July 2024
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Banned Books Week Review: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

Pecola Breedlove believes that she is ugly and fervently desires blue eyes, the symbol of loveliness for her.  This extraordinary novel examines why she, an innocent little black girl, is convinced that she is ugly and insignificant, while contrasting her situation with the ideal of both white girls and light-skinned black girls.  Pecola’s story both begins and ends with her father’s rape of her and the death of her child.

This novel is stunning.  Morrison goes into the heads of five different characters, carefully showing us their effect on Pecola with prose matched to each person’s status in life.  The only time we witness Pecola’s own thoughts is when she has gone mad, talking to herself about how blue her new eyes are.

Before I continue, let me explain a little about me: racism has never existed in my life.  I am from a very white town but I had always assumed when I was little that it was a foregone conclusion that no matter the color of your skin, you are another person just like me.  I had no preference between black and white dolls as a child.  I have never witnessed any acts of racism.  Ever.  The black kids in my school were treated the same way as everyone else, and the same went in my universities, both home and abroad.  That may make me naive and sheltered, but most of all it means I need a reminder that racism has existed so recently and still does exist.  Every time I read a book like this, or a book like To Kill a Mockingbird, it hurts and I can’t believe that people really think like that, even though I know they must have and do.  It’s important to read this and experience just how completely wrong was the idea that only white girls were beautiful – that only white families were perfect and deserving of idealization – that blue eyes were necessary to be lovely.

Of course, Pecola’s family is not every black family by far and there are white families that are just as destructive.  Regardless, the racism in this book is deeply moving.  Why would every little black girl want a white baby doll?  It makes no sense.  Why is a light-skinned, rich little girl more valued and more popular than the darker little girls?  By writing this from the viewpoint of children, Morrison shows us how the attitudes of adults deeply affect and form racism before the child can understand what he or she is feeling; how black children are automatically put on the defensive when they’ve done nothing wrong.

This is an extremely valuable book and I think it should be very widely read.  I believe it is now actually, thanks to Oprah and the Nobel Prize.  These are the sort of books that cast essential light on the human experience; what we do to each other and what we do to ourselves, even if we believe this sort of behavior is behind or below us.  It has been banned in many places apparently because of the sexual content, the racism, and the incest.  I think, however, that it is threatening to many people’s ideals.  After all, it is a book at its core about racism and how racism affects a little girl who doesn’t know any better; it threatens by showing what the world once was and what may lay latent in many minds today, or by reminding people of the repercussions that their past actions may have had.  I’m going to stop here because my review isn’t doing this book justice, and in fact it doesn’t need my review at all.  It should be read; it will speak for itself.  Toni Morrison is brilliant; I’m off to read more of hers. Buy this book on Amazon.


4 comments to Banned Books Week Review: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

  • I “enjoyed” reading this years ago (can I really say “enjoy”?) and I agree that Toni Morrison is brilliant in many ways. Have you read Beloved yet? Similarly horribly violent but poignant. I’ve read it half a dozen times.

  • I haven’t read this book yet. The only book of hers I have read is Song of Solomon, and that was a great book.

    I grew up in a town similar to yours. We didn’t have overt racism against African Americans. There were a couple of people of African descent in my high school and I didn’t even realize until college, looking back. There was prejudice in our town again Hispanics and Fijians because of large populations locally, but it was usually the adults and not the kids. I just remembered that there was a kid named Hussein, and I was so naive that it didn’t occur to me that he was Arabic until our high school reunion. :)

    The first place that I really saw racism in action was on a trip to Washington, D.C. We were in a mini mall/restaurant where all of the customers were white, and all of the waiters and janitors were African American. It was definitely a culture shock for my husband and I.

  • I would have trouble reading this book for the same reason I could not finish “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” I get too sick at heart thinking about it. I deal with the feeling by writing my own novels and dealing with a situation but giving it a more hopeful ending. I wrote “Outcasts Of Skagaray” because I felt bitterly about the plight of unwanted and rejected children. If you want to get an insight into it, there are sample chapters on http://www.threeswans.com.au I would be very interested to know what you thought if you decided to read it. Whatever happens, best wishes.