Book Reviews

The Purity of Innocence and the Sins of Society.

Toni Morrison through her novel, The Bluest Eye opens up discussions on very pertinent issues that plagued the society in the early 90’s (race, sex, identity, violence and familial struggles) and still plagues the society today. The novel begins on a poetic scale as Toni Morrison invokes the power of poetry in introducing her characters. The childlike recitation and lyrical flow beautifully adds glamour to the language of the child narrator. Toni Morrison divides the book into the various seasons of the year rather than the usual numbered chapters.

The autumn section introduces Claudia MacTeer who irritates her mother when she falls ill but her mother still takes care of her. The poor living conditions of the family is described to show the low economic status of the family. The MacTeer prepare to receive a boarder, Henry who is moving in from the house of Della Jones and the money he will pay will help the MacTeer family a little. The girls (Claudia and Frieda-her sister) adore him and immediately warm up to him. Ironically, he attempts to rape Frieda much later.

However, we are shown that Claudia is not just the ordinary girl who takes things at face value. Despite her being so young, she has a very strong and determined mind of her own. She would not understand why she had to love a doll in which she could not even see the beauty in it. She practically destroys the doll and wonders why she wasn’t asked what she wanted for Christmas.

While the novel focuses on the MacTeer girls, it also zeroes in on Pecola Breedlove who wins the heart of the reader immediately. She moves in with the MacTeer family after her father (Cholly) who is a drunk burns down their family house. Pecola is constantly haunted by people’s description of her as ugly. This torments her so much that she comes to believe that if she gets blue eyes then she will be wanted and loved. The desire to be loved and wanted is one theme that pervades the whole of this novel. Pecola stands out as one who pursues this desire vehemently and towards the end makes a move to actualize that desire- that dream of becoming beautiful. Her definition of beauty is flawed by the belief that the blue eyes that whites have, are the true definitions of beauty.

These are Pecola’s inner struggles which is also fuelled by the unstable home she grows up in. Pecola’s home is not a peaceful home. Her older brother moves in and out; her mother and father are constantly at each other’s throat and of course, she feels the weight of abandonment and for a child her age, she solely craves love. In a society where blacks were looked down upon and were only good for servants, the adults transferred their anger on the children. Claudia puts it like this

Adults do not talk to us-they give us directions. They issue orders without providing information. When we trip and fall down they glance at us; if we cut or bruise ourselves, they ask us; if we are crazy. When we catch colds, they shake their heads in disgust at our lack of consideration. How, they ask us, do you expect anybody to get anything done if you all are sick?

The Bluest Eye

This gap between parents and children are as a result of the displacement that the adults feel because the society is unfair to them. They consider it lack of consideration by the child if she gets sick because they know that getting sick requires money, time and energy which frankly they have very little of that. For the child it is double trouble. Claudia is black, a child and a girl. All of these variables put her at a disadvantaged position. Toni Morrison examines the family as a small unit of society that mirrors the everyday realities of the society such as the cruelty and inhumanity perpetuated by man to man.

Cholly Breedlove, Pecola’s father also has a turbulent childhood and led to his grandmother to raising him and when she dies, he wanders off in search of his own destiny. In that search, he finds Polly who he eventually marries and they have two children of which Pecola is one of them. Cholly’s past hunts him constantly. He was ridiculed by white men who find him having sex with a girl. They made him continue while they shinned their torches on him and mock him. In that process, emasculate him and tarnish his ego and self-respect. Rather than channel his anger at the men, he grew to loathe the girl and every other woman. His already destroyed self-image and inner demons push him to rape his daughter.

Pecola, a young girl has been told that she is ugly. Cholly, a young boy was abandoned by his father and mother, ridiculed openly by white men in a private encounter with a young girl. Polly finds meaning in the beatings that she receives from her husband which is very twisted in whatever way you look at it. Blacks with fairer skins are treated better than blacks with darker skins, therefore entrenching racism deeply among people of colour. The purity of innocence that comes with every child is immediately tainted and corrupted by institutionalised sins of the society.  The society holds up a mirror to Pecola, Cholly, Polly and tells them what they should see and the reflections they see show them as ugly, irrelevant and useless. Polly openly disregards her daughter Pecola just so she can attend to the white little girl. It is a preference for the white girl over her daughter that shows how internalised white supremacy has become. It is seen in the idolisation of Shirley Temple and how people expected Claudia to jump for joy that she has been given a beautiful white baby doll. Polly would rather pay more attention to keeping the homes of her white employers clean than she would keep hers.

The book explores other themes like family bonding (Claudia and Frieda), incest, paedophilia, religion and the absurd practices and twisted notions of it that makes Soaphead sleep with under aged girls. Soaphead is a symbol of the threats to innocent young girls. His own unstable home and over demanding father pushes him to become the devil himself.

Morrison does not leave any stone unturned as she uses poetry, provocative, sombre and well organized narrative techniques to expose society for what it is. She beautifully humanizes her characters that the villains are also victims and that there are no victors in the story. The book ends on the note that everyone holds the key to mould his own destiny but in doing so, one must be ready to contend with deeply rooted evils of society.

This soil is bad for certain kind of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruits it will not bear, and when this land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. At least on the edge of my town, among the garbage and the sunflowers of my town, it’s much, much, much too late.

The Bluest Eye

The language is simple and sometimes over humanizing all the characters leaves nothing to the imagination of the reader. Overall, it is a very good book. Rest in Power, Toni Morrison.

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