The Bluest Eye is a brilliantly written novel revealing the fictional trauma of an eleven-year-old black girl named Pecola Breedlove. This story takes place in the town of Lorain, Ohio during the 1940’s. It is told from the perspective of a young girl named Claudia MacTeer. She and her sister, Frieda, become witness to the terrible plights Pecola is unintentionally put through. Pecola chooses to hide from her disabling life behind her clouded dream of possessing the ever so cherished “bluest of eyes”. The Breedlove’s constant bickering and ever growing poverty contributes to the emotional downfall of this little girl. Pecola’s misery is obtained through the touch of her father’s hand and the voice of her community’s struggle with racial separation, anger, and ignorance. Her innocence is harshly ripped from her grasp as her father rapes her limp existence.
The community’s anger with it’s own insecurities is taken out on this poor, ugly, black, non-ideal, young girl. She shields herself from this sorrow behind her obsessive plea for blue eyes. But her eyes do not replace the pain of carrying her fleeing father’s baby. Nor do they protect her from the shady eyes of her neighbours. Though this book discuses negative and disturbing situations, it teaches a very positive lesson. The theme of The Bluest Eye is that of depending on outside influences to become aware of one’s own beauty and to fabricate one’s own self image can be extremely damaging.
Topic Tracking: Beauty
Beauty 1: Claudia is constantly faced with white ideals of beauty. For Christmas one year, she receives a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, pink-skinned doll. Rather than adore the doll, she destroys and dismembers it as a result of her anger. Claudia feels she can never measure up to the beauty of white children, the beauty that all the world reveres. Beauty 2: The Breedloves are poor and ugly. At least that is how they think the world views them. Their beliefs that they are ugly come from white American media always portraying whites as representations of what is beautiful. Because of this, they do not strive for more, for they think that they do not deserve to have more. Beauty 3: Pecola wishes that she had blue eyes. She thinks that if her eyes were blue, and therefore beautiful according to white American standards, then her problems would go away and her life would be beautiful. Then maybe, her classmates and teachers would not despise her and think she was so ugly. She so hates herself that she stares at herself in the mirror trying to figure out where her ugliness comes from. Beauty 4: For one year Pecola prays that her eyes will turn blue. She has many problems in her life, starting with family issues, and she thinks that if she had blue eyes, her problems might go away.
And even more than that, if she had blue eyes, people would see her as beautiful, and then she would be able to see herself as beautiful too. Being a black little girl in a society that idolizes blonde-haired blue-eyed beauty, Pecola thinks she is ugly. Pecola sympathizes for the dandelions because she knows what it is like to be devalued. She finds beauty in the weeds, for she thinks that people see her as a weed. Beauty 5: A new little girl, named Maureen Peal, comes to Claudia and Frieda’s school. Maureen is revered for her looks, which people deem beautiful. She has lighter skin and eyes than most of the other children, and everyone adores her because of this. She is looked upon as beautiful because her characteristics are somewhat more “white” than other black people’s.
This causes many to be jealous of her. However, Claudia and Frieda are not jealous. They see through the standards placed on beauty, and if Maureen is what is beautiful, this means that they are not beautiful (according to society). Beauty 6: When the girls are walking home from getting ice cream after school, they pass a movie theater with a picture of Betty Grable on the building. Maureen and Pecola both say that they love Betty Grable, an icon for white American beauty with her blonde hair and blue eyes. However, showing her disdain for such standards placed on beauty, Claudia says that she prefers the actress, Hedy Lamarr, who has dark hair. Beauty 7: In her younger years, Pauline Breedlove occupied herself by going to the movies. It was here that she got her first glimpse into what idealized beauty was. She saw the Hollywood blonde-haired, blue-eyed bombshells as being true representations of beauty. And anything that strayed from these looks, including her own, was seen as not pretty.
American society placed their standards of beauty onto the world, and because of this, many people began to realize how far away they were from those standards. Beauty 8: Pecola goes to visit Soaphead Church with the hope that he will be able to fulfill her wish to have blue eyes. She thinks that with blue eyes, all of her problems will disappear and the world will love her because she will be beautiful. The world, seen through blue eyes, will also appear beautiful to Pecola. Beauty 9: Claudia prays that Pecola’s baby will survive. She needs the baby to live to counteract society’s standards set on beauty, which say that blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girls are all that is pretty. Claudia hopes that with this new black baby people will change and see blackness as something that can be admired and something that is beautiful.
