Racial discrimination has always been one problem that is experienced on a global scale. Although Barrack Obama has won the presidential election in the United States of America, there are still debates concerning the United States and the issue about the blacks vs. the whites. History and literature are two important branches of knowledge that can attest to the racial discrimination that the blacks have always experienced. In fact, even the media has taken up the fact that even though black is beauty, white is even more beautiful—the mountains of bleaching and whitening products available in the market can attest to that.
Moreover, while Snow White is loved by many, Princess Jasmine (of Aladdin) is not exactly that famous compared to her blue-eyed counter parts. It has been ingrained in so many people, most especially to that of the younger generation, that it is so bad to be black; or rather, it is so ugly to be black. Fairy tales tell us of the big, bad, black wolf. Hoodlums and villains in movies are most often the darker ones and those that have the fairer skins are hailed as the hero or heroine of the movie.
The characters present in the novel written by Toni Morrison are not exempted to this belief. Although the novel provides some of the more domesticated problems that are somehow always present in the dramatic works of literature (like Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or Franks McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes) and movies (Julia Roberts’ battered character in Sleeping With The Enemy or Jennifer Lopez’s role in Enough), the most apparent subject in the novel is the obvious contempt for the characters’ skin colors and their undeniable desire to change who they are and what they have.
The novel features Pecola Breedlove, a young, naive, black girl who hates her color and herself for belonging to her race. She believes herself as very ugly and assumes that having blue eyes will be the only thing that will make her beautiful and likable. The novel centers on Pecola and her relationship with her family as they face the demon in their lives and get lost in their own personal problems and issues. The novel starts with a narrator already telling the resolution of the novel and uses a flashback to recount the events in the part of the novel’s Prologue:
Our innocence and faith were no more productive than his lust or despair. What is clear now is that of all of that hope, fear, lust, love, and grief, nothing remains but Pecola and the unyielding earth. Cholly Breedlove is dead; our innocence too. The seeds shriveled and died; her baby too. (Morrison 9-10) The narrator is none other than one of the MacTeer sisters, Claudia herself, who Pecola stays with (ordered by Court officials) after Pecola’s father burns down their house and leaves the Breedlove family homeless.
Pecola, Claudia, and Frieda (another of the MacTeer daughters and Claudia’s sister) soon become friends, and the MacTeer sisters find that it is their duty to protect Pecola who seems to be bullied by everyone in their town. Because of the apparent treatment of the people in their neighborhood (with the exception of the MacTeer sisters), Pecola develops this belief that the only solution for people to love her and actually be pleased with her is if she acquires “blue eyes”:
It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights–if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different. Her teeth were good, and at least her nose was not big and flat like some of those who were thought so cute. If she looked different, beautiful, maybe Cholly would be different, and Mrs. Breedlove too. 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. To have something as wonderful as that happen would take a long, long time. (Morrison 25-26) The novel turns for the worst as Pecola returns to her family, and each family member is revealed as having his or her own issues with who he or she is and coming to grips with his or her personal history.
Cholly Breedlove is the man of the house and the father of Pecola—he is lazy, does not work, and is occupied with only two things—getting drunk and beating up his wife, Pauline. Cholly’s drinking can be explained with the fact that he suffered from an earlier humiliation caused by two white hunters who forced him to make love to his first girlfriend Darlene as the two hunters watched the scene. Later, he gets Pauline Williams (another girlfriend and the mother of Pecola) pregnant; they marry and eventually become Mr. and Mrs. Breedlove.
Soon, problems arise as they find each other very disagreeable; while the husband gets drunk and beats the wife, the wife lets the husband beat her because she feels like a “martyr” by letting him do so (Morrison 23). Through the philosophical theory of existentialism, the situation of the drunken husband and the battered, martyred wife can be explained by the fact that they feed on each other’s existence and role so that they can play out their own role. To put it simply, the husband exists to beat the wife, and the wife exists to get beaten.
Without the other’s personal issues and problems, none of the intricate themes of the novel will be present and have meaning. Meanwhile, Pauline Breedlove works as a servant in a white’s family’s house and by doing so, creates an illusion or a fantasy that being close to them (proximity-wise) makes her beautiful. Pauline, like her daughter Pecola, believes in her ugliness to be very appalling and horrifying. She runs away from reality and gets lost in the world of romantic television shows.
Of all the characters in the novel, it is Pauline’s and Pecola’s evident low self-esteem that makes them “unique” (Morrison 22). Self-denial is so strong in the novel that it borders on hating themselves so much that they believe in the fantastical (to point of being ridiculous) ideas that if something in them changes, then they can be beautiful, the world will love them, and their lives will be better. However, their notion of ugliness can be traced to the fact that they are black, and the world jeers at them and judges them as ugly because they are black:
The master had said, “You are ugly people. ” They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance. “Yes,” they had said. “You are right. ” And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it as a mantle over them, and went about the world with it. (Morrison 21) The excerpt above proves that because the world considers them as ugly, then they believe themselves to be ugly. The Breedloves saw around them that belonging to such race is awful.
This can be traced of course to the fact that when the novel was first published in 1970, the concept of racism was still very much present. Unfortunately, hating one’s own race and skin color is disaster itself since that would mean hating the entirety of one’s being—to be appalled at one’s actions or attitude is very different from hating one’s self because of what or who he or she is. Nevertheless, one important passage can disregard or negate the argument of the assumption above: You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source.
Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question. (Morrison 22) Do the Breedloves hate themselves because they believe the world thinks they are ugly, or do they hate themselves because they believe they are ugly, thus, the world believes so too? It can be likened to a rhetorical question of who came first, the chicken or the egg (and like all rhetorical questions, they are not really meant to be answered)?
It is quite sad to think that the characters have decided that they are ugly; for it means they are already determined to be ugly and no matter what other people would say and argue, they would never waver from that conclusion. As a result, because of their decision, they denied themselves of being themselves. The novel ends in much melancholic tragedy for all the characters—Cholly rapes Pecola and gets her pregnant, but eventually, the baby dies and so does Cholly; the MacTeer sisters lose their innocence; Sammy (the brother of Pecola) runs away, and the marigolds refuse to grow in their community.
Most of all, however, Pecola thinks she has the bluest eyes, “My eyes. My blue eyes. Let me look again. See how pretty they are. Yes. They get prettier each time I look at them. They are the prettiest I’ve ever seen. ” (Morrison 79) It is such a tragedy for Pecola because for her to believe that she indeed has blue eyes is the realization that self-hatred has won.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Penguin Groups, 1994.
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Topic: The Presence of Self-Hatred
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