"Dick-and-Jane Primer" in Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" as an Aesthetic Device

Term Paper, 2017

22 Pages




1. Introduction: Biographical and Literary Background

2. The Primer
2.1. Facet One: Representations of "Dick and Jane" Narrative: Ideals, Mimics and Cast offs
I - Ideals (Stereotypes)
II - Mimics or Mixed Race
III - Cast offs
2.2 Facet Two: The Third pastiche: an Urge of Unity (Collectivity)
2.3 Facet Three: Equal Function: Dismembering of Dick & Jane Primer & that of the White Doll as an aesthetic Function
2.4 Facet Four: Musicality of "Dick and Jane" Primer

3. Conclusion



The focus of this paper is the narrative mechanism of employing a paragraph of "Dick and Jane" Reader which was popular in children schools in 1940s in the American United States. It educates children how to read and they hear it from the very beginning of their lives. Through such an educational system, the white dominant culture exerts its authority in oppressing black people. In her novel "The Bluest Eye", the African-American writer Toni Morrison cuts an expert of "Dick and Jane" narrative and uses it as a prologue. She repeats the paragraph three times which are highly different from each other, then dismembers it into pieces that appear as headings to some chapters of the novel. The study reveals the aesthetic purpose beyond such reproducing and dismembering of "Dick and Jane" narrative. Morrison sends a message of moral content to blacks as well as whites: On the one hand, blacks, particularly those who immersed in the white ideology, have to wake up and realize the value of their culture, heritage and language in protecting their black identity. On the other hand, whites should respect and admit the cultural and humane existence of the other and realize the merit of the black culture.

Key words: Toni Morrison, primer, "The Bluest Eye", jazz, improvisation,

Call and response.

1. Introduction: Biographical and Literary Background

Morrison, who is a well-known African- American writer, was born in Lorain, Ohio. She has highly contributed to the awareness of African American literature. In her town, she was raised in a tight knit black community. Morrison's family, who migrated from the black south to the black north, watered her self-esteem and cultural identity. She grew up soaked in the African American music from spiritual and work song to blues and jazz. Her father was racist because he tasted bitterness of racism, so he despised whites and her mother told her folktales and stories; sang both jazz and opera, also her grandfather was fond in playing the violin. In this case, all" black lore, black music , black language and all the myths and rituals of black culture were prominent elements in the early life of Morrison" (McKay,1983:139). She loved storytelling and became very keen to portray black communities in her novels. Her "project of writing is outside the white gaze…, she credited the complexity and originality of African American life"(Bowers, 2010:38).

The matter of identity became central for African American writers because their culture was disrooted during slavery; they lost whatever characteristic of identity. So they determined to reclaim their identity through art. In this regard, Neal argues that " the black art is the aesthetic and spiritual sister to the black power… the black art and the black power concept both relate broadly to the Americans' desire for self-determination and nationhood"( 1968:38). As an African American writer, Morrison is influenced, to a great extent, by the "major characteristics of Black art" and employs them in her fiction (Morrison, 1984:199). She is interested in the survival of black community, and instead of defining itself in relation to external ideology or the dominant group or the dominant group, it should emphasize its own past, and its own forms (Bjork, 1992:14). She aims to write novels in black language without paying attention to explain her world to white people. Her narrative language is free of oppressive norms of white culture. To use Kohler's words, she" does not allow African American tradition to be forgotten"(2006:44). Language is the mark of existence and continuity of a nation, it should be independent. According to Morrison," language is the thing that black people love so much… it's a love, passion… the worst of all possible things that could happen would be to lose that language" (Interview by Thomas Leclair,1981:4). Morrison violates the old form of writing, and "recreates something… that defines what makes a book ' black'" (McKay, 1983:421).

Generally, Morrison's work is bearable of different interpretations since she does not spoon-feed meaning to the readers. Gates (quoted in Bloom, 2010:27) describes Morrison's" writing on the one hand as popular (accessible to the reader) and difficult (demanding a close critical attention)". She is interested in making the reader indulged in rereading her work to catch the message. Her novels "refuse to tell us overtly what they mean" (Smith, 2010:10). Morrison is very keen to make readers participate, experience and create through writing process. To her, "readers and writers both struggle to interpret,… within a common language, sharable imaginative world" (Morrison,1992:xii). Once, she describes her work comparing it to a crystal" with its different faces and layers revealing an idea from different angles and points of view" (Silver Blatt quoted in Stein, 2009:6).

One of Morrison best-known novels is "The Bluest Eye", that is published in 1970. It takes place in Morrison's home-town Lorain, Ohio in 1940-1941. It tells the tragic story of a young girl, Pecola Breedlove, who longs to have blue eyes because she sees herself ugly and is not loved by her family and community. She" wanted to rise up out of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes" (Morrison, 2007: 179). According to the dominant culture, she does not emulate ideals of beauty and worth. Such a world leads her to lose her self-esteem. She spent her time running to catch white ideals of beauty, but who can catch smoke. At the very beginning of this novel, there is a passage taken from "Dick and Jane" reader appears as prologue. What attracted me as a reader is the way in which this excerpted passage written in different ways, then this long piece is fragmented into parts that introduced some chapters of the novel as epigraphs. Here, this paper deals with this point as a central topic of the study.

