Racial self loathing in The Bluest Eye Essay
Racial self loathing in The Bluest Eye
In “The Bluest Eye”, author Toni Morrison builds a story around the concept of racial self-hatred and how it comes to exist in the mind of a young child. “The Bluest Eye” deals directly with the individual psychology of the main character, Pecola Breedlove. So intense are Pecola’s feelings of self-loathing and inferiority that she would do anything to soothe them. In her young mind, she needs a miracle; she needs the bluest eyes. All of the tragedies in this novel can be directed back to one main issue, whiteness as a standard of beauty. This belief that white sets the standards for beauty is a major factor to the racial self-loathing, which occurred in America in the past as well as today. The show of racism through white beauty, and the desires of the black society to acquire this beauty, led to the destruction of many characters in this book.
‘The Bluest Eye” provides a description of the ways in which internalized white beauty standards disfigure the lives of black girls and women. Obvious messages that whiteness is superior are everywhere, for example the white baby doll given to Claudia, the praising of Shirley Temple, the fact that the light-skinned Maureen is cuter than the other black girls, the idealization of white beauty in the movies, and Pauline Breedlove’s preference for the little white girl she works for over her daughter. Adult women, having learned to hate the blackness of their own bodies, take this hatred out on their children Mrs. Breedlove shares the conviction that Pecola is ugly.
The lighter-skinned Geraldine also curses Pecola’s blackness. Claudia remains free from this worship of whiteness, but she does realize that society does, imagining Pecola’s unborn baby as beautiful in its blackness. Morrison describes Claudia’s rage against this belief, while at the same time, shows the other characters being enveloped by this nonsense. This standard of beauty can be seen throughout the novel. But the book hints that once Claudia becomes older, she too will learn to hate herself, as if racial self-loathing was a necessity to be mature.
Through the dark-skinned Pecola, Morrison constructs her as hiding her true feelings form everyone in the novel. Yet although Pecola hardly meets the physical qualifications of light skin and “good” hair, she does possess the key emotional characteristics, which is a desire for white privilege and an increasing breakup from the black community but not from her family. Ensuring that we do not miss her point Morrison introduces “a high-yellow dream child” named Maureen Peal (Morrison 52). It’s the light-skinned Maureen who reveals Pecola’s connection with the traditional self-hating black. The person who suffers most from white beauty standards is, of course, Pecola. She connects beauty with being loved and believes that if she possesses blue eyes, the cruelty in her life will be replaced by affection and respect. To Pecola, blue eyes symbolize the beauty and happiness that she associates with the white, middle-class world. They also come to symbolize her own blindness, for she gains blue eyes only at the cost of her sanity.
Beauty and ugliness form the basis of black self-loathing. In simplest terms, blackness is linked to ugliness and therefore inferiority, while beauty is seen as a characteristic found only in whites. Also, white beauty becomes parallel with purity, and Pecola’s father Cholly imagines God as “a nice old white man, with long white hair, flowing white beard, and little blue eyes” (Morrison 134). Of the few whites that appear in The Bluest Eye, none can even approach this idealized white beauty. White beauty, therefore, exists as an ideal and not a reality, a goal to which even white people can only hope. Morrison portrays this impossibility by adding the Dick and Jane passages showing what white people as well as black people should aspire to. They should live and act how the characters of “Dick and Jane” do, but it is evidential that it is impossible.
The men in the story react to the racial self-hatred in different ways. Cholly believes what all blacks think of race; the whiter you are the more beautiful you are. By all rights, we should hate him, given that he rapes his daughter. But Morrison explains in her afterword that she did not want to destroy her characters, even those who destroy one another, and she succeeds in making Cholly a sympathetic figure. He has experienced much suffering, having been abandoned as a baby and having suffered humiliation at the hands of white men.
He is also capable of pleasure and even joy, in the experience of eating a watermelon or touching a girl for the first time. He is capable of violence but is also vulnerable, as when two white men violate him by forcing him to perform sexually for their amusement and when he defecates in his pants after encountering his father. Cholly represents a negative form of freedom. He is not free to love and be loved, but he is free to have sex and fight and even kill. He falls apart when this freedom becomes a complete lack of interest in life, and he reaches for his daughter to remind himself that he is alive.
Soaphead Church’s family is proud of its white heritage and light skin and thinks of itself as superior to darker skinned and less educated blacks. He is a religious hypocrite light skinned Indian who hates all kind of human touch but the one of touching little girls. Being a pedophile he gives little girls money and candy for him to touch them. He believes that he is religiously higher than everyone and compared himself to god once he helps Pecola “get her blue eyes”. He is a very malignant character that will go through anything to prove to himself and others that he is better then them because of race and because of his actions.
In conclusion racial self-loathing corrodes the lives of the characters from “The Bluest Eye”. Characters such as Cholly, Maureen, and Soaphead church abused Pecola. To recognize themselves in Pecola is to show their own degradation. Desperate to avoid this painful truth, blacks put as much distance between themselves and Pecola by humiliating her. Yet in the process of victimizing Pecola, they also victimize themselves and their race by contributing to the use of racial self-hatred.