Author: Toni Morrison
Title: The Bluest Eye
Narrator: Toni Morrison
Publication Info: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2007 [originally published in 1970]
I first encountered Toni Morrison in college where I read her novels for three or four different courses (including a senior seminar focusing entirely on Zora Neal Hurston, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison) and she quickly became one of my of favorite authors. I first read The Bluest Eye in the summertime, not for a course, and found it a most emotionally devastating novel. I’m not alone if feeling strong emotions about The Bluest Eye. A friend in college said after she read the description of Pecola’s rape, told sympathetically from her father’s point of view, that she threw the book across the room.
Pecola is young Black girl in Lorain, Ohio in 1941 from a poor and unstable family. Her father Cholly Breedlove is an alcoholic while her mother Pauline is distant and more invested in the cleanliness and order of the rich white family where she works as a housekeeper than her own family. Pecola is dark-skinned and even among the African American community she is considered “ugly” and is mocked and shunned. Pecola in turn idealizes whiteness and dreams of getting blue eyes.
When we first meet Pecola she is staying with a foster family because Cholly burned their house down. The MacTeer family, working class but stable, offer a contrast the Breedloves. They have two daughters around the same age as Pecola, Claudia and Freida. The youngest of the girls, Claudia, is a narrator for parts of the novel (alternating with a third-person omniscient narrator) and offers a child’s perspective on many unsettling incidents. Claudia is also the only person to show any compassion to Pecola.
The Bluest Eye is not an easy book to read, although it is an important book because it deals with real problems. The cruelty of people and the deep scars of racism that lead to internalized hatred are too prevalent to ignore. The audiobook is especially powerful read by Toni Morrison herself. She makes the excerpts from Dick & Jane stories at the start of each chapter sound chilling.
“So when I think of autumn, I think of somebody with hands who does not want me to die.”