The Bluest Eye
is a 1970
novel by American
author and Nobel Prize
recipient Toni Morrison
. Morrison's first novel, which was written while Morrison taught at Howard University
and was raising her two sons on her own, the story is about a year in the life of a young black girl in Lorain, Ohio
named Pecola. It takes place against the backdrop of America's Midwest as well as the Great Depression
. The Bluest Eye
is told from five perspectives: Pecola's, her mother's, her father's, her friend Claudia's, and Soaphead Church's. Because of the controversial nature of the book, which deals with racism
, and child molestation
, there have been numerous attempts to ban it from schools and libraries.
In 2000, the novel became a selection for Oprah's Book Club.
Pecola is a Jamaican girl who is raped by her father, and whose child from the rape dies in infancy.
Pecola's parents' history is examined throughout the novel, showing who they are in three main parts: her father Cholly's background, her mother Pauline's past life, and the couple's conflicted marriage. Cholly was deserted by both his parents, and was rebuked when he tried to contact his father. His son seems to do the same thing later on, running away repeatedly.
In the afterword, Morrison explains that she is attempting to humanize all the characters that attack Pecola or cause her to be the way she is; that it is not a matter where one person can be pointed out as being the cause of all this pain.
Ideas of beauty, particularly those that relate to racial characteristics, are a major theme in this book. The title refers to Pecola's wish that her eyes would turn blue. Claudia is given a white baby doll to play with and is constantly told how lovely it is. Insults to the appearance are often given in racial terms. A light-skinned schoolmate is favored by the teachers.
There is a contrast between the world shown in the cinema, the one in which Pauline is a servant, the WASP society, and the existence the main characters live in. Most chapters' titles are extracts from a Dick and Jane reading book, presenting a happy white family. This family is contrasted with Pecola's existence.
- Pecola Breedlove - The protagonist of the novel, a poor black girl who believes she is ugly because she and her community base their ideals of beauty on "whiteness". The title The Bluest Eye is based on Pecola's fervent wishes for beautiful blue eyes. She is rarely developed during the story, which is purposely done to underscore the actions of the other characters. Her insanity at the end of the novel is her only way to escape the world where she cannot be beautiful and to get those blue eyes she wanted to get since the beginning of the novel.
- Cholly Breedlove - Pecola's abusive father, an alcoholic man who rapes his daughter at the end of the novel. Rejected by his father and discarded by his mother as a four day old baby, Cholly was raised by his Great Aunt Jimmy. After she dies, Cholly runs away and pursues the life of a "free man", yet he is never able to escape his painful past, nor can he live with the mistakes of his present. Tragically, he rapes his daughter in a gesture of madness mingled with affection. He realizes he loves her, but the only way he can express it is to rape her.
- Pauline Breedlove - Pecola's mother. Mrs. Breedlove is married to Cholly and lives the self-righteous life of a martyr, enduring her drunk husband and raising her two awkward children as best she can. Mrs. Breedlove is a bit of an outcast herself with her shriveled foot and Southern background. Mrs. Breedlove lives the life of a lonely and isolated character who escapes into a world of dreams, hopes and fantasy that turns into the motion pictures she enjoys viewing.
- Sam Breedlove - Pecola's older brother. Sammy is Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove's one son. Sam's part in this novel is relatively low key. Like his sister Pecola, he is affected by the disharmony in their home and deals with his anger by running away from home.
- Claudia MacTeer - Much of the novel is told from the perspective of Claudia. She is the primary narrator in the book. Claudia is Pecola's friend and the younger sister of Frieda MacTeer. The MacTeer family serves as a foil for the Breedloves, and although both families are poor, Mr. and Mrs. MacTeer are strict but loving parents towards their children - a sharp contrast to the dysfunctional home of the Breedloves.
- Frieda MacTeer - Claudia's older sister and close companion. The two MacTeer girls are often seen together and while most of the story is told through Claudia's eyes, her sister Frieda plays a large role in the novel.
- Henry Washington - a man who comes to live with the MacTeer family and is subsequently thrown out by Claudia's father when he inappropriately touches Frieda.
- Soaphead Church - a pedophile and mystic fortune teller who "grants" Pecola her wish for blue eyes. The character is somewhat based on Morrison's Jamaican ex-husband.
- Great Aunt Jimmy - Cholly's aunt who takes him in to raise after his parents abandon him. She dies when he is a young boy.
- Maureen Peal - A light-skinned, wealthy mulatto girl who is new at the local school. She accepts everyone else’s assumption that she is superior and is capable of both generosity and cruelty. She changes her attitude throughout the novel towards Pecola.
The Steppenwolf Theatre Company
in Chicago, Illinois
commissioned Lydia R. Diamond
to adapt the novel into a full-length stage production. The play was developed through the Steppenwolf for Young Adults and the New Plays Initiative where it received its world premiere in February, 2005. The play was reprised in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theatre in October, 2006 by popular demand. The Bluest Eye
received its off-Broadway
premiere at the New Victory Theater
in New York in November, 2006.
It is also in the process of being adapted into a French version.
In 2001, the book came under fire in the Kern High School District
in Bakersfield, California
. A student from Stockdale High School
was assigned to read the book for a 12th grade English class. The student, after reading the rape scene, talked to their parents who became outraged at the book.
The parents of the student went to the Kern High School District office and complained about the book's graphic nature and ordered that it be removed from all the schools in the district. Soon, many parents began to split on the issue.
After a few months of debate, the district board voted that the book be removed from the curriculum, but any student that wished to read it, could check it out from the school's library at any time.