Set in 1965 America, Morrison’s fiction novel touches upon various serious issues such as: racism, paedophilia and rape. Most poignant, however, is the author’s exploration of perceptions of beauty amongst Black Americans. The reader is enlightened with the way in which the terms ‘black’, ‘ugly’ and ‘poor’ are intrinsically linked; whilst ‘white’, ‘wealthy’ and ‘beautiful’ are interchangeable on the other end of the beauty spectrum. This makes Morrison a revolutionary writer, because she dares to tackle the taboo of racial self-hate which is rarely touched upon in fiction. She exposes dark and light-skinned black characters who create drastic segregations between themselves on the basis of their skin pigmentation.
The overall language of the novel is colloquial, filled with American slang, but still coherent and easy to comprehend. Furthermore, Morrison presents the reader with back-stories for almost all of her major characters. She provides us with detailed expositions of the ways in which they grow up and the losses that they incur, thereby giving us explanations as to how they become the adults that we encounter in the story. This allows the reader to fully identify with all of the characters in an intimate manner. In this way, Morrison also effectively conveys the message that no person is good or bad: everyone is human and sometimes people make wrong decisions when dealing with struggles and reacting to their individual surroundings and life experiences. Therefore there is a noticeable absence of judgement within the novel.
The main focus of the novel spotlights the sad plight of the protagonist Pecola Breedlove. She is an eleven year old black girl living in a broken home. Her parents have a dangerous and turbulent relationship in which domestic violence is commonplace. During the day, her mother spends all of her time working as a maid at a wealthy white family’s estate; whilst her father is largely absent in his daughter’s life until one day when he rapes her and causes her to fall pregnant with his child. And yet, this is not the biggest problem in Pecola’s life. Her greatest source of stress comes from her ‘blackness’.
Owing to the fact that she is darker in complexion than those around her, being labelled as “very black” and “ugly”, she becomes untouchable; forced to befriend the only other rejects of society, three common prostitutes. She is bullied by fellow black school children who revel in the fact that she is darker than them and so are able to use her as a scape-goat to attack with their own racial insecurities. Thus, as a result throughout the novel the reader bears witness to her tragic attempts at trying to correct this ‘problem’ which stems from the pigment of her skin. She excessively drinks milk in hopes of becoming white and eats Mary Jane sweets wishing that somehow in this way she will transform into a little white girl with blue eyes, like the beauty icon Shirley Temple.
In exposing such a pitiable character who regularly prays to God that she might disappear rather than be dark-skinned, Morrison generates much sympathy from the reader. Pecola is “a little black girl who [wants] to rise up out of the pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes.” “She would never know her beauty” the narrator tells us in a matter-of-fact manner: a very sad and touching statement to mull over as a reader.
In order to counter the victim-like nature of Pecola, however, the author also presents us with the antithetical character and narrator, Claudia MacTeer. Claudia is a nine year old black girl who successfully voices the opinions of Morrison by challenging the popular idea that white is right. Throughout the novel she fails to understand why she is not deemed to be as beautiful as her “sugar-brown”, “milk-brown” and “yellow” skinned peers, who appear to her to be foul, intolerable and self-righteous. “What did we lack? And why was it important?” As a result, she is one of the most refreshing fictional characters that I have encountered in a long time.
And so overall, I would say that The Bluest Eye is an incredibly well-constructed and complex novel and a ‘must-read’ for anyone!