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“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison: Main Themes and Motifs

Nowadays, many people tend to assume that there are no reasons to believe that the socio-political realities in today’s America are being affected by any officially endorsed policies of racial discrimination against African-Americans, as it used to be the case up until the late 1960s. Nevertheless, it does not represent any secret that the severity of racial tensions within American society continues to increase – something that has been illustrated by the recent racial riots in Fergusson.

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This simply could not be otherwise, because even though America did officially part away with the legacy of racism, this country nevertheless remains innately racist. After all, the country’s socio-cultural discourse continues to be explicitly euro-centric, which in turn endows the representatives of racial minorities in the U.S. with the anxiety of self-loathing – hence, preventing them from being able to attain a social prominence. In my paper, I will aim to expose the actual mechanics of how it is being done in regards to the 1970 novel The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. The reason for this is that, even though the novel’s sub-plots are concerned with the years following the Great Depression, the main themes and motifs of The Bluest Eye continue to resonate with what happened to be the realities of a contemporary living in America.

There can be only a few doubts that the novel’s most tragic character is Pecola Breedlove – an impoverished Black girl, who never ceased suffering from being abused by her own parents and by just about every other member of the community. The most explicit indication that this was indeed the case can be considered the novel’s scene, in which Pecola ends up falling victim to rape (by her own father, Cholly).

Nevertheless, it was not sexual abuse or poverty experienced by this character, which contributed the most towards bringing about her ultimate demise. Rather, Pecola’s misery had to do with the fact that, while growing in America during the thirties, she could not help becoming increasingly attracted to the euro-centric ideals of beauty. Hence, the character’s unhealthy obsession with ‘whiteness’, extrapolated by her unconscious conviction that by drinking milk she would be able to look more like blond and blue-eyed Shirley Temple: “We knew she (Pecola) was fond of the Shirley Temple cup and took every opportunity to drink milk out of it just to handle and see sweet Shirley’s face” (Morrison 23). As the above-provided quotation implies, Pecola was predetermined to end up experiencing the sensation of self-hatred, as the logical consequence of aspiring to become someone that she could never be.

Essentially the same can be said about the actual significance of Pecola’s mental fixation on the idea that once provided with blue eyes, she would be able to attain happiness in life. There is the memorable episode in the novel, where Pecola prays to God while asking him to turn her eyes blue: “Please, God, let me have them (blue eyes). Would you not want to see me being happy?” (Morrison 179).

As psychologists are well aware of, if a person’s deep-seated desires remain unaddressed for a while, it becomes only a matter of time before his or her behavior develops to be utterly erratic. This is exactly what happened to Pecola in the end – having been forced to experience the continual sensation of cognitive dissonance between her desired image of herself, on the one hand, and what happened to be her actual appearance, on the other, she became overwhelmed by its own ‘ugliness.’ In its turn, this naturally prompted Pecola to begin hating herself with passion. One may suggest that even though Pecola does deserve to be referred to in terms of a tragic hero, her misery was essentially self-induced. After all, there are indeed a number of clearly pathological overtones to how this character used to address life-challenges, throughout the novel’s entirety.

However, a closer analysis of the issue will reveal that Pecola’s eventual downfall was not really concerned with the specifics of her mental constitution. Rather, it came about as the consequence of the character’s inability to think outside of the discourse of euro-centricity. In its turn, such Pecola’s inability appears to have been socially imposed upon her. The validity of this suggestion can be easily illustrated, in regards to the fact that during the course of the 20th century’s thirties, the majority of African-Americans did not have any other option but to exist within the cultural environment of ‘whiteness.’

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For example, it never even occurred to Pecola’s father Cholly that God could be anything but ‘Aryan-looking’: “God was a nice old white man, with long white hair, flowing white beard, and little blue eyes that looked sad when people died and mean when they were bad” (Morrison 134). Therefore, there is nothing too odd about the fact that just about every Black character in The Bluest Eye appears to exhibit the signs of not being entirely normal, in the psychiatric sense of this word (Pauline imagines herself being a ‘martyr’, Maurine fetishizes the color of her skin, Geraldine suffers from frigidity, etc.).

Apparently, despite having been born in America, these characters could not help feeling utterly alienated from what happened to be this country’s explicitly and implicitly manifested ‘white’ cultural values/customs. Yet, since they believed that such their sensation was ‘inappropriate,’ this naturally caused them to try to keep it repressed deep within themselves – something that contributed even further towards depriving these individuals of any chance to attain happiness. And, the main reason why they used to consider their Blackness ‘inappropriate’ is that, due to having been exposed to White racism on a continual basis, the mentioned characters ended up being the unlikely agents of ‘White superiority’- quite despite their conscious intention, in this respect.

As the character of Claudia MacTeer noted: “(White) dolls we could destroy, but we could not destroy the honey voices of parents and aunts, the obedience in the eyes of our peers, the slippery light in the eyes of our teachers when they encountered the Maureen Peals of the world” (Morrison 57).

Thus, it will be thoroughly justified to refer to The Bluest Eye, as a novel that does not only radiate the strong spirit of humanism and tolerance but also as such that contains clues as to why the issue of racial tensions in America remains as acute, as ever. The fact that in the formal sense of this word, the novel’s themes and motifs can be deemed ‘outdated,’ does not undermine the educational/philosophical significance of The Bluest Eye. The reason for this is apparent – just as it happened to be the case during the thirties, America continues to be ruled by WASPs, who control the country’s media, banking system, law enforcement agencies, and as it appears – the President himself.

This explains why, despite having adopted the policy of multiculturalism, the U.S. remains an essentially ‘white’ country, in which many people of color continue to suffer from being socially disadvantaged – at least, in the sense of how the country’s public discourse treats them. To exemplify the validity of this claim, we can refer to the fact that in today’s ‘racially tolerant’ America, the price of just about any real-estate property is reflective of what happened to be the affiliated neighborhood’s racial makeup. In plain words – the more there are African-Americans in the vicinity, the lesser is this property’s worth.

This, of course, cannot result in anything else but in encouraging Black people to think that they may indeed be ‘inferior’, as compared to everybody else, and to adopt a passive stance in life (like that of Pecola’s) – much to the joy of the representatives of this country’s overwhelmingly White ruling elites.

This, of course, implies that there is nothing incidental about the fact that, up until comparatively recently, The Bluest Eye remained the subject of censorship in many of this country’s ‘conservative’ States. Apparently, those who stood behind this policy’s implementation knew perfectly well that, as a result of having been exposed to Morrison’s literary masterpiece, African-Americans would grow increasingly aware of the discomforting truth that, just as was the case during the 20th century’s thirties, they continue to live in the racially oppressive society. In its turn, this would naturally cause them to strive to assume a politically active stance in life – something that the rich and powerful in America are really afraid of. I believe that this conclusion fully correlates with the paper’s initially provided thesis-statement.

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Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Vintage International, 2007. Print.

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