Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison

Title: The Bluest Eye
Author: Toni Morrison
Country: USA
Year: 1970
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Pages: 216

First sentence: Quiet as it's kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941.

The Bluest Eye embodies why I usually give an author a second chance if I did not like the first of their books I pick up. I read Song of Solomon a few years ago, and was not very impressed. Something about Toni Morrison stuck with me, however, and I vowed to give her another chance someday. With this, her first novel, she has completely won me over.

Told mainly from the perspective of Claudia and her sister Frieda, The Bluest Eye is a story about their friend Pecola, a young black girl growing up in Lorain, Ohio in 1941. By the second sentence of the novel, the reader has a glimpse of the direction the novel is set to go: 

We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father's baby that the marigolds did not grow. (p. 1) 

What follows is a heart-breaking story about the slow destruction of one girl's hope in life.

What Pecola hopes for, wishes for more than anything, is blue eyes. Immersed in a culture that placed a higher value on lighter skin--even amongst the African-American community--Pecola's poverty, unruly hair, and dark skin leave her open to ridicule by her peers:

It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds--cooled--and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path. (p. 65)

Pecola is ignored by teachers in the classroom. On the playground and in the streets she is taunted and spat upon by other young children. When she encounters that "higher class" of black person (lighter skin, educated, polished), she is viewed as follows:

She had seen this little girl all of  her life. Hanging out of windows over saloons in Mobile, crawling over the porches of shotgun houses on the edge of town, sitting in bus stations holding paper bags and crying to mothers who kept saying "Shet up!" Hair uncombed, dresses falling apart, shoes untied and caked with dirt. They had stared at her with great uncomprehending eyes. Eyes that questioned nothing and asked everything. Unblinking and unabashed, they stared up at her. The end of the world lay in their eyes, and the beginning, and all the waste in between. (p.92)

This is a story about many things. Race relations in the 1940's. Child abuse. Bullying. The theme that struck the most resonant chord with me the treatise on beauty; why and how a young, innocent child can be considered ugly by her whole community. The last paragraph of the novel--I won't share it here, after all, it is the last paragraph--will haunt my mind for a long time to come.

9 comments:

Andi said...

Great review! I need to get my butt in gear and read this one already! February is ticking by at far too quick a pace.

Literary Feline said...

Wonderful review. I read this many years ago and it has stayed with me. I've been thinking that it deserves another reading. Pecola really got to me and everything she endured. It's such a tragic story and it resonants even today.

Eva said...

The only other Morrison I've read is Beloved, and I liked it so much I was nervous about picking this one up (I'm doing the Year of Reading Dangerously as well), but now I'm excited!

Nyssaneala said...

andi - I didn't think I would have a chance to read it this month, but once I started it, it turned out to be a quick read.

wendy - I am considering hosting a "reread your favorites" challenge the end of this year, or the beginning of 2009 (yes, I am thinking that far ahead!)...you could re-read it for that. :)

eva - I haven't read Beloved yet, that will probably be the next of her novels that I read. I'm curious to see how they compare.

Marcelle (cessie) said...

Sounds like an interesting read.
Haven't read anything from her before, so I will give it a try later.

Lotus Reads said...

A wonderful review Nyssaneala! I have to admit "The Bluest Eye" hit me in the gut...it made me angry,sad, hopeful, hopeless and so much more. After I read it I went in search of other Toni Morrison novels but I was disappointed, I just couldn't get into any of her other books. Have you had better luck?

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