The Bluest Eye By Toni Morrison: Black Identity And White Cultural Values In American Society
“There are three major circles of reality in American society, which reflects degree of power and powerlessness. There is a large circle in which white people, most of them men, experience influence and power. Far away from it there is a small circle, a narrow space, in which black people, regardless of sex, experience uncertainty, exploitation and powerlessness. Hidden in this second circle is a third, a small dark enclosure in which black women experience pain, isolation and vulnerability. These are the distinguishing marks of black womanhood in white America. ” – Toni Morrison Toni Morrison in ‘The Bluest Eye’ reveals that blackness is not the only problem for the Black girls and women, but there are also equally pressing problems like Black poverty, powerlessness and loss of self-respect which is another significant difficulty for the Black community and more so for Black female. In fact, the Morrison concentrates more on a study between black identity and white cultural values in American society. As the title of the novel shows, the lack of love from the Black males towards Black females and children in The Bluest Eye is one of the most significant themes. Morrison‘s emphasis in this novel on racism examines how Black females react to the so-called White standards of beauty prevalent in the American society. In this novel, Morrison focuses on the effect of change in the status of women in American community. There are two Black communities in The Bluest Eye: one in the South and the other in the North. In The Bluest Eye, Black women characters are seen to be suffering to conform to Western standards of beauty. Therefore, the characters in this novel can be interpreted as being assaulted by another culture‘s values. The land occupied by African-American community is the same as the one occupied by the White community. Morrison has written about Black experience, especially about the experience of Black females within the Black community. Pecola Breedlove is a chief character or the protagonist is an eleven-year old Black girl who is physically ugly, financially poor, emotionally unstable and socially disrespected. She prays for blue eyes every night. She believes that if she has blue eyes, they may make her look beautiful and she believes that if she may look beautiful, someone may love her and behavior of others might have been different, at sometimes positive towards her. She has prayed for one year without losing her hope. She has to sit for a long time in front of a mirror and looked in the mirror to understand the secret of ugliness, which made her different from others, the Whites, and which made her teachers and classmates scorn her. She lives in such circumstances in which love is an adjustment effected by money, violence, dishonesty, psychological disturbances, societal disaffection etc. Morrison depicts some of these psychological upheavals as below: Long hours she sat looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers and classmates alike. She was the only member of her class who sat alone at a double desk. The first letter of her last name forced her to sit in the front of the room always. . . . She also knew that when one of the girls at school wanted to be particularly insulting to a boy, or wanted to get an immediate response from him, she could say, To be precise, Pecola is looking for beauty and her identity. She ants not only to be beautiful, but also some kind of an ideal of beauty for other girls. Barbara Christian points out: The beauty searched for in the book is not just the possession of blue eyes, but the harmony that they symbolize: Pecola sees a lot of discrimination at the hands of White people only, but they are also the victims of their Black men. They are made to live in misery and trouble from the White people (especially White men) and Black people (especially Black men) as well. Pecolais rejected not only by White society but is also rejected by Black society as she is ugly. She has to face sexual abuse and menace come from inside the family itself.
Pecola prays for having blue eyes with the hope that they would change her life. Her prayer for blue eyes symbolizes a desire for meeting the repeated messages of White cultural superiority. She believes that the only way she can escape from this situation is to become beautiful through acquisition of blue eyes. She shares a bedroom with her brother and lives with her disabled mother and her drunken father. She is raped by her father and resultantly becomes pregnant. Her rape by her alcoholic father symbolizes the most prominent type of sexual assault against Black females by Black males and this is also the most tragic illustration of Black women‘s abuse as shown in the novel. She is an innocent child, but, very unfortunately, she is made to suffer from oppression of hers by the Whites as well as by her kith and kin like her father which is seen in the fact that she is made a victim of rape and domestic violence by her own father. Pecola doesn‘t know the meaning of love and also she could never control her body. Her sexual experiences are of just being raped by her father. Morrison shows that Black women suffer fatal types of violence even from their close family members. Abuse and sexual assault to Black females in this novel come from both Black and White males. The Bluest Eye, among the important themes, is also a narrative of incestuous rape. In this novel, Pecola‘s story ends tragically. Generally each woman in this novel suffers some attack on her integrity and female dignity. Pauline Breedlove, Pecola‘s mother, is an unimpressive and helpless character and she is happy to indulge in religious activities and domestic discipline. The relationship between Pauline and Pecola as mother and daughter respectively