The Bluest Eye | Book Review
Author: Toni Morrison
Publication Date: July 24, 2007
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: Personal Collection
Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in.Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife.
A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.
I have returned to this novel several times in my life, this was my third read. Darling Reader, I’m not much of a re-reader, even though I’m trying to change. After a third read, you would think The Bluest Eye was on my list of favorite book, but it is not. I don’t know why because The Bluest Eye hits all of my reading must haves. For a debut novel, Toni Morrison bypasses all hiccups many debut novels seem to have. It doesn’t “read” like a debut to me, and I’m certain there are writers working on their fifth novel trying to achieve what Morrison did in her first.
The Bluest Eye tells the story of several Black girls growing up in Lorin, Ohio. The primary character is Pecola Bleedlove a girl that believes having blue eyes will make her pretty and therefore loved. Claudia and Frieda MacTeer are sisters are the closest thing to friends that Pecola has. The MacTeer’s are not as poor as Pecola and their home life is a more stable. But they share several important characteristics with Pecola. They are “too dark”.
Darling Reader, I find it hard to write reviews where I don’t have “issues” with the book. I often don’t know where to start since I have nothing but positive stuff to say. And The Bluest Eye was extra hard. The storytelling, the writing, the plot, the characters. I don’t know what to say but “wow”.
Told through multiple points of view, readers get to see how the events that unfold impact Pecola. From the start Morrison creates a character so painfully inward you want to wrap her up in a warm blanket and protect her from the world. Before she has even reached her teen years, Pecola has given up. She has no fight left in her, it’s doubtful if there ever was any. She just exists in the world, trying to blend into the shadows and escape attention. Pecola has already figured out how the world views her and therefore her place in it. She’s Black (darker than is acceptable) and ugly, undeserving of love. The only thing she can imagine that would change her situation is to one day wake up with blue eyes. Eyes blue like those of white children, or even bluer.
Contrast, Pecola’s character to Claudia’s, the youngest of the MacTeer siblings. Claudia and Pecola are the same age. The girls go to the same school. The MacTeer girls don’t perceive themselves as ugly. The only time there is an awareness of their looks is when a little mixed race girl moves into town. Her lightness and colored eyes elevating her above the other Black children, especially girls, in the story. There is a moment when Claudia notices she is treated differently, even by adults. But the awareness of attractiveness is otherwise lacking. This maybe because the MacTeer children feel protected and loved at home. Their parents, while working, are present and concerned. Sometimes, their words are harsh but by the actions they show they care. The MacTeer girls feel protected and loved. While her family largely ignores Pecola. Pecola’s mother uses work to escape her home life. Her father is frequently jobless and drunk. Her brother runs away, often.
From the start, Morrison tells the reader where The Bluest Eye is going. We already know the tragic end of Pecola, so there are no surprises. This is not the story about the ending, it’s a story about the journey. About how the decisions of others (adults) have consequences and how those consequences can be devastating for the least protected. The adults’ point of view weren’t my favorite to read, because they were often time painful to read or disturbing. But they were necessary to read to see how we get to Pecola and Claudia.
This is not the kind of story you, Darling Reader, will be able to rush through. It’s a heavy heartbreaking read. I went in knowing what to expect, my first two reads left me ugly crying in bed. I still paced myself and kept sitting the book down, trying to fortify myself for the end. There was no ugly crying this time, Darling Reader, but my heart was heavy.