Of forgotten black souls

Through The Bluest Eye, Nobel winning author Toni Morrison forged a new path in literature by putting black girls at the centre
The Bluest Eye review
The Bluest Eye review

Pecola dreams of the blue eyes of her friend’s doll. The eleven-year-old is sure that to be beautiful, she needs blue eyes like those. Her little life is a quest for those eyes, the ultimate symbol of beauty in her brief understanding of the world.

The tragic life of Pecola Breedlove is at the centre of Toni Morrison’s debut novel The Bluest Eye. By the story’s end, Pecola is abandoned by her town, where people have always treated her with contempt. She is left wandering the streets insane. “She spent her days, her tendril sap-green days, walking up and down, her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so distant only she could hear,” writes Morrison. She gives us the ending right at the beginning, making us follow the pages to figure out the hows and whys.   

Pecola lives in Lorain, Ohio — Morrison’s hometown. Abandoned by her parents, a victim of sexual abuse by her drunken father who gets her pregnant, Pecola lives with her foster family — a loving father and mother and their two children, Claudia and Frieda. The world around her, including her parents, deemed her ugly — she is not really ugly, just darker.

She never looks in the mirror, fearing what she will see there. Her only  respite from her family’s cruelty and her classmates’ bullying is her dreams, where perhaps God will grant her the ultimate wish, blue eyes. As she loses her premature baby, for whose safety Claudia and her sister planted marigolds in their garden, Pecola in her grief falls into insanity. That’s when Claudia, the nine-year-old narrator of Pecola’s life, sees everything that the town and its people have done to the poor soul — the judging stares, the cruelty, the humiliating laughs. 

Morrison holds a mirror not just to the prevailing racism by whites against blacks, but also the internalised racism and colourism within the black community. Published in 1970, The Bluest Eye changed how America portrayed black lives in fiction. The prolific author created a new era in American literature by writing about the lives of black girls who were often neglected by the public discourse surrounding racism. 

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