To celebrate the anniversary of the death of an iconic literary writer, Toni Morrison, the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, it seems only appropriate we go back to her first ever novel, The Bluest Eye, published in 1970.
Inspired by a conversation Morrison herself had with an elementary school friend, The Bluest Eye is set in Lorain, Ohio, exploring the story of a black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove who wishes for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blonde, blue-eyed children in America. The Bluest Eye is a narrative of fear and loneliness at the heart of a child’s desires and the tragedy that comes with wanting to fulfil ones’ desires. Powerful, unforgettable and bold in content, Morrison deserves respect as an excellent author.
Written with a descriptive, post-modern style as the narrative moves from character to character with the reader responsible for working out the speaker and time in which the action is happening, I was extremely touched and saddened by this novel. Having loved Beloved, I knew vaguely what to expect from Morrison. What I did not expect, however, was how angry and depressed The Bluest Eye made me. But that’s exactly what you want from a good book – an emotional reaction.
Exploring themes such as cultural hegemony, internalised hatred and the intersection of racism, self-hatred, poverty and sexuality, Morrison offers a window into a world of injustice after injustice, of a mass culture that is used to instil a racist hierarchy of beauty and value. Alongside the wonderful descriptive turns of phrases, the novel has the most-heart-breaking characters. Pecola, the poor, unloved child who prays for blue eyes underpins a society full of black girls who are called ugly by those around them, who hate being black, who hate their hair, noses, eye colours, longing for a lighter skin complexion. She’s a vulnerable girl who is conditioned to believe in her own inferiority and as a reader, we are forced to walk in her shoes, learn of the painful world she inhabits, a world of self-loathing and self-sustaining hatred.
In addition to themes of internalised racism, The Bluest Eye is also about the issue of representation, offering distinct feminist messages in poignant scenes where we see young girls given white dolls that their parents thought they wanted but, in the end, did more harm than good. Morrison shows the vulnerability of young children, touching on topics of parenting, family dynamics and the downward spiral of toxic masculinity in the most humanising but also humouring light.
Morrison writes of race better than any other writer I can think of, interlacing it with themes of poverty, childhood, and sexuality and consequently, The Bluest Eye has become possibly one of my favourite novels. With the current climate we are living in, I thoroughly recommend The Bluest Eye and Toni Morrison as a female black writer.