2. The Primer

"Dick and Jane" reader was so familiar in the public schools of children at the 1940s. Ahlawat acknowledges that" it privileges whiteness" (2013:56). It is a racist discourse. It represents an idealized white middle class family. Learning to read and write through it will be dangerous for black children because they will be exposed to the white values that destroy their self-esteem and identity) Gibson, 1987:160). This piece of the narrative" Dick and Jane" is very important in form and content since" it offers an interpretative key to Morrison's text", to borrow Sakaguchi's words (1996:36). Its existence prefacing the novel denotes that it is told from a child perspective. The primer is the mirror of the largest story, which is how children learn to interpret their world. Donald Gibson (1993:36) points out that the quoted phrases of the primer introduce what is to follow, offer evidence to comment upon and support the thematic implications of the main text, they inform the main text, its course, its implications within every aspect of plot, character and description. According to Klotman, " it serves as a synopsis of the tale that is to follow"(1979:123). Morrison is very deft in employing the primer as she makes it a masterpiece by itself. She goes on making changes on it to authenticate her text as African American. The changes, she made, rise many probable interpretations.

2.1. Facet One: Representations of "Dick and Jane" Narrative: Ideals, Mimics and Cast offs

I - Ideals (Stereotypes)

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. See Jane. She has a red dress. She wants to play. Who will play with Jane? See the cat. It goes meow-meow. Come and play. Come play with Jane. The kitten will not play. See Mother. Mother is very nice. Mother will you play with Jane? Mother laughs. Laugh, mother laugh. See Father. He is big and strong. Father will you play with Jane? Father is smiling. Smile, Father, smile. See the dog run. Run, dog, run. Look, look. Here comes a friend. The friend will play with Jane. They will play a good game. Play, Jane, play. (Morrison, 2007:3).

Morrison quotes directly the above paragraph of "Dick and Jane" narrative. It is an authentic replica that represents an ideal white family of middle class, although the race of Dick and Jane is not clear. Klotman (1979:123) claims that the first version symbolizes the lifestyle of the alien white world represented by the Fisher family that effects on the lives of the black children and their families while excluding them. According to this text, the white family is associated with morality, prosperity. There is no wrong with such a family, everything is perfect. Critics have called it as the "idyllic" Dick and Jane" Utopia" (Bump,2010:155). In this perfect world, there is no room to blacks, whoever than whites is hyphenated. The white culture imposes its standards of beauty as a privilege. Superiority is related to whiteness, and inferiority to blackness. Here, the decisive scale is that of colour which means that the white is beautiful and the black is ugly. In this way, Africans' sense of community life is destroyed. After careful reading to the quoted text, you can find what you assume to be perfect world is just a fake, i.e you find an American family where mother, father, Dick and Jane live happily, but at the same time, Jane is alone. No member of this happy family answers her need and play with her. Then, then the white culture is just a veneer without essence.

II - Mimics or Mixed Race

This time, the quoted paragraph looks with different appearance. It shows no capitalization and punctuation; to some extent, it looks confused:

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 see jane has a red dress she wants to play who will play with jane see the cat it goes meow-meow come and play with jane the kitten will not play see mother mother is very nice mother will you play with jane mother laughs laugh see father he is big and strong father will you play with jane father is smiling smile father smile see the dog bowwow goes the dog do you want to play with jane see the dog run run dog run look look here comes a friend the friend will play with jane they will play a good play jane play (Morrison, 2007:4).

The pressure of the dominant community which imposes its standards of living and physical beauty on the black community creats longing on the part of some of its members to emulate or match the standards of the stereotypes. Those members are either mimics or those who are generated by intermingling of white race with blacks (mixed race). In favour of white supremacy, mimics and mixed race indulged in the customs and values of the dominant culture in order to establish an identity and win acceptance among the white society. In doing that, it seems that they are divorced from their own race. That means more prestige could be attained among the black community and privilege of better communication with the white society (Anderson, 2000:57). Within the novel the prototype characters that represent this class are Mrs. Geraldine as mimic and Maureen Peal as mixed race. They aspire to become like the white community. They " are typical mulattos who live by the white middle- class values" (Joodaki and Vajdi,2013:181). For instance, Mrs. Geraldine teaches her family the difference between coloured and black. She does her best to" get rid off the funkiness" (Morrison, 2007: 83). For her, Pecola represents everything she despises. She thinks Pecola has" all the negative features [like ugliness, poverty, disorder and filthy] of her views of black girls" (Brook, 2000:37). She always calls her" nasty little black bitch" (Morrison, 2007: 93). A character that represents the mixed race is Maureen Peal; she is a light- skinned girl with green eyes and long brown hair. She stands for a rich black family. It is light- skinned African- American family. It also despises black people. Maureen enchanted everyone at school and everywhere in her community. Like others, she thinks that she is beautiful:" I am cute!", [and Pecola is ugly] And you ugly! Black and ugly black e mos."(Ibid: 73 ). Then, what makes Maureen thinks that she is cute?" It is the ideology of whiteness that makes Maureen appear beautiful"( Munafo, 1995: 8).

In fact, such people are lost; they cannot be defined as white or black because" they would lose their physical markers" (Chesnutt, 2002: 845). On the other hand, white people would no longer be superior and distinctive, they" would lose their pure white race" (Ibid).


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"Dick-and-Jane Primer" in Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" as an Aesthetic Device
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Shaimaa Radhi (Author), 2017, "Dick-and-Jane Primer" in Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" as an Aesthetic Device, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/370192


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