Radikal Readings: The Bluest Eye

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This is probably one the hardest posts I’ve written in relation to books. What can you say about an author as celebrated and revered as Toni Morrison? The last American writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature, Morrison is a living legend. With all that said, oddly enough I had never read a novel by her. So I thought why not start with the very first – The Bluest Eye published in 1970.

The novel is described as : “…the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom. Pecola’s life does change – in painful, devastating ways.”

It is devastating in every way I can think of. The rich language and poetic prose tells a horrifying yet all too real story of how Pecola is dehumanized for the color of her skin and her appearance. This particular passage is tragic:

“It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question. The master had said, ‘You are ugly people.’ They had looked about themselves saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance. ‘Yes,’ they had said, ‘You are right.’ And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it as a mantle over them, and went about the world with it.”

Morrison takes us into a world where a million injustices compete. A vicious cycle of self-loathing combined with violent sexual crime and the loss of humanity prove fatal for Pecola and shed light on the unloved in a way I had never encountered. Morrison writes is best in this haunting passage:

“And now when I see her searching the garbage – for what? The thing we assassinated? I talk about how I did not plant the seeds too deeply, how it was the fault of the earth, the land, of our town. I think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. The soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. At least on the edge of my town, among the garbage and the sunflowers of my town, it’s much, much, much too late.”

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