“The Bluest Eye”- Book Review
It’s become a tradition of mine to celebrate Black History Month by devoting my attention to African-American literature. No matter the type- modern works, poetry, deconstructive essays, autobiographies, etc.- I often remind myself during the month of February that the written word of the black perspective is not to be understated. Don’t get me wrong, my reading stories by black authors isn’t reserved purely for the shortest month of the year. I do my best to diversify my personal library throughout the remaining eleven months. Though February helps me remember to keep the habit going.
One of the latest additions to my collection is The Bluest Eye, written by the late Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison. Published in 1970, the book has since had a successful yet controversial run. Although praised for highlighting the realities of racism within the United States, Morrison’s portrayal of such drove some states to try to ban the novel from high school reading lists. A few attempts were successful. Others failed. Nonetheless, I understand why the material would make people feel uncomfortable.
The Bluest Eye is a disturbingly tragic portrait of abuse, incest, self-loathing and how racism affects societal expectations of beauty. At the center of this tragedy is 10-year-old Pecola Breedlove, who lives in a temporary foster home in Lorain, Ohio in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Pecola is convinced that she is ugly. She believes the only cure for hideousness is a pair of blue eyes. Each day she wishes to be endowed with a set of blue eyes and fair skin, but each day she finds herself still trapped in a life of poverty and abuse. A series of unfortunate events sends her on a downward spiral, and we the audience are left to bear witness to her struggles through the perspectives of others within Pecola’s community.
The most striking aspect of Morrison’s novel is her prose, and the way she variegated the style of her prose throughout the telling of Pecola’s story. The book doesn’t follow a typical linear structure. The plot is rather free-floating. It’s grounded thematically, not necessarily in terms of it having a finite beginning, middle and end. The Bluest Eye is built as a purely emotional experience. Morrion’s writing is beautifully poetic and popping with enough detail to make you feel as though you’re looking through a window into this time period. She effectively portrays a community that’s trapped in a system that views them as ugly, and their only escape is through the judgment of their neighbors. The effects of this type of colorism are personified through the Pecola Breedlove character, whose desire for blue eyes spawns an everlasting inferiority complex. You can easily sympathize with her on a human level, and as the story progresses, you’re disturbed that nobody around her shares that sympathy.
As I said earlier, much of Pecola’s story is told through the eyes of other people, and as a result the book often switches perspectives. While a unique way to highlight the racist/colorist layer of the black experience, each perspective is written in a different way- first person accounts, third person accounts, flashbacks, present tense dialogue-only exchanges. I’ll admit, it was a little jarring at first. And even though I found myself getting used to it as I kept reading, the constant switching of perspective styles from chapter to chapter sometimes left me confused about what all was going on.
Nonetheless, Morrison succeeds in what she aimed to accomplish with The Bluest Eye. While not the easiest story to follow, it left me with a grim sense of helplessness. The novel explores difficult subject matter in a beautifully unflinching way. It’s a great read, and I’ll definitely be checking out more of Morrison’s work in the near future.
Cosmic Grade- B+