The Bluest Eye

Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941.  We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father’s baby that marigolds did not grow.  A little examination and much less melancholy would have proved to us that our seeds were not the only ones that did not sprout; nobody’s did.  Not even the gardens fronting the lake showed marigolds that year.  But so deeply concerned were we with the health and safe delivery of Pecola’s baby we could think of nothing but our own magic: if we planted the seeds, and said the right words over them, they would blossom, and everything would be all right.

12-year-old Pecola Breedlove’s one desire is to be loved, to be accepted and shown affection by her family and friends.  She feels herself to be ugly, because she is black, and because her whole family believes themselves to be ugly, hopeless, and without control or ownership over their lives or circumstance.  This feeling of helplessness and muted outrage serves as a hostile setting in which to raise a child, and Pecola is doomed from the beginning of this emotional and physical tragedy.  We learn from the very beginning of the book that she will give birth to her father’s child, so the story isn’t about the ‘what’ that will happen, nor the ‘why’ (as that is difficult to handle, says narrator Claudia MacTeer), but instead is found in the ‘how’.

The Bluest Eye is told sometimes from the point of view of Claudia, a friend and neighbor of Pecola,  and sometimes from a third party narrator.  We learn of Claudia’s home life, which while not as loving and warm as she might wish, it is still a stable home in which the parents love their children, and want them to remain safe and healthy.

Pecola’s story is more complicated, and we learn enough background about her parents and their individual and combined pasts to start to understand a bit of how the tragedy will unfold.  They both feel bitterly the contempt and powerlessness afforded them by white society.  They take out their anger and rage on each other, often fighting violently and savagely.  Pecola’s brother often runs away to try to escape the violence of his home life.

Pecola’s father, Cholly, is often drunk, which pleases his wife, because it gives her a reason to hate him, to fight with him, and to feel superior to him.  He was humiliated by white hunters when a young boy, and he has never managed to overcome the shame.  His reaction to this humiliation is telling, and foreshadows his rape of Pecola.

Pecola’s mother, Pauline, has no love for her family, instead lavishing care and attention on the white family for whom she works.  While she keeps her employers’ house immaculate, and is very loving to their little girl, her own home is filthy and unkempt.  Her reaction when Pecola is raped is chilling.

Pecola, surrounded by visions of Shirley Temple and the little girl her mother works for, thinks that perhaps if she were beautiful, she might be loved rather than despised, and might live a happier life.  So she wishes, over and over again, to have blue eyes.  With blue eyes, she would be beautiful, acceptable, and the pain and sorrow would no longer define her life.  We as readers know that it will take a lot more than blue eyes to give a young black girl in the 40’s any power or control over her own destiny.  Knowing how she is destroyed, her sanity shattered, by the events of her young life is difficult indeed.

The Bluest Eye was a heartbreaking book to read, but very well told.  The voices of the narrator and Claudia are honest and straightforward, and their tenderness and warmth for Pecola make you wish that she had someone to give her that tenderness and warmth while it might make a difference in her life.

6 thoughts on “The Bluest Eye

  1. I’m glad you got around to reading this and that you——”enjoyed” probably isn’t the most appropriate word——thought highly of it. It’s a harsh and beautiful book, and well worth the effort.

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