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The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

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  1. Toni Morrison's biography
  2. Autobiographical elements in The Bluest Eye
  3. Prologue
    1. The Dick and Jane narrative
    2. Second part written in italics: Narration by an unnamed narrator
  4. Autumn: Chapter 1
    1. Theme of injustice: Being a child, being poor, being a woman, being black
    2. Theme of beauty: Racism distorts beauty standards
    3. Love hate relationship between blacks and whites
    4. Pecola's desire to internalize white values
    5. Coming of age
  5. Autumn, Chapter 2
    1. Shift in narration
    2. Playright's instructions for a set, sympbolic objects
    3. No positive symbols in the Breedloves's home, only suffering and degradation
  6. Autumn, Chapter 3
    1. The Breedloves's ugliness
    2. Pecola's longing for blue eyes
    3. The three prostitutes, happy without society's acceptance
  7. Conclusion

The Bluest Eye contains a number of autobiographical elements. It is set in the town where Morrison grew up (Lorain), and it is told from the point of view of a nine-year-old girl, the age Morrison would have been the year the novel takes place (1941). Like the MacTeer family, Morrison's family struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression. Morrison grew up listening to her mother singing and her grandfather playing the violin, just as Claudia does. In the novel's afterword, Morrison explains that the story developed out of a conversation she had had in elementary school with a little girl, who longed for blue eyes. She was still thinking about this conversation in the 1960s, when the Black is Beautiful movement was working to reclaim African-American beauty, and that is how she began her first novel.

[...] What to do before the tears come. She remembers the Mary Janes. Each pale yellow wrapper has a picture on it. [ . ] To eat the candy is somehow to eat the eyes, eat Mary Jane. Love Mary Jane. Be Mary Jane.? (p.37-38) This is symbolic of Pecola's wish to internalize white standards. Pecola interprets poor treatment and abuse as her own fault. She believes that the way people observe her is more real than what she herself observes. [...]

[...] In her vision of what the Breedlove family lacks, Morrison imagines a world in which a sofa is defined by what has been lost or found in it, what comfort it has provided or what loving has been conducted upon it. A bed is defined by someone giving birth in it, a Christmas tree by the young girl who looks at it. The Breedloves' home lacks these kinds of positive symbols: ?There were no memories among those pieces. Certainly no memories to be cherished.? (p.26) Just as their family name is ironic (they do the opposite of their name), the few household objects they do possess?a ripped couch, a cold stove?are symbolic of suffering and degradation rather than of home. [...]

[...] She thought they were pretty.? (p.35) By the same logic, she could redefine herself as beautiful even without blue eyes. But just after this scene, her humiliation at the grocer's store (Mr. Yacobowski, the store owner, seems to look right through her ?because for him there is nothing to p.36) and he does not want to touch her hand when she passes over her money) reinforces the old idea that ugliness is universal and cannot be changed by a different way of perceiving the world. [...]

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