Ruth Rosenberg’s article, “Seeds in Hard Ground: Black Girlhood in The Bluest Eye,” offers a paradigm with which to view the growing-up process portrayed by Toni Morrison in her novel, The Bluest Eye. According to Rosenberg, Morrison’s novel is a landmark in literature because she has succeeded in portraying young, black American girls on their road to womanhood. Before her, no documented case in literature has been recorded that featured these girls in the center stage. Always, Rosenberg quotes Morrison, these girls were the props, set as part of the background, the moving scenery (436).
More interestingly, however, it is Rosenberg’s treatment and reading of “colorism” in the novel that calls for attention (439). Colorism is akin to racism, where division and segregation is based on the color of one’s skin. Color, in fact, plays a crucial and central role in the novel, stealthily moving beyond the question of one’s skin. The most important transition of colorism is in Pecola’s wish to have blue eyes. She absurdly believes that possessing such would render her lovable, thereby eliminating pain from her world:
If those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different…Maybe they’d say, “Why look at pretty-eyed Pecola. We mustn’t do bad things in front of those pretty eyes. ” … Each night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. Fervently, for a year she had prayed. Although somewhat discouraged, she was not without hope. (Morrison 40) The longing for blue eyes were eventually destructive for Pecola as her desire for possessing the bluest eyes symbolize her own blindness – and it is this blindness, rather than her skin color, that eventually brings about her insanity and downfall.
Pecola’s case is not isolated. The characters that people the novel, themselves perpetrators and victims of colorism, also exhibit their own “blindness. ” Eyes, looking, and gazing all become important symbols in the novel. Despite being able to see, the characters are oftentimes blinded by colorism. As such, the novel underscores a very important theme: the great divide between superficial looking and deeper seeing. For Morrison, the more important way of seeing is painfully missing in the novel, leading to drastic and disastrous consequences. Inside Pecola’s shoe she hides her treasure: three pennies to get her nine Mary Janes.
Inside the store, she encounters Mr. Yacobowski, who “urges his eyes out of his thoughts to encounter her (Morrison 41). ” He has blue eyes that are blear-dropped, which he focuses on Pecola as he “looms up over the counter (Morrison 41). ” But Somewhere between retina and object, between vision and view, his eyes draw back, hesitate, and hover. At some fixed point in time and space he senses that he need not waste the effort of a glance. He does not see her, because for him there is nothing to see. How can a fifty-two-year-old white immigrant…see a little black girl? (Morrison 42)
Pecola immediately recognizes the storekeeper’s stare as “the total absence of human recognition – the glazed separateness…. this vacuum is not new to her. She has seen it lurking in the eyes of all white people… (Morrison 42). With the stare Pecola is shamed and angered. Yet, it is not only Pecola’s desire for blue eyes or the white people’s vacant stares that stand for the blindness plaguing the characters caught in the grips of colorism. Consider the case of Maureen Peal, “the high yellow dream child with long brown hair braided into two lynch ropes that hung down her back (Morrison 52).
” Such a description juxtaposes the vicious power that comes with her pretty face. Claudia is at the receiving end, as Maureen often gazes at her with “unearned haughtiness in her eyes (Morrison 54). ” In knowing that she is prettier because she is whiter than the rest, Maureen condescends to them, seeing only their darker skin and eliminating them immediately as people lower than her. In the end, it is only Soaphead Church who listens with sympathy to Pecola’s pleas. He is the only one who sees through the curse of blindness by realizing that Pecola’s wish was “the most poignant and the one [wish] most deserving of fulfillment.
A little black girl who wanted to rise up out of pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes (137). ” But the price for this was heavy – for only she could see her eyes. Her frustration and disillusion sends her into a downward spiral, from which her friends cannot pull her out of. At the cost of her life, she gained the eyes she wanted. Works Cited Rosenberg, Ruth. “Seeds in Hard Ground: Black Girlhood in The Bluest Eye. ” Black American Literature Forum 21. 4 (1987). 435-445. Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Washington Square Press, 1970.
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