TBT Review: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

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What is clear now is that of all of that hope, fear, lust, love, and grief, nothing remains but Pecola and the unyielding earth. Cholly Breedlove is dead; our innocence too. The seeds shriveled and died; her baby too. There is really nothing more to say—except why. But since why  is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.

Today I’m doing a throwback to a book I read last year. My creative writing lecturer recommended this book years ago because of the timeline Morrison uses in The Bluest Eye. I finally read it. And from the first page Morrison’s style, and play with words captivated me.

Initial Insights

The Bluest Eye was like coming up for air. I’d read three John Grisham novels back to back (which I would not recommend) and needed something that would remind me why I enjoy reading.

Set in Lorain, Ohio, this epic tragedy tells the story of a little black girl, Pecola Breedlove, who longs for Blue Eyes. No. The bluest eyes in the world. Using different POVs and writing techniques, Morrison touches on beauty, abuse, racism, incest, and our innate desire to belong and be loved.

What I liked

The novel starts with a children’s story based on a basal reader Fun With Dick and Jane.

“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?…”

This simple refrain is repeated but deconstructed in a manner that paints the destruction of each character, especially Pecola. It set the tone for the story Morrison’s technique also shadows the events in the story.

Pecola’s story is told through the narrative of others in her community: her friend, her parents, strangers. As if she has no voice of her own, which is sad but the Bluest Eye was meant to be a tragedy.

Morrison’s character development intrigued me. Most chapters had a different story arc that tied into Pecola’s life toward the end but the processed showed the brokenness of each character. I didn’t mind it at first because I suppose she wanted to show the flaws in all of them and the reasons for their actions. I found this interesting because other than Pecola’s father, Cholly Breedlove, I could empathize with all the characters.

Then there were the different narrative styles for each POV. The entire book is narrated by Claudia, who is looking back on a specific year when the Marigolds didn’t grow in their town. In the first section as Pecola’s storyline is explored, the narrative is simple and really true to the narrator. Short sentences humorous moments that reminded me of Scout and Jeremy Finch’s antics in “To Kill a Mocking Bird”.

Later the narrative style changes as Morrison explores Pecola’s parents through flashbacks and more complex sentence structure. Pauline Breedlove’s chapter was fun to read. Mostly because Morrison cut through the flashbacks with stretches of first person monologues. It felt as if Pauline was watching a documentary about her life and then clicked pause to reflect on key moments and their impact in her life and consequently Pecola’s.

Cholly’s chapter follows a similar style to Pauline’s but without the monologues. After Cholly’s back story we have Soaphead, whose story is also told in the third person narrative but includes a letter to God which he essentially writes to vent. In the letter, the reader is given a foretaste into Pecola’s fate.

Morrison ends with a dialogue between Pecola and either her inner self or an imaginary friend about her rape, her blue eyes, and whether she has the bluest eyes in the world. It’s really sad. This section has absolutely no narration just dialogue but again it was used in a creative way to communicate Pecola’s fate.

And then Claudia briefly wraps it all up with commentary on her and the community’s role in what becomes of Pecola. Much like the closing narrative in The Film version of the Help (still need to read the book).
What I didn’t like

After page 125 of this version, it gets quite graphic. There are a number of explicit sections. I skipped much of Cholly’s chapter and Soaphead’s letter.

Though the backstories served a purpose in the overall tale, I grew tired of being introduced to some new in each chapter. And I felt that Soaphead Church’s story was unnecessarily explicit in areas. Much of his letter was unneeded, in my opinion.

Final thoughts

Overall I loved this story. It was sad and deep and dark and it’s definitely a heavy read emotionally. But Morrison’s artistry makes it one of my literary treasures. I’d recommend it. But have something light-hearted on standby.

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Rating: 4/5

 

 

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About the Author

Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She is the author of several novels, including The Bluest Eye, Beloved (made into a major film), and Love. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize. She is the Robert F. Goheen Professor at Princeton University.

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