Wasted Talent in "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison

Self-Worth and Society’s Acceptance. Meeting the Parameters

Scientific Essay, 2015

12 Pages




From Critics’ Pen

The Beauty Cage: The Bluest Eye

Dick and Jane Narrative: How Life is Presented to the Black Children

Shirley Temple Cup and Toy Dolls : Icons of Perfect Beauty

Mary Jane Candies : Beauty as a Measure of Visibility

Silver Screen : Scale of Absolute Beauty




The Bluest Eye is simple yet a difficult narrative ofa twelve year old black girl Pecola’s desire to have blue eyes. The question arises why does a black girl want blue eyes? Why does she want to look differently? What causes this desire in her? As the story unfolds we get answers to these questions and also a realization that how the simple things like cup images or candy wrappers can be a strong factor in influencing an individual’s psychological response to beauty and his/her own self importance. The present paper while building on existing criticism tries to explore the popular culture, for instance children items (cups, dolls, candies) and movies and its individual psychological response. These commercial products play a pivotal role in establishing beauty aesthetics. Regular exposure to these ideals results in their idealization and a longing in people to have these defining physical features of beauty. It creates an environment of superiority and inferiority. People who possess the defining features (physical) are considered superior to those who don’t have these physical features. This adversely affects their psyche and becomes a reason for their downfall.

Keywords : white, black, self-worth, racism, popular culture, beauty, society, wasted, screen, psyche.


“…The Bluest Eye is about one’s dependency on the world for identification, self-value, feelings or worth.”(Interview with Carmean, qtd in Reilley,1961:50)

Henry Louis Gates Jr. calls Toni Morrison’s writing “an anomaly,” because it is both popular (accessible to the common reader) and difficult (worthy of and demanding close critical attention). “A subtle craftsperson and a compelling weaver of tales,” he writes, “she tells a good story’ , but the stories she tells are not calculated to please” (Gates qtd. In Bloom 27). Both these features are hallmark of The Bluest Eye (1970, 1999 Print). Set in the town of Lorain, Ohio, The Bluest eye is the story of a young African American girl and her family who are affected in every direction by the dominant American culture that says to them, “you’re not beautiful, you’re not relevant, you’re invisible, you don’t even count” (Diamond;2013;2). Through the character of twelve year old Pecola, Toni Morrison unfolds the rejection, self-hatred and alienation that black undergo because of the hegemony of white culture. Calvin C.Hernton in her book Sex and Racism in America (1992) too writes that black men and women constantly fight and create fuss because white supremacy rules their lives from sunrise to sunset (132). The novel records black women’s discrete and collective experiences that negatively impact their lives. Though the novel does not deal with direct racism it portrays a complex framework of how racial prejudice works.

Taking the existing criticism as a starting point, my paper explores how Pecola, the black protagonist, becomes a representative of whole world’s marginal, neglected childhood and resultant devastation of individual talent. She suffers throughout her life (negligence of parents, deprivation of love in the past and madness in present and future). In her case not only society is to be blamed but also her parents are equally guilty. Her mother rejects her as ugly and her father rapes her. Hence Pecola and her mental unhingeness are symbolic of how a many youth talent gets sacrificed because of blind adoration and adaptation of popular culture.

From Critics’ Pen

Calling The Bluest Eye a form of myth, Trudier Harris(1991) notes that in this novel, culture is threatened not from without but also from within. She writesthat Morrison’s “depiction of the cycle of seasons without growth, from autumn to summer, evoke, in their mythological implications, comparisons to the legend of the Fisher King and to the world T.S. Eliot creates in The Waste Land. The novel is a ritualized exploration of the dissolution of culture and the need for an attendant rite of affirmation (27). Critics Doane and Hodges (2009) read the novel as groundbreaking because it “made the incest narrative available to many other writers, such as white feminists, who use accounts of incests to articulate a history of subjugation” (331). Susmita Roye in her article “Toni Morrison’s Disrupted Girls and Their Disrupted Girlhoods : The Bluest Eye and A Mercy” views Toni Morrison as having a universal appeal as her novels cutting the boundaries of class, race, nation not only depict the dilemma of American black girls but of whole globe’s girls’. Stephanie A. Demetrakopoulos (1987) commenting on the character of Pecola, observes that Pecola stands for the triple indemnity of the female black child: children, blacks and females are devalued in American culture (34). Critics Pin Chia Feng, Phyllis K. Klotman, and Anne T. Salvatore maintain that The Bluest Eye is a new type of Bildunsroman. However Jennifer Lee Jordan Heinert (2009) opposes the idea of novel being a bildungsroman as neither its narratives are conventional nor the characters gain traditional conclusionary self- actualization and fulfillment. Barbara Christian (1980) points out that the novel presents the effect of migration. Migrant black people are always looked down upon by the well established white communities (48). Further she writes that Pecola’s desire for a pair of blue eyes encompasses three hundred years of unsuccessful interface betweenblack and white culture (60).

