Is it right not to be white?

To speak on behalf of those that cannot speak. That seems one of the most remarkable and touching notions of literature. Toni Morrison in her novels not only is speaking to black people but also on their behalf. She speaks for those excluded, oppressed and condemned to eternal silence.

 

M orrison dreamt of a black protagonist of her times that would be taken seriously not only as a joke or a clown. In the 50s and the 60s in the United States were dominated by the one and only true and elegant aesthetic – the white men aesthetic. “The Bluest Eye” is a kind of reflection, mirror rendering the one truly beautiful vision of American society. Toni opens her novel with a short description of a white family leaving in a small house, creating a picture that would apply to all the conventions of those times. A while later when Morrison introduces us to three black girls Claudia, Frida, and Pecola, we witness them watching Shirley Temple dancing on the steps with Bojangles. Both Frida and Pecola are attracted to the picture; only Claudia shows complete condemnation.

I couldn’t join them in their adoration because I hated Shirley. Not because she was cute, but because she danced with Bojangles, who was my friend my uncle, my daddy …

In Claudia’s attitude and opinion, we find reproach and objections to accepting and following the contemporary aesthetics. How firmly those definitions of beauty were imposed, and how deeply they rooted in the mind of people shows the gift Claudia got for the Holidays from her parents. It was a doll, a white doll with blue eyes. Black parents gave, in their opinion, beautiful gift to their black daughter. It is not anymore a question of forceful marginalization of the black community but more of their acceptance of the white aesthetic. It goes without saying that by fulfilling expectations the black minority was giving in a way quiet approval and subsequently encouraged those kinds of mindsets.

Toni-Morrison-TGS-e1442243714305
Toni Morrison

Morrison’s book is a story of a ten-year-old black girl, whose imaginations of herself and society’s preassumptions of her proceeds her birthday and both are told to her as something that she has to fulfill. Pecola was rejected and discriminated in her life twice.
First, by the white majority, and second by her own black minority which deprived her of beauty and fundamental perception of acceptance and affiliation. Pecola dreams only of being beautiful. In her mind fulfilling this dream means answering the world’s image of beauty, society’s definition of right aesthetics.  Interestingly, Pecola, just as Morrison’s old school friend, wants to have blue eyes – the symbol of beauty and elegant. Unfortunately, this is, from the biological point of view, just impossible. Pecola is condemned to live in the world in which she has no power, no influence on any issue, no matter how irrelevant they might be. This world, on the other hand, has a genuinely destructive impact on her confronting her with brutal reality thus crashing her every single day. Those, like Pecola, silent and oppressed are those that Morrison wants to represent and speak on their behalf. Beside one dream that Pecola has, we do not know how she feels, what she feels and thinks.

All of our waste which we dumped on her and she absorbed. Moreover, all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us – all who knew her – felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor.

Pecola had to face, not only a general rejection by America’s white society but also, and maybe foremost, hypocrisy and humiliation by being alienated and discriminated against by her own social minority. Albeit all the terrible and unthinkable issues that Morrison confronts us, it is surprising how rarely she uses a negative description of any of the characters. She has a beautiful ability of storytelling that every child has and eventually loses it when growing up and learning prejudices and limitations. “The Bluest Eye” is filled with empathy for both men and women. Cholly, Pecola’s father, alcoholic, opportunist, of whom it ‘s hard to say to be supportive of his family and daughter.  Yet, Morrison shows us his sensitive self, crashed somewhere in the way by reality.  Cholly was a very sensitive, warm and affectionate to his first girl he approached as a young boy. She puts much effort into being compassionate and emphatical for her characters. She discovers the story before us with small fragments, piece by piece. Eventually, she presents us with a frightening truth and confronts us with human tragedy, and humiliation in a way that undoubtedly one can see a brutal face of the monster, not a human being. And just a few moments later, subtly and innocently, in a non-forced manner, she reminds us of their weaknesses and our previous compassion that we all had in our hearts towards the same character.

With no support from her family nor any results from praying and asking God for help, Pecola decides to turn to Reverend Soaphead for help. She asks him to intercede for her and make her beautiful. At first, he refuses but as she insists Reverend decides to use a naive girl to solve his own uncomfortable situation. In return for a favor, he promises her that God will listen to her and gives her the blue eyes. Without any hesitation, she agrees to that offer especially that it only takes to feed the hated Soaphead’s dog, and as Reverand promises if the dog starts to behave strangely it will be a sign that her petition has finally been heard by the God. It is no wonder that the poor animal had spewed spirit when the food Pecola had given it was poisoned. Terrified but at the same time happy Pecola runs. After the whole event Soaphead reaches for the ink, standing next to the poison (as if words could be poison) and writes a letter to God:

That’s why I changed the little black girl’s eyes for her, and I didn’t touch her; not a finger did I lay on her. But I gave her those blue eyes she wanted. Not for pleasure, and not for money. I did what You did not, could not, would not do: I looked at that ugly little black girl, and I loved her. I played You. And it was a very good show!

