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In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison tells the story of a young African American, Pecola, and the social struggles of the time period, including the difficulties of growing up as a young black woman in the 1940s. In this novel, the upper class creates a standard of beauty that society mimics, aided by advertising through various media outlets, such as magazines and television. The remainder of society questions where they belong and they confuse their true identity with mimicry of the upper class. Morrison uses point of view, setting, and symbolism in her novel, The Bluest Eye, to demonstrate society’s longing to mimic the quintessence of beauty during the 1940s.
Throughout The Bluest Eye, physical beauty affects the self-esteem of almost every character because several media outlets define it based on the culture of the time period. In The Bluest Eye Morrison states, “Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs – all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink- skinned doll was what every girl child treasured” (26), which sheds light on the epitome of beauty that the media creates. Claudia’s outlook on the racially biased ideal of beauty represents one where she tries to resist the pressure of worshipping such ideals and even though she tries it really changes nothing.
African Americans, based on the definition of beauty established, lack the consideration of attractiveness. Morrison states,”Except for the father, Cholly, [â€¦], the rest of the family – Mrs. Breedlove, Sammy Breedlove, and Pecola Breedlove – wore their ugliness, put it on, so to speak, although it did not belong to them” (25).For example, Pauline tries to replicate what she believes matches the idealized form of beauty that she sees through media outlets yet she finds out that this beauty is unattainable because of her different hair, skin, and features. African Americans in the novel come up with definitions of beauty from the “white supreme” culture and members of the community that match those ideals are considered to be beautiful , like Maureen Peal. These communities isolate the rest of society who does not match up to these ideals and least resembles them, such as Pecola.
Morrison integrates the pressure that blacks feel the need to live up to the beauty standards set by white society with regards to racism in Lorain, Ohio. Morrison mentions little about white neighborhoods such as those belonging to Rosemary Villanucci, even though white characters exist throughout the book. According to Novels for Students, Morrison focuses on the neighborhoods of the MacTeers and Breedloves because these characters of African American decent obsess over the beauty standards created by society (77).
Pecola defines beauty as one who has blue eyes and only then can she transcend from her ugliness to live in a world where everything is easier, including the behavior her parents exhibit. According to Novels for Students,”Pecola worships the beautiful, white icons of the 1940s: she drinks three quarts of milk at the MacTeer’s house so that she can use the cup with Shirley Temple’s picture on it, buys Mary Janes at the candy store so that she can admire the picture of the blond haired, blue eyed girl on the wrapper” (72). Pecola believes she possesses blue eyes towards the end of the novel, and the delusion she goes through represents the damage the ideals of white society can have on a young black girl who revolves her life around these ideals since young, minority women believe they have no choice other than to fit in.
Morrison uses the Dick and Jane excerpts to show the changes that occur during the time period of the 1940s through the 1960s. According to critic Phyllis R. Klotman, the three versions of the reader presented on the first page of The Bluest Eye represent the three lifestyles presented in the novel (77). Morrison uses the first excerpt with proper punctuation to represent the ideal white family in the novel. Morrison uses the second version which does not contain proper punctuation or capitalization to represent the MacTeers. Morrison describes the MacTeer family as loving and stable in comparison to the Breedloves (Henningfeld 83). Morrison makes it clear that whatever the home lacks materially, the family makes up with love. For example, although Mrs. MacTeer complains when Claudia vomits, it is apparent that she has love for her daughter as stated in the novel, “feet padded into the room, hands repinned the flannel, readjusted the quilt, and rested a moment on Claudia’s forehead ” (Morrison 17).
Morrison characterizes the Breedlove family as violent and equally poor, where no love exists for neither their children and or one another. According to the Knowledge Study Guide for The Bluest Eye, ProQuest states, “Note the irony of this family’s last name: obviously the family does not breed love, and their house is an extension of their own deep dysfunction. Their environment reflects their feelings about themselves. They are poor, powerless and marginalized. Their furniture holds memories only of mistreatment by greedy merchants and personal failure.” (30).Morrison uses the last version which contains no punctuation, capitalization, or spaces to represent the Breedlove family. De Weever believes that both excerpts “suggest that the struggle to establish identity in a world which does not acknowledge one’s existence is sometimes lost” (88). Morrison presents the three excerpts to show how three families living in the same city enjoy a very different lifestyle from the other yet have the same perception concerning beauty.
Marigolds, according to Claudia, represent “that the earth itself might have been unyielding” (Morrison 27). According to Novels for Students, Claudia says this quote to express the blame she feels for the death of the marigolds and to also provide “a parallel to the black world living in a society that worships white ideals” (Gale 77). The marigolds do not grow because Pecola becomes pregnant, but Claudia manages through this incident through spending time with family. On the other hand, Pecola cannot live in this unyielding Earth because she does not receive the proper nurturing that the Shirely Temple milk gives her. Claudia believes that, “Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live” (Morrison 242). Claudia’s words describe Pecola’s situation in that the pregnancy kills her emotionally and mentally and “the members of the community do not turn their scorn toward Cholly or toward white standards but toward Pecola, the ultimate victim” (Gale 77).
Pecola takes comfort from the Shirley Temple mug where she drinks milk out of, which symbolizes the idealized form of beauty. Milk symbolizes nurturance and by drinking the milk out of the Shirley Temple mug Pecola expresses her longing “to gaze incessantly at the blue-eyed symbol of everything she is not” (Knowledgenotes The Bluest Eye). The milk nurtures Pecola in a false manner because it allows her to believe in false ideals. Pecola associates the false appearance of beauty with good and wholesome milk, making her view the white ideals as wholesome. Pecola believes that blonde hair and blue eyes are unattainable, yet when she encounters violence, she only wishes for blue eyes.
Dandelions symbolize Pecola and Claudia and how society views them as an eyesore next to the ideal beauty represented by Shirley Temple. Dandelions generally are viewed as ugly because they are nuisances, yet people fail to recognize that dandelions are beautiful in their own way. Pecola and Claudia, like the dandelions, are viewed by society as ugly because they do not fit the white ideal of beauty. Morrison expresses the idea that since the majority opinion believes that blonde hair and blue eyes characterizes beauty, society starts to consider everything else as ugly. “A dart of affection leaps out from her to them. But they do not look at her and do not send love back. She thinks, “They are ugly. They are weeds” (ProQuest The Bluest Eye 30). According to an article discussing The Bluest Eye with respect to Literary Works and the History Events that Influenced them, Wilson and Moss state “Taking this to the extreme, many people connected virtue with the white conception of beauty; conversely very dark skin was associated with ugliness and sin” (The Bluest Eye 49). Pecola in the end hopes to conform to the white standard of beauty in order to avoid the connotations of being dark skinned with dark eyes.
Morrison expresses the racial dilemmas created during this time period which are created by the social norms of beauty. The standard of beauty causes young girls to question their identity much like what young girls experience today. Using first person point of view, Morrison introduces us to Claudia MacTeer at different points in her life. Furthermore, the media and society define physical beauty and in turn effect the self-esteem of characters in the novel. According to this definition, African Americans cannot be attractive and, therefore, strive to live up to the standards of white society. Morrison uses language and punctuation to illustrate the changes in three families of the time in the Dick and Jane excerpts. Ultimately Morrison uses point of view, setting, and symbolism to depict that young girls aim to resemble the quintessence of their time.
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