in the novel is quite pale and diminishing. Pecola Breedlove thinks that three prostitutes, China, Poland, and Maginot Line, play some kind of a revolutionary role because these prostitutes represent the unsettling of domestic respectability. China and Poland signify the European and Asian fronts of World War II, Maginot Line refers literally to the failed French border fortifications and metaphorically to the tendency to focus on the wrong front to which historian Sidney Lens calls The Maginot Line Syndrome: America’s Hopeless Foreign Policy. In The Bluest Eye, they are associated with beauty, and the three whores are striking and they are associated with beauty: Poland singing her voice sweet and hard, like new strawberries. They are associated with the Black English oral tradition and are controllers and extollers of the power of the spoken word. The whores‘conversation is very aural. . . . Poland, China, and Maginot Line the three prostitutes live in an apartment above the Breed loves. According to Elliott Butler-Evans, the three whores are almost totally unrelated to the novel‘s dominant focus. . . . . These three prostitutes are the only females in the novel, who could manage themselves and control their body. In spite of all types of violence, injustices against them; Black women prefer to be silent because they see that they are a part of racist and unjust system which they can hardly change for the better on their own. Morrison in this novel reveals the hard reality of domestic violence towards Black women. In short, Black women‘s suffering under the conditions of slavery, domestic violence, sexual abuse and racism are some of the major themes of the novel. In other words, throughout the novel, Morrison seems to be appealing to her readers and to the Black community to act against violence, rape, sexual abuse, and racism to which Black women are very unfortunately and very frequently subjected. At the end of novel, Pecola a young Black girl, a victim of incest talking to herself in a mirror about her imaginary blue eyes believes that she has received the blue eyes.
When Pecola looks into the mirror, she encounters the agonizing physical reality of hers as she looks at herself from White standards of beauty. She obtains her blue eyes in her mind only and finally she goes mad. Soaphead Church gives her blue eyes. Soaphead‘s major role is to give Pecola the final push towards craziness. He accepts her request for blue eyes and writes a letter to God. Before requesting for blue eyes, Pecola visits Soaphead Church and he doesn‘t say anything but just gives her one of his cards. Soaphead Church is a child molester, a man abandoned by his wife years before his arrival in Lorain and his encounter with Pecola. If you are overcome with trouble and conditions that are not natural, I can remove them; Overcome Spells, Bad Luck, and Evil Influences. Remember, I am a true Spiritualist and Psychic Reader, born with power, and I will help you. Satisfaction in one visit. During many years of practice I have brought together many in marriage and reunited many who were separated. If you are unhappy, discouraged, or in distress, I can help you. Does bad luck seem to follow you? Has the one you love changed? I can tell you why. I will tell you who your enemies and friends are, and if the one you love is true or false. If you are sick, I can show you the way to health. I locate lost and stolen articles. Satisfaction guaranteed. Soaphead Church has Pecola perform a violent task poison his landlady’s dog in order to get the eyes. Patrick Bryce Bjork quoted Barbara Christian‘s comments as follows: “…Pecola‘s story does not follow the usual mythic [cycle]of birth, death, and rebirth, from planting to harvest to planting. Hers will proceed from pathos to tragedy and finally madness”. The myth of rebirth is prevalent in agricultural societies from Africa to Asia based on the observation of the cycle of growth. But, Pecola‘s story is a deviation of this myth since she does not encounter a renewal but a deterioration. In an interview with on the issue of Black females, Toni Morrison stated in the following manner: I think black women are in a very special position regarding black feminism, an advantageous one. White women generally define black women‘s role as the most repressed because they are both black and female, and these two categories invite a kind of repression that is pernicious. But in an interesting way, black women are much more suited to aggressiveness in the mode that feminists are recommending, both mother and laborer, mother and worker, and the history of black women in the States is an extremely painful and unattractive one, but there are parts of that history that were conducive to doing more, rather than less, in the days of slavery. We think of slave women as women in the house, but they were not, most of them worked in the fields along with the men. Claudia MacTeer, who is the narrator of the novel, seems to use the language quite powerfully, and these characters may not appear to be the traditional models of correctness and beauty, but in Morrison‘s novels beauty is perceived through a different lens, the lens of language. These non-traditional characters are caretakers of knowledge, guardians of history. But, her central focus is the Black community. Although Morrison‘s thematic concern is the relationship of an individual with her/his community, her aesthetic concern is the sublime. It is the domain of the unspeakable, unrepresentable, awesome, awful supernatural and even inhuman elements in the world. The Bluest Eye presents the fundamental pattern of Morrison‘s early novels: an isolated figure, cut off from the community, undergoes a harrowing experience, an ontologically threatening encounter with what is variously described as the unspeakable, the otherworldly, the demonic that is, the sublime.
