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The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison presents an interesting view of how internalized standard of white beauty has deformed the lives of black girls and women. Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye tells the story of a young black girl named Pecola Breedlove, who wants to have blue eyes, because she sees herself as worthless and ugly without them. Her community subscribes to a standard of beauty imposed by the white dominant culture. This means that having blue eyes and light skin is the ultimate and best form of beauty. The Bluest Eyes opens with a narrative of the story of Dick and Jane. Dick and Jane is the story of a [white] Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane who live in the green-and-white house along with a cat and a dog. The family is a very “normal” one where the father is big and strong, the mother is nice, and everyone is essentially very happy. Morrison starts the novel with this anecdote to show how a racist system destroys the minds and souls of [black] people. The dominate images of happy affluent white families basically tells black people that to be white means to be successful and happy and to be black means living a life of poverty and unhappiness. As a result, Blacks begin to hate their own heritage and skin color since it prevents them from living in the happy world of Dick and Jane. This undoubtedly affects the Black psyche as they are constantly being told that they can never achieve the status of the dominant majority primarily because of their ascribed skin color.
W.E.B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Folks states that; the Negro is a sort of seventh son born with a veil and gifted with second-sight in this American world, – a world which yields him no true self-consciousness but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. DuBois use of the veil refers to the problematic nature of Blacks not being able to themselves outside of what dominate white society has imposed on them. DuBois notion of the veil can be applied to the majority of the Black female characters in The Bluest Eyes. The characters of Pauline Breedlove, Geraldine, and Pecola are Black female characters who subscribe to the white imposed form of ideal female beauty. In trying to accommodate to the ideal of image white beauty, these Black female characters abhor their blackness which in turn leads to self-hatred. They are taught from a young age to reject their blackness and adopt a white standard of beauty. Their perception of beauty comes through the eyes of white people and they worship of white beauty. They are encouraged to absorb [white] cultural icons such as Shirley Temple and Jean Harlow who portraying physical beauty. This negation of blackness ultimately affects the psyche of black female. In successive experiments done by Kenneth and Mamie Clark in their “Doll Test”, it was inferred that Black children identified positively with white dolls and was indicative of their individual and group hatred. It is also worth noting that findings from the Clarks’ “Doll Test” was cited in the Brown v. Board of Education as an indication of the psychological damage done to black children.
According to DuBois, life behind the veil [of race] results in double-consciousness as Blacks always looking at themselves through the eyes of others. Having double consciousness causes a black person to have two identities. One identity is how they view themselves and the other is how others view or perceive them. In The Bluest Eyes, having a double consciousness is very lethal for both various characters throughout the novel. The racialized society present in the novel situates blackness as a condition to be despised thus Blacks are perceived to be contemptible. Since blackness is viewed with contempt, Blacks internalize the dominant culture’s racist ideas of a superior goodness associated with whiteness and a physical and mental ugliness associated with blackness. The combination of such views ultimately leads to self-loathing and identity crises. The character of Geraldine is a black woman who represses her blackness which is not fitted to white beauty as she labors to get rid of the dreadful funkiness. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the black characters who have internalized whiteness attribute cleanliness to whiteness and dirtiness to blackness. For instance Geraldine views Pecola as the embodiment of blackness when she first saw her. Morrison writes; she looked at Pecola. Saw the dirty torn dress, the plaits sticking out on her head, hair matted where the plaits had come undone, the muddy shoes with the wad of gum peeping out from between the cheap soles, the soiled socks, one of which had been walked down into the heel on the shoe Geraldine’s reaction to Pecola’s appearance reminded her of the blackness she was trying to escape and exhibited no ounce of sympathy for her. Pecola’s blackness represented poverty and dirtiness and Geraldine calls her a nasty little black bitch and orders her out of her house. She even goes further to teach her son the differences between colored and black people: colored people were neat and quiet; niggers were dirty and loud. The line between colored and nigger was not always clear.
While majority of the Black female character in The Bluest Eyes worshipped the white standard of beauty, there was one character that rejects the notion of white Beauty. Claudia MacTeer, the narrator of the novel is a strong minded Black female who rebels against the Black community’s idealization of white beauty standards. When she is given a white doll as a gift, she dissects it thinking maybe she will find what the world thought was so wonderful about pink skin and yellow hair. In their youth, Claudia and her sister Frieda were happy with their blackness. She narrates; Guileless and without vanity we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our skins, enjoyed the news that our senses released to us, admired our dirt, cultivated our scars, and could not comprehend this unworthiness. She also wondered why black people seemed to admire little white girls’ she says what make people look at them and say, ‘Awwwww’, but not at me? The eye slide of black women as they approached them on the street, and the possessive gentleness of their touch as they handled them. At her age Claudia does not know about or even learned about the self-hatred that has plagued so many black females in her community. She was not a fan of Shirley Temple and was angry that Shirley Temple gets to dance with Mr. Bojanles, a black man, [her] friend, [her] uncle, [her] daddy, who ought to have been soft-shoeing it and chuckling with [her] Claudia does not believe that whiteness equals goodness.
Talmadge Anderson and James Stewart propose the notion of Black self-concept in the fifth chapter of the book Introduction to African American Studies as a way of identifying the psychological experiences and self-derogation Blacks have faced. They define Black self-concept as the way African Americans perceive their worthiness. The notion of Black self-concept is present in Morrison’s novel as the majority of the Black characters view themselves as worthless since they haven’t achieved the white standard of beauty. Since widespread notion whiteness is better everywhere and the agreement that being light skin is better, some characters in The Bluest Eyes learned to hate the blackness of their own bodies and view themselves as despicable. For example Pecola’s racial self-loathing is shown by her intense obsession to have blue eyes. Without the blue eyes she thinks she is ugly and worthless. Pecola connects [white] beauty with being loved and she believes that if she has blue eyes, the ugliness and cruelty in her life will be replaced with affection and respect. Since the idea of white beauty has been imprinted on Pecola throughout her entire life, she is never satisfied with who she is which leads to low self-esteem. She is constantly captivated by the images of Shirley Temple and Mary Jane.
Throughout Morrison’s novel, the formation of a racial identity for most Black females was influence but the standard imposed by the white dominant culture. The moment a person realizes that he/she is black, is also the same moment he/she realizes they are a problem or there is a problem with them. These realizations often occur at a young age and shape their psychological development. For a young, black female like Pecola Breedlove growing up in a black community that idolizes everything white, she believes the only way to be accepted in her community is to follow the status quo. Pecola equates having blue eyes with the beauty and happiness of a white dominated world to which she does not belong. She wants people to love her on the same level as Shirley Temple, Mary Jane, Dick and Jane, the white girls at school. She believes if she had blue eyes people would actually look at and love her.
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