External Pressure on Women in The Bluest Eye Novel


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The Black Woman’s Burden

In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Morrison explores the duality between the external pressures of the white community on black communities as well as the internal segregation within the black community itself. Through the eyes of 9-year-old Claudia MacTeer, the book follows Pecola Breedlove and the Breedlove family. Throughout the book, Morrison focuses her work on a group previously voiceless and overlooked: African American women. Specifically, in the chapter titled “Spring”, Morrison analyzes the daily struggles and deleterious environment of these women. She delves into the role of white men and women as well as the role of black men on these black women. Ultimately, Morrison uses metaphors and irony to express African American women’s responses to societal oppression in the 1940s.

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Morrison uses body part metaphors to demonstrate the unrecognized burdensome responsibility of black women. Morrison writes, “They patted biscuits into flaky ovals of innocence – and shrouded the dead,” (Morrison, 138). On one hand, these women have to shroud the dead; on the other hand, these women are able to enjoy some level of comfort in their hobbies. This juxtaposition represents the enormous responsibility of African American women in and out of the household but more importantly the societal need for these women to take up this work. Morrison describes the flaky biscuits of innocence to symbolize the unpredictability of their discomfort and volatile nature of the men around them. In addition, Morrison uses a hyphen to link the biscuits to the burial of the dead because the breaking of innocence itself directly leads to the conflict and death of people in these communities. These extreme circumstances with death directly lead to the deterioration of their mental state. Directly after the previously quotation, she describes the outcome of these conditions. Morrison says, “And the lives of these old black women were synthesized in their eyes – a purée of tragedy and humor, wickedness and serenity, truth and fantasy,” (139). The amount of pressure explained in the first quotation directly culminates in the contrast expressed in the second quotation. Morrison uses the metaphor of the eye to communicate the lives of these women in order to illustrate the comparison between the joys and burdens of life. Furthermore, the use of the word “purée” parallels the cooking imagery if the first quotation. Morrison hopes to invoke the sense of responsibility African American women held in the household and their contributions to the community around them.

Morrison uses irony to display the anguish of African American women in the 1940s. Morrison contrasts the power dynamics within these white households as the black female servants try to maintain a sense of self-respect. Morrison writes, “The only people they need not take orders from were black child and each other. But they took all of that and re-created it in their own image. They ran the houses of white people, and knew it,” (138). Morrison reveals that black women needed to take orders from everyone, even Caucasian children, because of the stark racial hierarchy in the 1940s. These African American women physically run through the houses and do all the labor work for the white families. This act mirrors house slaves before abolition of slavery in the US as house slaves also had to take care of the houses and children of white families. However, the women feel in control of their lives when they are in control of the materials of white people. Emboldened by their dominion over these houses, these black women feel a sense of dominance and self-respect. Although the women are subjugated, the ownership of the household empowers them. Despite this ephemeral delight, this liberation quickly subsides as the women are unable to maintain their freedom. Morrison describes, “They were old enough to be irritable when and where they chose, tired enough to look forward to death, disinterested enough to accept the idea of pain while ignoring the presence of pain,” (139).” Morrison writes this quotation at the end of the paragraph to parallel the end of the lives of these women. More importantly, Morrison invokes the idea of choice for these black women. While unable to control the other white men and women or the African American men, they have learned to control their own emotions and accept their state of being. The women “look forward to death” because they have been fighting against the oppressing forces their entire lives with little success. At the end of these women’s lives, they not only lose a sense of innocence and well-being, but also distance themselves from the ideals of humanity itself: love and hope. After decades of societal repression these women are forced to recognize the painful truth of subordination in the eyes of the men and women around them.

This passage itself represents the transition of the mental state of these African American women. Throughout the entire passage, Morrison explains how these women try to balance their sorrows with their moments of happiness and even try to demonstrate their authority. However, she ends with the previous quotation to point out that many African American women had learned to endure this type of injustice; Morrison not only criticizes this type of mistreatment but also hopes to improve on the issues facing African American women by giving them a voice in literature.

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