Summary: Symbolism Throughout The Bluest Eye Novel

Categories: Novel The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison was one of the first novels to break the traditional norms that are usually discussed in the 1940s. The reader sees her take a different path discussing the hardships of a young African-American girl named Pecola struggling with identity. Pecola's identity crisis leaks over and causes many more struggles she faces through the whole novel. Morrison uses multiple literary elements throughout the novel to captivate the reader but one of the most important elements she utilizes is symbolism of blue eyes and the stability of a house.

Throughout the novel, Morrison utilizes the symbolism of Pecola's identity crisis. Morrison explains to the reader in many instances, the way how Pecola does not want to be black and how much she wants to be white. We see this in: “Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs – all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured.”(Morrison 20). Claudia explains how little girls in society were shaped to the perspective that beauty was the essence of that pink-skinned doll and how in a sense if you were not that image you were automatically deemed lesser than beauty.

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In Pecolas eyes, she believes for her to be beautiful she needs to have features such as that doll and being black stepped in the way of being in that image. She saw that if she was not in that image she would never be able to change the way people see her.

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Although she believes her skin color is the problem her main issue we see even from the title of the novel is her eyes. Pecola believes that her dark brown eyes are what is keeping her from becoming beautiful and she needs so desperately needs blue eyes as we can see in “It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes...were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different.'(Morrison 46). Pecola believes that beauty stems from the fact of having blue eyes and since she does not have blue eyes she sees herself as something lesser. For her to become the essence of beauty she needs that specific characteristic. Pecola believes that if she did have blue eyes she could maybe see the world in a new light as she would see herself similar to that pink-skinned doll. Also, she would be in the image of what America deems as beautiful. So in her mind, she would be able to almost live just like “Shirley Temple” or any other carefree white middle-class little girl.

At the end of the novel, Pecolas actually acquires everything she so desperately sought for which was her blue eyes. This, although can be seen as a sort of a depressing note, as those very “blue eyes” could symbolize sadness. As the cost of having those blue eyes, her mind is basically gone as she does not see the world anything like she thought she would with blue eyes and neither how she used to see it. Pecola is even viewed drastically worse than how she was previously and people actually use her to make themselves feel better as they are not at Pecolas downfall. 'Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health.' (Morrison p. 205). Claudia explains how she feels guilty about what has become of Pecola. She also explains how the town views Pecola as a sort of “scapegoat” for their actions and as long as they were better than her they felt content with life. This was a big change from how Pecola was viewed before the blue eyes had arisen. Even though the Breedlove family were seen as “ugliness” in the town Pecola is seen as even lesser than that even after acquiring blue eyes. The sought for blue eyes and being the essence of beauty destroyed the mind of Pecola to the point where she even makes a imaginary friend to counteract her loneliness she is enduring. “You are my very best friend. Why didn’t I know you before?... You didn’t need me before…I mean…you were so unhappy before. I guess you didn’t notice me before” (Morrison 196). As Pecola was so unhappy with her life and the fact of not having blue eyes it in a sense kept her sane. As her mind deteriorates and she achieves the goal of having blue eyes, she takes a notice towards this imaginary friend. Now happy with her achievement Pecola endures the consequence of losing herself and her blue eyes being the essence of sadness in the town.

Another example of how Morrison utilizes symbolism is the use of the house as a economical symbol. Morrison mentions the concept of a house from the very beginning of the novel and all the way to the end. Repetition is used to tell the reader how important of a concept it is and to take note of it. Houses back in 1940 were mainly owned by white middle-class families and it was very important to African-Americans to own something as their past of the horridness of being owned as property greatly impacted it. “Knowing that there was such a thing as outdoors bred in us a hunger for property, for ownership. The firm possession of a yard, a porch, a grape arbor.” (Morrison 18). Claudia explains how African-Americans desired ownership and did not matter what as long as it was theirs to keep. The house of the Breedloves was quite different from what any white nor African-American would indeed call a home. The house symbolized for the Breedlove’s ugliness.“The Breedloves did not live in a storefront because they were having temporary difficulty adjusting to the cutbacks at the plant. They lived there because they were poor and black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly.” (Morrison 38). The Breedloves indeed thought that they were ugly and deserved nothing less than a storefront as a home. The ugliness of the house made a home-like atmosphere impossible and did not help the already dysfunctional family feel at ease. The ugly house sort of became apart of their life and they accepted that they would indeed be condemned to this ugliness as long as they walked the earth. “And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it as a mantle over them, and went about the world with it. Dealing with it each according to his way.” The Breedlove family actually embraces their ugliness instead of trying the cover it up and the whole family deals with their very own ugliness in whatever way they feel comfortable with. Pecola deals with her ugliness by clinging to the idea of beauty with obtaining blue eyes for herself.

Morrison uses the symbolism of the house to represent the different emotions of the characters discussed in the novel. As the Breedlove family felt ugly and the house they lived in matched that personality. However, we see other characters like Claudia who sees her house as an actual home and how she feels bad that the Breedloves have to experience being outdoors. “Cholly Breedlove, then, a renting black, having put his family outdoors, had catapulted himself beyond the reaches of human consideration.” (Morrison 18). Claudia sees that Cholly putting his family outdoors beyond anything terrible she can imagine someone can go through and scolds Cholly for it. Pauline Breedlove imagines a life where she does not have to be associated with the ugliness of the house that holds her almost captive. “White men taking such good care of they women, and they all dressed up in big clean houses with bathtubs right in the same room with the toilet...but it made coming home hard, and looking at Cholly hard.” (Morrison 23) Pauline imagines herself as a white middle-class woman that has a stable life a nice big clean house. She dreads the thought of being back in that house of ugliness and the one that embodies it which is her husband Cholly. Cholly is pure ugliness and is the only one in the family that matches his ugliness with his behavior.

Toni Morrison used symbolism in The Bluest Eye to express what plagued poor African-American neighborhoods in the 1940s. Pecolas desperation for beauty and to have blue eyes embodies how much whiteness in that time had total control over society. Racism allowed even African-Americans to see themselves as lesser than their white counterparts and even their children were being taught the same with seeing those Shirey Temple dolls as the very essence of beauty. The Breedlove’s house represented the desire of African-Americans to own a property no matter what the appearance was like being able to own something like a white middle-class family put a sense of a equal playing field. Morrison gave readers an insight into what African-American families went through and what racial barriers were set in stone during society in the 1940s.

Work Cited

  1. Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York : Plume Book, 1994. Print.
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Summary: Symbolism Throughout The Bluest Eye Novel. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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