The Bluest Eye is about the life of the Breedlove family who resides in Lorain, Ohio, in the late 1930s. This family consists of the mother Pauline, the father Cholly, the son Sammy, and the daughter Pecola. The novel’s focal point is the daughter, an eleven-year-old Black girl who is trying to conquer a bout with self-hatred.
Everyday she encounters racism, not just from white people, but mostly from her own race. In their eyes, she is much too dark, and the darkness of her skin somehow implies that she is inferior, and according to everyone else, her skin makes her even “uglier.” She feels she can overcome this battle of self-hatred by obtaining blue eyes, but not just any blue.
She wants the bluest eye. Morrison is able to use her critical eye to reveal to the reader the evil that is caused by a society that is indoctrinated by the inherent goodness and beauty of whiteness and the ugliness of blackness. She uses many different writing tools to depict how “white” beliefs have dominated American and African American culture.
The narrative structure of The Bluest Eye is important in revealing just how pervasive and destructive social racism is. Narration in the novel comes from several sources. Much of the narration comes from Claudia MacTeer as a nine-year-old child, but Morrison also gives the reader the insight of Claudia reflecting on the story as an adult, some first-person narration from Pecola’s mother, and narration by Morrison herself as an omniscient narrator.
Pecola’s experiences would have less meaning coming from Pecola herself because a total and complete victim would be an unreliable narrator, unwilling or unable to relate to the actual circumstances of that year.
Claudia, from her youthful innocence, is able to see and relate how the other characters, especially Pecola, idolize the “ideal” of beauty presented by white, blue-eyed movie stars like little Shirley Temple. In addition to narrative structure, the structure and composition of the novel itself help to illustrate how much and for how long white ideas of family and home have been forced into black culture.
Instead of conventional chapters and sections, The Bluest Eye is broken up into seasons, fall, winter, spring, and summer. This type of organization suggests that the events described in The Bluest Eye have occurred before, and will occur again. This kind of cycle suggests that there is the notion that there is no escape from the cycle of life that Breedloves and MacTeer live in.
Further, dividing the book are small excerpts from the “Dick and Jane” primer that is the archetype of the white upper-middle-class lifestyle. Each excerpt has, in some way, to do with the section that follows. So the section that describes Pecola’s mother is started with an excerpt describing Dick and Jane’s mother, and so on.
The excerpts from “Dick and Jane” that head each “chapter” are typeset without any spaces or punctuation marks. The “Dick and Jane” snippets show just how prevalent and important the images of white perfection are in Pecola’s life; Morrison’s strange typography illustrates how irrelevant and inappropriate these images actually are. Names play an important part in The Bluest Eye because they are often symbolic of conditions in society or in the context of the story.
The name of the novel, “The Bluest Eye,” is meant to get the reader thinking about how much value is placed on blue-eyed little girls. Pecola and her family are representative of the larger African-American community, and their name, “Breedlove,” is ironic because they live in a society that does not “breed love.” In fact, it breeds hate; hate of blackness, and thus hatred of oneself.
The MacTeer girls are flattered when Mr. Henry said “Hello there. You must be Greta Garbo, and you must be Ginger Rogers”, for the name ring of beauty that the girls feel they will never reach. Soaphead Church represents, as his name suggests, the role of the church in African-American life. “I, I have caused a miracle. I gave her the eyes. I gave her the blue, blue, two blue eyes,” Soaphead says.
The implication is that the church’s promise that if you worship God and pray to Him that everything will be alright is no better than Soaphead’s promise to Pecola that she will have blue eyes. Morrison reveals the significance of Pecola’s name through the character of Maureen Peal.
Maureen confuses Pecola’s name with the name of a character in the movie Imitation of Life. By this allusion, Morrison illustrates that Pecola’s life is an imitation of the real experiences of black women. Morrison also uses metaphors to describe the conditions under which African-Americans in general and Pecola, in particular, are forced to live. There are two major metaphors in The Bluest Eye, one of the marigolds and one of the dandelions. Claudia, looking back as an adult, says at the beginning of the novel, “there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941”.
She and her sister plant marigold seeds with the belief that if the marigolds would grow and survive, so would Pecola’s baby. Morrison unpacks the metaphor throughout the book, and, through Claudia, finally explains it and broadens its scope to all African-Americans on the last page. “I even think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruits it will not bear . . .” The implication is that Pecola, like so many other African-Americans, never had a chance to grow and succeed because she lived in a society (“soil”) that was inherently racist, and would not nurture her.
The other flower, the dandelion, is important as a metaphor because it represents Pecola’s image of herself. Pecola passes some dandelions going into Mr. Yacobowski’s store. “Why, she wonders, do people call them weeds? She thought they were pretty”. After Mr. Yacobowski humiliates her, she again passes the dandelions and thinks; “They are ugly. They are weeds”. She has transferred society’s dislike of her to the dandelions.
In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison tells the story of a little black girl who thinks that if she can live up to the image of the blue-eyed Shirley Temple and Dick and Jane that she will have the perfect life that they have.
The importance of this book goes beyond its value as a work of literature. Morrison speaks to the masses, both white and black, showing how a racist social system wears down the minds and souls of people, how dominant images of white heroes and heroines with blue eyes and wonderful lives show young black children that to be white means to be successful and happy, and then they look around at their own lives of poverty and oppression and learn to hate their black heritage for keeping them from the Dick and Jane world. Morrison does not solve these problems, nor does she even try, but she does show a reflection of a world that cannot call itself right or moral.