Topic Tracking: Culture
Culture 1: Mr. Henry moves into Claudia and Frieda’s house. One day, the girls come home and when they walk in Mr. Henry greets them. He flatters them by telling them they look just like Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers, two white American female actresses. These two actresses represented American society’s ideal beauty, with their blonde hair and blue eyes. They, and other actresses like them, were so idealized by the media that it forced young American girls, both white and black, to question their own beauty if it differed from the standard of blond hair and blue eyes. Culture 2: After seeing the cup with Shirley Temple on it, Claudia explains her ill feelings for her. Shirley Temple was the epitome of what all of America adored in little girls: her bouncy blonde curls and big blue eyes. This sickened Claudia, as she was so different from Shirley Temple and all of the other little girls who looked like Shirley. Culture 3: Claudia tells the story about the doll she received for Christmas one year.
This doll was a beautiful doll that had blonde hair, blue eyes, and pink skin. Instead of appreciating the doll like most other children would have done, Claudia dismembered and destroyed the doll. She was sick of having American ideals of beauty placed on her, which said that being white with blonde hair and blue eyes was what was deemed as beautiful. Culture 4: This excerpt from a first grade reading primer describes the perfect white family. Morrison uses these excerpts in many points of the story to illustrate the dichotomy between the ideal white family, and the family of blacks, specifically Pecola’s family. The reading book perpetuates the stigma that what is seen as “ideal” in American culture means having a neat little house, run by two loving parents, with two children, one of which has blonde hair and blue eyes, and a fun loving dog who plays with the children. This social stigma presses on children who are “different” that are reading these books, and makes them think they are abnormal and unacceptable. Culture 5: The Breedloves are described. They think they are poor and ugly, and it says that much of the reason they think this is because of the white American media.
The media, as part of our culture, sets the standards for what defines beauty, and anything straying from these standards is viewed as ugly. Culture 6: Pecola is constantly faced with the standards set on her society by American culture. She cannot even enjoy a piece of candy without feeling that she is different and lacking in some way in terms of beauty. When she goes to eat her Mary Jane candy, she is mesmerized by the little girl of Mary Jane on the cover, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl. These cultural pressures of what defines beauty make Pecola aware of just how much she strays from that defined beauty. This eventually leads to her desire for blue eyes, which in turn leads her into madness. Culture 7: When Pecola, Maureen, Claudia and Frieda are walking home from the ice cream shop, they pass a theater with a picture of Betty Grable on it. Young girls are bombarded with American culture’s ideals of beauty, such as pictures of famous actresses. Betty Grable in particular, with her blonde hair and blue eyes, makes Pecola and Maureen want to look like her. However, despite all of their hopes and wishes, they will never be able to look like that, and they are left as the victims of a culture that standardizes and limits young children.
Culture 8: During her younger years, Pauline Breedlove spent a lot of time at the movie theater. It was here where she learned American standards of true beauty. Constantly faced with actresses like Jean Harlow, the ultimate Hollywood blonde bombshell, Pauline was forced to examine her own beauty in terms of Harlow’s. She realized that she did not look anything like Harlow, and based on this, came to the conclusion that she must be ugly. However, her feelings of ugliness were purely based on cultural standards set on her through the medium of Hollywood. Culture 9: Claudia feels the need for Pecola’s baby to be alive and healthy. She wants the baby to survive because she wants to counteract the cultural emphasis placed on white girls with blonde hair and blue eyes, exemplified by the types of white baby dolls most children adore (dolls that look like Shirley Temple). If Pecola’s baby lives, maybe people can learn to love a black baby and see black as beautiful too.
At least this is what Claudia is hoping for. Culture 10: Pecola beats her arms like a bird, and attempts to fly up to the sky. However, she cannot. The reason she cannot is because she has been held back by the culture in which she lives, a culture that values white beauty, and ignores black beauty. It was an inevitable end result that Pecola would never be able to achieve the standards of beauty she wanted to. She was born a black child, and unfortunately, her culture does not accept black beauty. Thus, her dreams would never be fulfilled. And even though she thinks she has blue eyes, the world around her does not recognize her as she wishes to be seen. And because of this, she is driven to madness, caused by the pressures and social standards of her culture.
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