I, I have caused a miracle. I gave her the eyes. I gave her the blue, blue, two blue eyes. Cobalt blue. A streak of it right out of your own blue heaven. No one else will see her blue eyes. But she will. And she will live happily ever after. I, I have found it meet and right so to do.

Pecola, devastated by madness, creates her own imaginary world to manage the weight of the real one. In her madness, she talks with her alter ego about her beautiful blue eyes, and how much others must be jealous of them accusing other people of envy and hatred. We also learn from those dialogues about yet another tragic situation, another rape on her young body. This very symbolic tragedy takes place while Pecola reads a novel (Morrison creates a strong allusion as if words could be a poison and the act of reading could be a rape on a human being.)

IMG_3135
Reading “The Bluest Eye”

“The Bluest Eye” is one of the greatest novels I have ever read. Morrison takes in a stormy yet paradoxically subtle and empathic journey between extreme emotions, feelings, and evaluations. In an utterly perfect way, it tells the story of one’s enslavement by the majority and simultaneous of one’s rejection and humiliation by the minority to which one belongs. However, nonsensical it sounds is a beautiful image of the destruction of man and his sensitivity, the need to submit to schemas and social stereotypes. Morrison on the example of Pecola shows how shattering destructive for those coming is the creation of a man based on the imposition of the only right aesthetics and previously accepted assumptions. Is it worth reading  “The Bluest Eye”? I believe it is one of those novels that every sensitive person should read. It aroused enormous controversy in the US, and in many cities, the book was officially banned. Morrison, in one interview, mentioned that her own sister had forbidden her children to read this book before they were eighteen. Once asked about inspirations Morrison told a story from school days. Together with a friend, they argued for the existence of God. Finally, in response to Morrison’s arguments for his existence, she had heart, “I know that God does not exist. I have evidence for it! For two years I have prayed for blue eyes. As you can see I still do not have them “. The story of Pecola moves to the extreme, arouses intense emotions, but in all this, we are always accompanied by empathy and compassion.

 

6 Comments

  1. Annierra

    Hey. This is Annierra Matthews. We met on Instagram. I’m storiesbyannierra and annierramatthews there as well. 🙂 I really liked your review. You made a really good point about how black Americans are marginalized, which we are, even in 2017 unfortunately. 🙁 It makes me sad how Pecola believed she was beautiful only if her eyes were blue. Though, I haven’t read the book yet, this is a very real thing in the black community. There are some black girls who see a white doll or see white characters in television and believe they have to look like them.
    Black Girls are beautiful in their own skin.

    I also read in your review that Pecola gets shunned from her own community. This does happen. I’m not sure exactly in what context or why she was shunned or when in the book. I’m assuming it’s because her eyes were blue? But anyway, there are black women with dark skin who get shunned and teased and talked about. It’s called colorism. And it’s very sad to see. Some black people prefer other black people with light skin. The lighter you are, the closer you are to appearing white means you’re more beautiful in some people’s minds. There is a history behind colorism too that dates back to slavery. There is also a film called Dark Girls you should check out if you’re interested. Very eye opening.

    I’ve never experienced colorist in my community because I’m not dark skinned, though I am black and I have seen a black girl in middle school get teased about dark her skin is. My skin is brown, so I guess I’m I’m the middle? I’m just really curious as to why Pecola was shunned. I need to read the book. 🙂

    I’m glad Morrison tackles this issue. It’s still her prevalent, even today. Representation matters. ing a doll or a television character who looks like you gives you a sense of pride and hopefulness, you know? It makes you feel like you belong or are no different, that you exist in the world. It’s especially important for people of color to know that and have that validated through the media. 🙂

    So this is way too long a comment. Lol but thank you for writing. 🙂

    1. thelostinbooks

      Annierra, thank you for taking your time to read my post. I’m glad you liked it. It is really sad that things like that still happen. That is why I believe that novels like Morrison’s are really important to influence people’s minds also and maybe especially those that has no opinion, view on the issue. This is what I really deeply believe is a great power that literature has.

  2. Annierra

    Oh, one last thing I noticed. At the very beginning of your review where that first bolded quite is, you wrote “speaking to the black people.” You might want to rewrite it to just say “speaking to black people.” The way you have it written sounds like you don’t want to be associated with black people, like we’re outsiders or something. It comes off a little rude. Just wanted to help with that. Just a tip. Something to be mindful of. 🙂 You don’t want to offend anyone.

  3. Erin Lee Daniels

    Wonderful, insightful piece although the title choice has me a bit cnfused. Also wanted to point out that many lighter skinned black people are also victims of colorism and the OP was quite right about it’s roots in slavery. The doc she mentioned has been critically acclaimed and there are some great forums out here as well. Again, great article!

    1. thelostinbooks

      Thank you for your comment Erin. The title, the idea behind it was the beginning of the novel where kids watch Shirley Temple as a white aesthetic as well as the repetitive in the book invoking the house of white family that Morrison describes in the beginning.

Leave a Reply