Contrasting Images: How Comparing Two Ideas Helps Emphasize Theme in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison uses the classic Dick and Jane primers to contrast the unusual relationships that are established within the novel between family members or loved ones. The primers are helpful in doing so because they represent what is considered to be the ideal version of the perfect family, and therefore emphasize the dysfunctional relationships that exist within the Breedlove family.
This introduces the novel’s main point that although the characters in the novel may blame their unhappiness on their race, it is their lack of successful, loving relationships with others that are keeping them from being truly happy.
Morrison is using these ideas to prompt readers to question how the lack of having supportive relationships affects the members of the Breedlove family. In this essay I will argue that the contrast between the Dick and Jane primer and the Breedlove family can be used to show the unhappiness of the Breedloves.
This can be seen by evaluating the relationships formed within the Breedlove family, between Pecola Breedlove and animals, and between Cholly Breedlove and his sexual partners. On the first page of the novel, before Morrison introduces the main characters of The Bluest Eye, she repeats a Dick and Jane children’s primer three times. The first time with perfect punctuation, then with no punctuation, then finally with no punctuation and no spaces between words.
The article “Transgression as Poesis in The Bluest Eye” by Shelley Wong suggests that the first time the primer is stated it is used to represent the ideal “American family typified in the novel by the white Fisher family… The second version is then associated with the family of…Claudia MacTeer, a family admitting of some disorder… The final run-on version is said to depict the utter breakdown of order among the Breedloves” (472).
This idea is significant because it introduces the idea of classifying the families in order of superiority by race, which is how the members of the Breedlove family also classify themselves.
However, it is evident that the Dick and Jane family is kind and loving to one another, and perhaps this is the reason they are happier, not due to their race. By further exploring some specific sections of the novel one is able to better evaluate the significance of contrasting the Breedlove’s with the Dick and Jane story. One of the first chapters of the text uses the primer to introduce the idea of the perfect family, which is immediately contrasted by the Breedlove family. An example of this is Pauline’s reaction to her daughter, Pecola, accidently spilling the berry cobbler.
Pauline does not care if Pecola is hurt and even though “the burn must have been painful, for [Pecola] cried out and began hopping about just as Mrs. Breedlove entered… and with the back of [Mrs. Breedlove’s] hand knocked [Pecola] to the floor” (Morrison 109). This image is disturbing because in a caring family, such as the one represented in the Dick and Jane story, a mother never hits her daughter. This shows Pecola’s unhappiness as she lives in fear of disappointing her mother and is always afraid of making the slightest mistake.
Another example of how their relationship is unhealthy is Pauline’s reaction to Pecola saying that her father had raped her. When Pecola is asked “why didn’t you tell Mrs. Breedlove… I don’t mean about the first time. I mean about the second time, when you were sleeping on the couch”, Pecola responds, “She didn’t even believe me when I told her… She wouldn’t have believed me then either” (Morrison 200). It a supportive family, like in the Dick and Jane story, a daughter should be able to talk to her mother about things without feeling judged.
The fact that Pauline does not even believe Pecola about something as serious as rape shows how this relationship is so dysfunctional. This quotation is also significant because the voice that is asking Pecola about her mother is actually her imaginary friend. This proves that Pecola is unhappy because she feels so isolated from her own family that she must imagine she has someone in her life that does care about her. Therefore, it is evident that the contrast between the Dick and Jane story and the relationships between the members of the Breedlove family can help to emphasize the unhappiness of the family.
Two family members that the Breedloves are missing that the Dick and Jane story does mention are the family pets, the cat and the dog. While the Breedlove’s do not have their own pets, Pecola does form short-lived relationships with one of each animal within the novel. In one part of the novel Pecola goes to Louis Junior’s house, and once she is inside he throws his cat at her face. Pecola tries to comfort the cat, but Junior grabs it and begins spinning it around his head.
Pecola’s effort to stop this causes them both to fall, and “in falling, Junior let go the cat, which… was thrown full force against the window. It slithered down and fell on he radiator behind the sofa” (Morrison 91). This is significant because it shows the difference between the relationship that Pecola has with the cat and the typical relationship one would have with a family cat. In trying to save the animal, Pecola ends up contributing to its death. Another example of a destructive relationship is between Pecola and Bob, the dog of Soaphead Church’s landlady.
Soaphead hates Bob because of his uncleanness, so when Pecola approaches him for help about a prayer, he takes advantage of her innocence and gives her a piece of poisoned meat and says, “‘Take this food and give it to the creature sleeping on the porch. Make sure he eats it. And mark well how he behaves… If the animal behaves strangely, your wish will be granted’” (Morrison 175). Pecola’s interaction with Bob contrasts the Dick and Jane story because the perfect family would have a dog that the children could always play with, but Pecola ends up killing the dog.
As Debra Werrein says in her article, “The Bluest Eye explores the contrast between oppressed local culture and innocent national ideal through the friction that erupts between Pecola’s life and 1940s models of childhood” (56). This is significant because it is through this distinction between the children’s relationships with animals represented in the primer and Pecola’s experience with the animals in the novel that prove how she is unhappy due to her lack of loving relationships.
The final kind of loving relationship that is represented in the novel are the relationships formed between sexual partners. Since a primer is designed for children, there is no mention of sexual partners in these stories. However, it can be assumed that this perfect version of a family that is being represented in the primer would have parents that are entirely faithful and devoted to one another. This can be contrasted by looking at the unhealthy sexual relationship between Pauline and Cholly.
Pauline discusses her disinterest in making love to her husband, and the text reads, “[Pauline] stiffens when she feels one of her paper curlers coming undone from the activity of love; imprints in her mind which one it is that is coming loose so she can quickly secure it once he is through” (Morrison 84). This quotation is important because it strongly contradicts the image that society has associated with the perfect marriage. It is evident that Pauline is discontent with her relationship with her husband as she is more concerned with her own image than with the act of love.
An additional sexual relationship that is disturbing in the novel is when Cholly rapes Pecola. Pecola tries to fight him off but ends up passing out from the shock of the situation. The text then states, “when the child regained consciousness, she was lying on the kitchen floor under a heavy quit, trying to connect the pain between her legs with the face of her mother looming over her” (Morrison 163). The quotation is worthy of attention because it shows the confusion and fear that Pecola feels from such an act against her will.
Also, it shows Cholly’s shame, as he is too uncomfortable to even make sure she gets to bed all right, which would be an appropriate action for a father to help his daughter with. Therefore, it can be seen how the members of the Breedlove family are unable to be truly happy by evaluating the effects that these inappropriate sexual relationships have on them. In conclusion, it is through the contrast between the Dick and Jane story and the characters of the Breedlove family that one is able to see the unhappiness of the family members.
The inclusion of the primer in the text may at first suggest that the Breedloves are unhappy due to their race. However, by examining the relationships between the family members and one another, animals, and sexual partners, it is evident that their lives are unfulfilled because of the lack of people they have that support and care for them. Therefore, Morrison proves that although one may initially believe that having what is considered an attractive outward appearance is key to living a fulfilling life, it is having successful, loving relationships with others that make one truly happy.