In this encounter with the sublime, these characters are excluded from a general gathering of the community in beauty and harmony and are condemned to fragmentation, psychosis, and ultimately death. Thus, Morrison‘s work reveals an aesthetic progression that is simultaneously ethical as well. This progression is defined by a cohesive and nurturing sense of love, which Morrison herself has stated is the best, perhaps only, hope for healing a devastated world: Love, she has stated, is the metaphor most in need today: We have to embrace ourselves. … Thus Morrison‘s work is an ongoing and passionate effort at healing the divisions that quite literally haunt the scarred individuals and fractured. Communities of late twentieth-century America; it is an effort to heal sublime wounds and to constitute beautiful worlds. In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morison has strongly criticized the White (Western) concept of physical beauty conceived as virtue. She was straightforward, simple and direct in her choice of words, telling the reader(s) what she thought of this idea without mincing her words. One notices words such as pernicious, destructive, and Western world, which suggest that she is looking at the idea and the world as an outsider. Interestingly, the word ‘White’ is wisely omitted. The concept of physical beauty as virtue, Toni Morrison wrote in 1974, is one of the dumbest, most pernicious and destructive ideas of the Western world, and we should have nothing to do with it. But there is the ironic paradox that the beauty industry, which Morrison condemns at first, provides her with a path into beauty mediated by touch and fantasy. Throughout her novels, there are constant reminders of the African American‘s relation to beauty, particularly as something manufactured and exchanged. In her reaction to western ideas of physical beauty as a virtue we find that Morrison is opening up alternate routes to the beautiful, specifying the diverse senses through which beauty reaches us, other than the visual. In other words, she is not so much interested in sociology as in aesthetics. Through the voice of narrator Claudia, Toni Morrison expressed her disgust and impatience with the concept physical beauty as virtue. Beside Claudia, as mentioned, Morrison uses Pauline Breedlove, Pecola‘s mother, who has the tendency to look at others ‘faces and rate them according to a scale of absolute beauty gleaned from constant cinema-going. Pauline fails as a person and as a mother. She measures herself, as well as others, according to this cinematicscale of beautiful and ugly, White and Black Morrison‘s scenes of cosmetics in the novel may both materialize beauty by portraying the required handiwork and spiritualize it through the use of the imagination. She makes this distinction more obvious, in a comical way, by using China‘s changing hair style:-China had changed her mind about the bangs and was arranging a small but sturdy pompadour. She was adept at creating any number of hair styles, but each one left her with a pinched and harassed look.
Then she applied makeup heavily. Now she gave herself surprised eyebrows and a cupid-bow mouth. Later she would make Oriental eyebrows and an evilly slashed mouth. Generally, the discourse on aesthetics gives the visual faculty an objectivity and autonomy. Its range is vast and is considered authoritative. Conversely, tactile sensation is localized and would seem to be lowly by comparison. Beauty takes place in Morrison‘s novels when some act of imagination makes the body‘s unforeseen beauty suddenly apparent. Thus for Morrison, the experience of beauty is much more subjective and dynamic than its visual, static dimension would suggest. Beauty is ultimately improvisational, an unaccountable, unpredictable response. And beauty is nutritional, for Morrison is uninterested in any notion of beauty unmediated by fantasy, story-line, and the contingencies of context. Aesthetic theories ordinarily distinguish the object from the beholding of it. It is stated that Morrison uses a shift in perspective as part of her novelistic style. During the course of her narration, she shifts from one perspective to another as suits her story. The shift from the sublime to the beautiful in Morrison‘s work carries aesthetic, ethical, political, and philosophical implications, all of which bear upon the complicated relationship between the individual and the community. In The Bluest Eye, fear of being homeless works the Black community‘s greatest fear, and it also has its relation to Pecola. Through unstable character of the novel, and has no specified place, she floats on the peripheries of the 201 community she longs to enter like a wraith looking for its missing body. She is constantly outdoors, never able to integrate herself into the community, always left on the peripheries, literally moving from house to house searching for a fixed place of comfort and security. Pecola has become “homeless because her drunken father has destroyed their home, and everybody, as a result, was outdoors.
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