The Beauty Cage: The Bluest Eye

West’s canonization of beauty as having certain hair type, facial features, colour and body shape serves as harsh and an implacable ruler that dictates how an other than white will view herself and how she will be assessed by others. The en vogue embodiment of standard beauty in a woman automatically accords her validation and society’s acceptance, making her an influential personality. Webster Jr. and Driskell, Jr. corroborates this view “….[perceived] attractiveness produces a wide range of effects, beautiful people have a great many advantages over ugly people…and those effects have a great many advantages over ugly people…and those those effects appear among diverse populations and in a wide range of situations” (1983;143). On the contrary when a non- white woman looks into the mirror, and finds herself not affirming to these parameters, she loses her self-worth and develops an inferiority complex. Although in the opening pages of the novel, Claudia, a nine year old black girl and narrator, reveals that among blacks the concrete poverty and homelessness are more pervasive worry than the abstract racism or prejudice, later she realizes that racism affects black lives in a worse way. It subtly yet profoundly garbles common beauty and standards of happiness and this results in individual frustration and failure. The Bluest Eye presents various instances of popular cultural icons that construct people’s idea of beauty and its devastating effect on black people.

Dick and Jane Narrative: How Life is Presented to the Black Children

In an interview, Morrison says, “I used the primer story, with its picture of a happy family, as a frame acknowledging the outer civilization. The primer with the white children was the way life was presented to the black people” (Taylor-Guthrie Qtd. In O’Reilly, 1961; 48). The novel opens with three versions of children primer “Dick and Jane.” Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi in her article, “Order and Disorder in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, argues that the three paragraphs represent the three family arrangements presented to us in the novel. Geraldine’s family, which is closer to the ideal family of the Primer, the MacTeers, and finally the Breedloves who are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Ogunyemi argues that the “transmutation is Morrison’s indirect criticism of the white majority for the black family’s situation and for what is taught to the black child in school as evidenced by the Primer paragraph that in no way relates to the child’s reality” (qtd. In O’Reilly, 1961; 49).

Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane live in the green-and-white house. They are very happy.

Here is the house it is green and white it has a red door it is very pretty here is the family mother father dick and jane live in the green-and-white house they are very happy.

Hereisthehouseitisgreenandwhiteithasareddooritisveryprettyhereisthefamilymotherfatherdi ckand janeliveinthegreenandwhitehousetheyareveryhappy. (1999; 1-2)

The difference between first and third version is the difference between white and black lives. The first version, standing for white people, represents white perfection and cleanliness and how a life should be lived in a ideal family in pretty house children living with nice mother and big and strong father. Second version though excluding all punctuation markers is still readable. The third version where words run into each other symbolizes nothing but bedlam of black people’s lives. Donald B. Gibson writes Dick and Jane text implies “one of the primary and most insidious ways that the dominant culture exercises its hegemony, through the educational system. It reveals the role of education in both oppressing the victim-- and more to point—teaching the victim how to oppress her own black self by internalizing the values that dictate standards of beauty” (1989; 20). It is from this internalization of beauty values that Pecola learns what is beautiful and recognizes, “I am ugly and miserable or at least my family is” (1999; 5). Hence primer functions as “the hegemonizing force of an ideology by which a dominant culture reproduces hierarchical power structure” (Grewal, 1998; 24).

Shirley Temple Cup and Toy Dolls : Icons of Perfect Beauty

The appearance of the Shirley Temple cup corroborates white culture’s established beauty definitions—fair skin, blue eyes and golden hair. This beauty ideology marginalizes blackpeople and suppresses their individual talent. Minority people never realize the consequences of living under a dominant perfect beauty ideology. Critic Barbara Christian (1980) notes, “In The Bluest Eye, the central theme is the effect of the standardized western ideas of physical beauty and romantic love not only on the black women in Lorain, Ohio, but also on the black community’s perception of its worth. All of the adults in the book, in varying degrees, are effected by their acceptance of the society’s inversion of the natural order. For, in internalizing the West’s standards of beauty,the black community automatically disqualifies itself as the possessor of its own cultural standards” (52). The Shirley Temple figure- the little girl with blue eyes, golden curls and a bright smile was a model child. Shirley Temple’s face began appearing - as an enticement to buy—on all sorts of consumer items. The blue and white cup bearing an image of her happy, dimpled face is one such item. Pecola is so much under Shirley’s beauty effect and the fact that everybody loves Shirley as she has the desired and accepted beauty that she starts drinking three quarters of milk a day in Shirley mug. This may be interpreted as her desire to absorb Shirley’s beauty which ultimately leads to her wish for a pair of blue eyes. She admires Shirley Temple and yearns to be like her, she refuses to acknowledge her own identity. In fact she starts hating herself, “whether one learns acceptability from the formal educational experience or from cultural symbols, the effect is the same : self-hatred” (Klotman,1979;124). Pecola starts praying to God to grant her wish of blue eyes. Morrison comments, “a little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment” (1999; 34). Pecola sees a connection between beauty and being accepted and loved by society, “Long hours she sat looking into the mirror, trying to discover the secret of her ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers and classmates alike….


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Wasted Talent in "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison
Self-Worth and Society’s Acceptance. Meeting the Parameters
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wasted, talent, bluest, toni, morrison, self-worth, society’s, acceptance, meeting, parameters
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Surinder Kaur (Author), 2015, Wasted Talent in "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/310958


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