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The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Jacket: Paperback
Pages: 164 pages
Publisher: Pan Books in association with Chatto & Windus (1990)
Genre: Literary
ISBN: 0452282195

Comments about the author: See our additional Toni Morrison Resources

Review: On the surface, Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" is a simple story about childhood innocence. It tells the tale of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, who wishes that she had blue eyes like white girls did. But the story degenerates into one of desperation and depravity, tinged with the regret of innocence lost.

Pecola lives in a broken home in Lorain, Ohio. Her father Cholly is a drunkard: whenever he returns home inebriated, he has a big fight with his wife Mrs Breedlove.

Pecola's dysfunctional family situation makes her deeply unhappy. Comparing herself with other white girls, she arrives at the conclusion that the source of her sorrow is her blackness. She dreams of having big blue eyes like Shirley Temple's, thinking that if she did, everything would be all right. "It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures and knew the sights – if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different." As her circumstances spiral downwards, her sense of longing grows more ardent.

Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison ponders why, long before the 1960's "Black is Beautiful" movement, black was a color that society rejected outright. "But since why is difficult to handle," she writes, "one must take refuge in how."

In "The Bluest Eye", Morrison shows how young African-American girls were affected by the images of conventional white beauty – fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes – presented to them in the form of movie stars and Raggedy Ann dolls. How is it, she asks, that white had more of a right to beauty than black?

Confidently executed, Toni Morrison's first novel is more cleanly structured than her later, more organically shaped works. Still, "The Bluest Eye" already shows signs of her signature style: the unusual turn of phrase, the fragmented plot structure, and an obsessive fascination with the past.

To Morrison, Pecola's plight is the product of her past. She traces how Pecola's parents – Cholly and Mrs Breedlove – were scarred in their formative years, and how they transferred these scars to their daughter.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Pecola is unable to escape from the cycle of evil and destruction that sweeps down her family tree. It is this fatalistic bent, however, that robs "The Bluest Eye" of its triumph. Because its protagonist cannot escape from her situation, the tragedy of the novel lacks a certain redemptive power. In contrast, some characters in Toni Morrison's later works wrench free from the oppressive clutch of the past.

Morrison's works teach us that the past holds its power over us insofar as we remain ignorant of its secrets. Once its secrets are revealed, and old stories are retold – its spell is broken.

One suspects that it is for this reason – to break the spell of the past – that Toni Morrison continues to retell the old stories of the African-American community with unparalleled skill and resonance.

Whatever it is, the pure power and poetry of Toni Morrison's stories continues to enchant readers and seals her reputation as an inventive, masterful storyteller. And it's in "The Bluest Eye" where we first see the master emerge.

— Reviewed by: Wenkai Tay

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