is a vulnerable girl. The novel indicates that her mother, from the early part of her life, felt a sense of separateness and unworthiness and that she “never felt at home anywhere, or that she belonged anyplace” (111). Consequently, from Pecola’s birth, her mother placed upon Pecola the same shroud of shame, weakness, and inadequacy. The circumstances surrounding Pecola’s first period are consistent with the vulnerability of her position. Pecola is not even with her own mother when it happens. There is a real sense that Pecola cannot participate in traditions, or receive wisdom from previous generations, because her family life is so unhealthy. When her own body begins to change, she can only fear it. Her mother has not taken care to prepare her for those changes, in sharp contrast to Mrs. MacTeer, who has fully prepared Frieda. Family tradition being cut off from these vital connections to family and lineage results in Pecola’s becoming alienated from her own body, as she is terrified, shrieks and cries at the sight of her own menstrual blood.
Pecola’s vulnerability can also be seen through her interaction with other children. She is so weak and inferior that she is always the target of other children’s harassment. When a group of black boys pick on her blackness and her naked father, she cannot stand up for herself. All she can do is “edging around the circle [of those black guys] crying” (66). Or “when one of the girls at school [wants] to be particularly insulting [to] a boy or wants to get an immediate response from him, she [would] say ‘Bobby loves Pecola Breedlove!’ and never fails to get peals of laughter from those in earshot, and mock anger from the accused” (46). Obviously these boys and girls feel they are superior to Pecola in every way. None of them want to put himself/herself in Pecola’s position. Being Pecola means being exposed to all sorts of humiliation, and unable to defend herself.
At home Pecola is the victim of domestic abuse. The fight with Maureen Peal reveals something important: Pecola’s desperate reaction to Maureen’s question “Did you ever see a naked man?” indicates that perhaps she has not only seen her father naked, but has had experience with her father’s nakedness in ways that are not normal (71). When she tells Maureen Peal that “nobody’s father would be naked in front of his own daughter. Not unless he was dirty too” it sounds like she is telling her own story (71). This incident suggests that Cholly has done something terrible to Pecola before; something that Morrison doesn’t directly reveal at first. But later Morrison uncovers the fact that Pecola’s father, Cholly, sexually abuses her. Not one time, but many times. The most hurtful part is that her mother doesn’t believe her. When Pecola is pregnant by the father, her mother directs all her anger at Pecola beating her brutally.
Outside the house, Pecola suffers from racial discrimination. Pecola’s interaction with the white shopkeeper who has little patience and less affection for her is very important. The present tense narration gives the scene a kind of timelessness, suggesting that it is a model for all of Pecola’s interactions with others. Eye imagery pervades the scene, as the shopkeeper cannot “see” Pecola. To see her would be to see her as a person, to encounter her subjectivity. To him, Pecola is nothing, and Pecola in turn can see in his eyes that she means nothing to him. She is practically invisible in this store. Moments like this reinforces Pecola’s conviction that she is hideous: she will never learn to see her own beauty, in part because no one else will show it to her. In one scene Pecola passes a patch of dandelions as she walks into Mr. Yacobowski’s store. “Why, she wonders, do people call them weeds? She thought they were pretty” (47). Yet after suffering the embarrassment of Mr. Yacobowski’s vacuous, shame inducing stare the faint glimmer of happiness she experiences in seeing the dandelion is destroyed. When she leaves and passes the dandelion again she thinks, “They are ugly. They are weeds” (50). She has unloaded society’s dislike of her to the dandelions.
Ironically Pecola is often discriminated against by people of her own race. At Junior’s house, Pecola was brutally attacked by Junior, another black child. He punched her, and threw the black cat in her face out of hatred. Once again here, Pecola is the victim of other black’s cruelty. Morrison suggests that hatred of blackness often comes from other blacks. The moment when Geraldine, another black woman, looks into Pecola’s eyes is an interesting passage to compare to the passage in which Pecola buys candy from Mr. Yacobowski. Unlike the white shopkeeper, Geraldine does see something in Pecola’s eyes, although what she sees fills her with revulsion and fear. She sees in Pecola a type of black: “She had seen this little girl all of her life. Hanging out of windows over saloons in Mobile … sitting in bus station holding paper bags and crying to mothers who kept saying ‘Shet up!’ ” (91). “This little girl” refers to a type of poor black, a type that the book goes on to describe in detail with “the dirty torn dress, the plaits had come undone, the muddy shoes with the wad of gum peeping out from between the cheap soles, the soiled socks, one of which had been walked down into the heel of the shoe” (91). This type of dirty, poorly dressed black is exactly what Geraldine despises most. While Geraldine sees Pecola as a black, she has not seen Pecola as an individual. She instead sees Pecola as an abstracted representative of a whole social class, a social class she hates, and consequently she was merciless and cruel to Pecola.
While everyone continue to treat Pecola bad in every way, Pecola retreats further and further from the real world into madness. “Certain seeds it [the land] will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear and when the land kills of its own volition, we say that the victim had no right to live” (206). Nature retains the right to dictate which seeds it will bear to fruition and those that it will reject. Pecola is that “certain seed” that never had a chance to grow and succeed because she lived in a hostile environment that rejected her, one that would not and could not nurture her.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1993.