In the tragic novel, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Pecola Breedlove, an eleven-year-old black girl is a victim of racial, dislike herself and rape by her father which results in pregnancy. Pecola grows up in an abusive and unloving family. She longs to disappear from the face of the Earth to rid her of her problems. Writers often highlight the values of a culture or a society by using characters who are alienated from that culture. In the tragic story, The Bluest Eye, the writer shows existing social problems throughout the story. Through the life of Pecola Breedlove, the protagonist, the writer provides a clear example of how widespread racism, sexism, and social class had affected the 1940s.
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Racism was dominant in a large part of the book The Bluest Eye. A cute young girl should have a wonderful happy early childhood; however, since she is black, others make fun of her and look down on her. It makes her childhood to be unhappy. Pecola Breedlove, a young girl who believes that she is unattractive and that having blue eyes would make her beautiful, has experienced unnecessary pain from racism. At one point, Pecola is noted to be talking with the white retailer who has little affection for Pecola. Eye imagery pervades the scene, as the retailer cannot actually “see” Pecola (Marrison151). In other words; in this way, Pecola suffers from racial discrimination throughout her entire life. In nineteen century, racism was in full effect in large areas such as America. In these areas, white people treated black people as if they were “nothing”. People even established an anti-black law, the Jim Crow law, to restrict the black, to treat them unequally (Beth). In the law, some of the unfair conditions imposed on them were Blacks were not supposed to shake hands with whites because they were not socially equal (Beth). Every time they were caught shaking a woman’s hand, people who were considered “Black” were also accused of committing crimes such as rape(Beth). The Jim Crow law made it legal to segregate the races in public facilities (Beth). In a white person’s point of view of that time, black people were nothing, not even human. Even a young boy in the society was taught to be racist. This young boy is seen to be bullying Pecola for being black in public places such as the playground.
It was their contempt for their won blackness that gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds-cooled-and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path (Marrision101).
During the nineteen century, people in America generally had the wrong concept and a wrong standard for beauty, as they thought that only people with white skin are beautiful, which racism is. This racial stereotype can be seen through Pecola because she does not find herself beautiful, as she was taught to believe that only white is pretty. Pecola will not learn to notice her own beauty, because no one else will support her into believing it. At one point, Pecola passes a bit of dandelions when she walks into Mr. Yacobowski’s shop (47). She got confused when she remembered that people say “Why, she wonders, do people call them weeds? She thought they were pretty” (Morrison47). The sliver of happiness that Pecola saw in the dandelion seem to be erased after Mr. Yacobowski’s disapproving state. When she passes the dandelion again she says, “They are ugly. They are weeds” (Morrison50).She seems like to toke down the society’s dislike of her to the dandelions. Beauty is a very important thing to everyone although “It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights-if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different” (Morrison46). The narrator states if what Pecola believed changed, her life would be totally different. If her eyes were beautiful, then her desire for blue eyes is unnecessary, as well as she wants to reach what people believed to be beautiful. It is also noted that she would be treated evenly within the white society, if she thinks she had blue eyes.
Social classes are seen in Pecola’s life as well. During this time, African Americans were considered a lower social cast. Since there were so many economic barriers for African Americans during in nineteen century period, the African-American citizens that the reader encounters are mostly working-class folks who work as servants for white families. Pecola is an example of this. Pecola is not born in a rich or a high social class family; instead, her mother is the one who works as a maid for a rich, white family to earn money. In the early age of America community, they looked down on black people. “Africans cooperated with Europeans in the slave trade, and some slaves transported to America were already of the slave class” (Becker). The control center of the African slave trade was located in Tropical America. Thirty-six of the forty-two slaves were placed in Ghana (Becker). Aside from Ghana, slaves were sent from eight regions in Africa as well as Senegambia, Bight of Biafra, Southeast Africa, Gold Coast, Ivory Coast and Liberia region, Bight of Benin, and Central Africa Sierra Leone. (Becker) Over half of the slaves from the group were sent out to South America, 42% to the Caribbean Islands, 7% of them to British North America, and the rest of slaves to Central America (Becker). The slaves are usually uneducated. This passage shows that the people from the towns of Lorain have used Pecola and her family’s negative emotions about their social position are dumped onto Pecola with tragic results.
The birdlike gestures are worn away to a mere picking and plucking her way between the tire rims and the sunflowers, between Coke bottles and milkweed, among all the waste and beauty of the world – which is what she herself was. All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us (Morrison53).
Morrison has highlighted the values of a society by illustrating the existing social problems such as racism, sexism and social class. Through the tragedy of Pecola Breedlove, Morrison has shown how society can affect people’s attitudes towards others and themselves. In the Bluest Eyes, it brings attention to the problems in history and critiques them. The tragedy of Pecola Breadlove reveals the harshness of the views in 1940, harshness that should never be repeated again.
Eddie Becker, .Chronology on the History of Slavery, Washington, DC 1999
Norton, Mary Beth, et al. A People and a Nation: A History of the United States. 6th ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001, 856-858.
Anika Francis,”The Economics of the African Slave Trade,” Print
Stepto, R., “Intimate Things In Place: A Conversation with Toni Morrison.”, 1987 Print
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