“Being a minority in both caste and class, we moved about anyway on the hem of life, struggling to consolidate our weaknesses and hang on, or to creep singly up into the major folds of the garment. Our peripheral existence, however, was something we had learned to deal with–probably because it was abstract.”- Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
I’m rereading Morrison’s books in chronological order in 2016 and I created a group on Goodreads for a few of us who are interested in doing the same thing. Discussing this book with others has been very interesting because we all have different perspectives and can share them, expanding our own understanding of the book, it’s been a great experience.
It’s been four years since I first read The Bluest Eye and I was extremely touched and saddened by it the first time around. I count it as one of my favourite Morrison books and I’m glad to say that after a reread it’s still very much so. I’m trying hard to find the words to describe how I feel about this book and it’s still hard because it’s a gut-wrenching book which I love, though “love” sounds like the wrong word for it: how can I love a book that is filled with so much pain, sadness and grief? This book condenses so much tragedy, despair and sadness in a relatively small space. What do you focus on? It can get a bit overwhelming. Morrison’s advice seems to be: “There is really nothing more to say–except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.”
Whenever I discuss this book with people I know, Pecola is often the first name that comes up. Pecola, the poor, unloved child who prayed for blue eyes. It was hard not to draw comparisons between her and Celie (The Colour Purple), another abused black girl who was called ugly by all those around her. And I think of all the little black girls I’ve known who hated being black, who hated their hair, their noses, their eye colour, who prayed for “good hair”, lighter skin complexion etc.
Morrison shows the vulnerability of children so well, and the consequences of parents not telling them what they need to know in enough detail, which results in them being forced to draw conclusions on their own. What they aren’t told, they glean from observations and discussions with each other. Sometimes the truth isn’t known until they are older:
“My mother’s anger humiliates me; her words chafe my cheeks, and I am crying. I do not know that she is not angry at me, but at my sickness.”
There are so many parts of the book that show children as voiceless, black children in particular. There’s the issue of representation and how the white dolls our parents thought we wanted probably did more harm than good. I think this is an important book in revealing the other America. This video in particular was insightful: The Bluest Eye book trailer
My book had an afterword by Morrison which I’m so glad I read. I had no idea that this book was inspired by a conversation she’d had with an elementary school friend who prayed for blue eyes. It’s conversations like this that never leave you, it seems, but it might take you until you are an adult to understand the true meaning of what those words held and what they say about our society. Like Malcolm X asked, “Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet?”
“And twenty years later I was still wondering about how one learns that. Who told her? Who made her feel that it was better to be a freak than what she was? Who had looked at her and found her so wanting, so small a weight on the beauty scale?…I focused, therefore, on how something as grotesque as the demonization of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society: a child; the most vulnerable member: a female.”– Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye afterword