In the tragic novel, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Pecola Breedlove, an eleven-year-old black girl is a victim of racial self-loathing and rape by her father which results in pregnancy. Pecola grows up in an abusive and unloving family. She longs to disappear from the face of the Earth to rid her of her problems. Writers often highlight the values of a culture or a society by using characters who are alienated from that culture. In the tragic story, The Bluest Eye, the writer shows existing social problems throughout the story. Through the life of Pecola Breedlove, the protagonist, the writer provides a clear example of how widespread racism, sexism, and social class had affected the 1940s.
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Racism was dominant in a large part of the book The Bluest Eye. A cute young girl should have a wonderful happy early childhood, however, since she is black, others make fun of her and look down on her. It makes her childhood to be unhappy. Pecola Breedlove, an eleven-year-old black girl who believes that she is ugly and that having blue eyes would make her beautiful, has experienced unnecessary pain from racism. At one point, Pecola is noted to be talking with the white retailer who has little affection for Pecola. Eye imagery pervades the scene, as the retailer cannot actually “see” Pecola. In other words, to see her would be to see her as a person, to encounter her subjectivity. To him, Pecola is nothing, and she can easily see that hate in his eyes and this immediately implies that she means nothing to him; in this way, Pecola suffers from racial discrimination throughout her entire life. In nineteen century, racism was in full effect in large areas such as America. In these areas white people treated black people as if they were “nothing”. People even established an anti-black law, the Jim Crow law, to restrict the black, to treat them unequally. In the law, some of the unfair conditions imposed on them were Blacks were not supposed to shake hands with whites because they were not socially equal. Every time they were caught shaking a woman’s hand, people who were considered “Black” were also accused of committing crimes such as rape. The Jim Crow law made it legal to segregate the races in public facilities (Beth). In a white person’s point of view of that time, black people were nothing, not even human. Even a young boy in the society was taught to be racist. This young boy is seen to be bullying Pecola for being black in public places such as the playground.
“It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds – cooled – and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path. (101)”
During the nineteen century, people in America generally had the wrong concept and a wrong standard for beauty, as they thought that only people with white skin are beautiful, which is racism. This racial stereotype can be seen through Pecola because she does not find herself beautiful, as she was taught to believe that only white is pretty. Pecola will not learn to notice her own beauty, because no one else will support her into believing it. At one point Pecola passes a patch of dandelions as she walks into Mr. Yacobowski’s store. She got confused when she remembered that people say “Why, she wonders, do people call them weeds? She thought they were pretty” (47). Yet after suffering the embarrassment of Mr. Yacobowski’s disapproving stare, the faint glimmer of happiness Pecola sees in dandelion is destroyed. When she passes the dandelion again she says, “They are ugly. They are weeds (50).” She has unloaded society’s dislike of her to the dandelions. Beauty is a very important thing to everyone although “It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights-if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different (46).” The narrator states if what Pecola believed changed, her life would be different. If her eyes were beautiful, then her desire for blue eyes is completely unnecessary, as she wants to reach what people believed to be beautiful. It is also noted that if she believed she had blue eyes, she would be treated equally within the white society.
Sexist views exist within the life of Pecola Breedlove; many of which are not the fondest of memories. All women that are born with Pecola’s ethnicity are abused both by the white male and female characters. In this period of time, women were not equals of man. Sexism is still as prominent in the mid 1900’s as the early 1900’s. Even the most innocent of kids had created dark memories in Pecola’s life. In The Blues Eyes, a group of boys was seen harassing Pecola because she was a black female. Morrison illustrates in an interview that Pecola’s life is an imitation of the real experiences of a black female. However, in the book, black women, including Pecola, learn how to dis-identify with their ethnicity. They say that “She, like a Victorian parody, learned from her husband all that was worth learning – to separate herself in body, mind, and spirit from all that suggested Africa. (50)”. With its impressionable representation of African American female identity and its evaluation of the internalized racism develop by American cultural definitions of beauty, The Bluest Eye has inspired an increase of literature written by African American women about their identity and experience as women of color.
Social classes are seen in Pecola’s life as well. During this time, African Americans were considered a lower social cast. Since there were so many economic barriers for African Americans during in nineteen century period, the African-American citizens that the reader encounters are mostly working-class folks who work as servants for white families. Pecola is an example of this. Pecola is not born in a rich or a high social class family, instead, her mother is the one who works as a maid for a rich, white family to earn money. In the early age of America community, they looked down on black people. ” Africans cooperated with Europeans in the slave trade, and some slaves transported to America were already of the slave class (Becker).” The control center of the African slave trade was located in Tropical America. Thirty-six of the forty-two slave fortresses were located in Ghana. Aside from Ghana, slaves were shipped from eight coastal regions in Africa including Senegambia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Liberia region, Gold Coast, Bight of Benin, Bight of Biafra, Central Africa, and Southeast Africa. Half of the slaves were exported to South America, 42% to the Caribbean Islands, 7% to British North America, and 2% to Central America (Francis). The slaves are usually uneducated. This passage shows that the townsfolk of Lorain have used Pecola and her family’s negative emotions about their social position are dumped onto Pecola with tragic results.
“The birdlike gestures are worn away to a mere picking and plucking her way between the tire rims and the sunflowers, between Coke bottles and milkweed, among all the waste and beauty of the world – which is what she herself was. All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. (53)”
Morrison has highlighted the values of a society by illustrating the existing social problems such as racism, sexism and social class. Through the tragedy of Pecola Breedlove, Morrison has shown how society can affect people’s attitudes towards others and themselves. In the Bluest Eyes, it brings attention to the problems in history and critiques them. The tragedy of Pecola Breadlove reveals the harshness of the views in 1940, harshness that should never be repeated again.
Eddie Becker, .Chronology on the History of Slavery, Washington, DC 1999
Norton, Mary Beth, et al. A People and a Nation: A History of the United States. 6th ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001, 856-858.
Anika Francis,”The Economics of the African Slave Trade,” Print
Stepto, R., “Intimate Things In Place: A Conversation with Toni Morrison.”, 1987 Print
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