The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, copyright 1970
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased Used
Reason for Reading: Reputation of Author
Toni Morrison is the latest dent in my mission to read my way through the Nobel Laureates. The Bluest Eye was not the chosen Morrison book for any special reason. The used book shop where I bought it had several of her novels and this one caught my eye for the very dark, nefarious looking black girl on the cover.
Pecola is a young black girl growing up in Lorain, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie in 1941. Ohioans, being in the North, pretend to look on their coloured population with less contempt than their southern neighbours, but in truth, no matter where blacks live in 1941, it’s an ugly world. An ugly child, the product of ugly parents, there is no beauty in Pecola’s life. Sent to live with a neighbouring family after her daddy burns down the family home and raped by the same father when he gets out of jail months later, Pecola wants nothing more than to escape. And the only way to do that, as far as Pecola is concerned, is to have blue eyes. If she could have peepers like Shirley Temple or the beautiful blue beamers of Rosemary Villanucci, the little white brat next door, she could be happy the rest of her days. We know it won’t happen, but we can’t help but pray that it does, for what is your life, when being raped by your father is the closest thing you have to feeling wanted?
“A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.” The Bluest Eye, page 204.
There were some very delicate and dark topics touched upon in this novel; they were not limited to the aforementioned rape and incest, but burgeoned far beyond that. There are passages of disturbing details littered throughout the book, details of ugly faces, ugly bodies, ugly actions and ugly events. There is not a glimmer of beauty in these pages, ugliness is truly what this story is about.
Pecola is the central character of the novel, but the chapters alternate between tales of Pecola’s life and the pasts of some of the adult characters. As the story progresses we come to see how the ugly, bitter pasts of the adults around Pecola have collided to make her childhood an especially detestable one. By the end of the story, I loathed nearly every one of the characters in it.
“…little boys were insulting, scary and stubborn, he further limited his interests to little girls. They were usually manageable and frequently seductive. His sexuality was anything but lewd; his patronage of little girls smacked of innocence and was associated in his mind with cleanliness. He was what one might call a very clean old man.” The Bluest Eye, pages 166-167.
Morrison does a flawless job of painting the depressing and revolting circumstances of one child’s existence. I came to truly understand the bleak, repugnant nature of Pecola’s life. I was able to imagine living in her world and the hell it would be. The story failed, however, to elicit any sympathy from me for Pecola because I felt that while I understood the circumstances of her life and was able to imagine how awful it would be to live with them, I didn’t feel I really had an opportunity to get to know her and develop a bond with her as a character. I came to know Pecola’s life, but I didn’t get to know the little girl inside.
For the most part, I found I really enjoyed Morrison’s writing. This book wasn’t quite what I had hoped it would be, but it still left me with a very positive impression of Morrison’s literary talents. She is an artist!
RATING: Not Baaaaaaahd