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Racial Issues in "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison

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Although published in 1970’s the harsh reality of the African-American character’s circumstances depicted in Morrison’s novel set in the early 1940’s does not differ much from the ruthless milieu that black citizens in America had and have to endure, even several decades before as well as after the release of The Bluest Eye.

The environment that Pecola is brought up in, grim and high abusive, induces self-hatred in the young girl at an early age, coming from a household tinged with financial scarcity and emotional instability. Pecola’s fascination with blue eyes (a trait possessed by the many white dolls given to her as a child) becomes a symbol essentially a coping mechanism for her feelings of inferiority. She was eventually driven to insanity.

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The traumatic experiences that Pecola had to suffer (mainly being rape and impregnated by her father Cholly who abandons her shortly thereafter) as an individual and not just as a black girl contributed immensely to her behavior and should consequently not be ignored. Her father’s acts of violence and sexually forcing himself on her, however are most likely a consequence of his own anguish and suffering – and his inability to express feelings such as love and hate other than through sheer aggressiveness and hurtful, damaging behavior in general. His trauma then, is the cause of him inflicting pain on his daughter, as the saying goes; ’Hurt people hurt people’.

Yang, Xiangguio (2010) notes in her journal that “It is from her parents that Pecola inherits a profoundly negative self-image and becomes a victim to it herself. Other critics interpret this novel from the point of view of black feminist criticism and holds that Pauline and Pecola are “Morrison’s sympathetic study of violations of the soul and perversions of potential perpetrated by racism and sexism.” For Cholly raising a child and being a parent did not mean being protective and showing love, it was abuse and rape. Oppressing his problems and feelings with major consumption of alcohol and then leaving; this is what he knew of parenthood and the qualities of life since he himself had been left as a child, his behavior was simply caused by his own traumas during his childhood. If his life had been different, he would have given himself and his family a considerable improved contrary life.

Trauma exposure can be high in many African-Americans, e.g. due to the death of a loved one physical and sexual abuse; this leads to post traumatic stress order (PTSD) and depression. This was especially the case in the early 1940’s due to segregation and racism overall. Even the individual shortcomings of the main characters, then, have their roots in institutionalized racism – they have been “taught” to act the way that they act, their actions are a result of years of oppression, etc. political and societal indoctrination as well as circumstances, then – not individual personalities – is what causes these behaviors, eventually leading to broken household, and in Pecola’s case, a broken individual.

Vickroy (1996) points out that ”The bluest eye explores how the traumatic experience of social powerlessness and devalued racial identity prevents the African American community from joining together and truthfully evaluating the similarity of their circumstances, much less finding ways to oppose dominant forces. The epitome of this devalued community, the Breedlove family suffers from trauma caused by single, starling events, but also in the form of daily, grinding oppression, whereby the parents pass their suffering on to their children.” When Pecola’s own parents had been seeking approval in other peoples eyes their whole life, it is not so odd that the desire for blue eyes in fact inheritances from her mother but also her fathers traumatized past lead to the horrifying and tragic consequences for their daughter. It goes to show that the problem lies deeper than what we might think it does.

The contrast of The Dick and Jane narrative set against the turbulent lifestyle of the Breedlove family makes the authors intentions clear: Morrison wants to illustrate to the reader the vast difference in the perception of the families due to their opposite background and circumstances. The typical or even ”ideal” American family is seen as white and thus happy, whereas the black American family is perceived as the social outcast that does not belong due to its dark past. This inevitably means that African-Americas households were frowned upon, maybe even by people of color themselves to an extent.

Pecola’s situation in particular is quite interesting as she turns inward, fantasizing about having blue eyes, which would hypothetically solve her problems as shows seen as ugly. She did not turn outward, wishing that the people who hurt her would change; she insisted on changing herself. This is also a result of social conditioning: For some, it could sound ironic – even counterintuitive – to desire recessive biological traits such as blue eyes. But to Pecola, blue eyes symbolize whiteness, “cleanliness”. This would make people treat her well, like a white person, or so she thought.

According to Mahaffey “Pecola Breedlove seeks a nurturing relationship in an adult world of white, assimilationist attitudes but only finds rejection and misery because of her particular racial, gender and class status.”

In The Bluest Eye the theme of white perfection is represented as a standard of beauty throughout the entire story. The title itself makes it evident what it is that Pecola is yearning for, “A little black girl yearns for blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heard of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.”

And finally, in the end of the novel, she starts seeing through her blue eyes but with her wish came her mental insanity.

Yang, Xiangguo (2010) notes that ”Being oppressed by the unfriendly environment for such a long time, the Afro-Americans who have shattered the slavery system now face the much more challenging problem of gaining an equal world and enjoying healthy mental state by shattering the omnipresent mental oppression inflicted by the white people and the mainstream society. For them, the true “freedom” can be achieved only on the basis of the indispensable part of the “psychological well-being.”

To sum up, overall Morrisson has depicted racial issues in a way that highlights the problems, racism and society’s views of people of color. It is a very fragile and complicated history of the African-American people. Showing their reality and the tragic results of that through this story. It is also eye-opening to the reader about the impacts of society’s beauty standards that were and are still affected by the institutionalized racism. There is no doubt that this could be the case that suffering and poverty comes from putting people in race-based class structures. Making people think that they belong to the lower class because of their skin color, there is no surprise that it eventually leads to its own pathologies.

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