Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

"Each night Pecola prayed for
blue eyes.
In her eleven years, no one had
ever noticed Pecola. But with blue
eyes, she thought, everything
would be different. She would be
so pretty that her parents would
stop fighting. Her father
would stop drinking. Her brother
would stop running away. If
only she could be beautiful.
If only people would look at her."

(Back Cover)

As you may have deduced from the introduction, this is a story about a young, lonely, black girl, Pecola Breedlove, from a small Midwestern town in the US, who wants blue eyes more than anything else in the world. She wants blue eyes not so much because she thinks they're beautiful, but because she hates her black skin and eyes which she thinks are ugly. She imagines that blue eyes is what it will take to make her popular and loved by her friends and family. This obession with having blue eyes, the family's poverty, being on the lower rung of the racial heirarchy,the lack of friends and her very low self-esteem all contribute to driving Pecola slowly insane and she slips into a fantasy world where she has bluer-than-blue eyes and is the prettiest girl in the world.

As I read this book, I thought we all have a little Pecola inside of us. Some of us, like her, think we are not pretty enough, with others it's an issue with weight. With some they think they are not rich enough or smart enough. Seems like we all have our own "blue eyes" that we keep hankering after. If only we would come to love ourselves as we are, imperfections and all, maybe we'd make life easier for ourselves?

In any case, who sets the standards for beauty? Who decides that white and not black is beautiful; that size 6 is nicer-looking than size 8? Why was 12-year old Pecola so filled with self-loathing only because of the colour of her skin? Isn't this what we are doing to our kids (especially our girls) today, too? If they are size 6 or over, we want to put them on a diet. We are creating a whole new generation of Pecolas without even being aware of it.

Toni Morrison's novel besides exploring issues of beauty, race, poverty, discrimination, abandonment, and so on, also educates one on the hardships suffered by African-American people in the 1940's. Toni Morrison is an African-American writer and she grew up in the 1940's so I'm sure the conditions facing black people as she describes them in her books are credible. In fact, the story of Pecola Breedlove is said to be that of one of Morrison's childhood friends.

This book won the Nobel Prize for Literature. ( I don't remember the year) and it is so deserving of the prize. Not only has Ms. Morrison written a novel with an achingly beautiful story, but the language, ahhh, each sentence is so beautifully constructed that I was gulping them down like it was my last meal.

This book will definitely go into my permenant collection. I know many of you will have read this book already , would love to hear your thoughts on it.


Susan Abraham said...

What a beautiful, heartrending tale, it all sounds Lotus. And the true-to-life philosophies that such a gripping story implies.

I cannot honestly say I'll look out for this book because I hold such a long post-dated list already but I have enjoyed reading your thoughts on this book, wholeheartedly.

God Bless

Lotus Reads said...

Awwww, I do appreciate your comment, Suse. As you can tell, this book touched a chord. It's been a while since a book affected me this deeply. Sadly, I haven't been that impressed with her other offerings, "Sula" , "Beloved' etc.

sasgirl said...

One of my favourite books! I treasure this book in my book collection. Oprah has also said it's one of her most favourite books as well.

I've read it at least 3 times and I don't usually reread any of my books! Each time I read it, it breaks my heart. And I savoured each word like you did Lotus. Her writing is rich and powerful and I enjoyed that quite a bit.

deepThoughts said...

That introduction completely gripped me. I was feeling so so sad for Pecola. You are absolutely right...we all do have a little Pecola within us.

Thanks for sharing this. I will have to get hold of this book. Will let you know what I think.

Madhu said...

I read Sula by Toni Morrison and was very disappointed that it didn't live up to the hype. Maybe now I will give Toni another chance.

piksea said...

I loved this book. It was poignant and heartbreaking. Morrison really deserved that Nobel Prize, especially for this book. She writes her books so that they work on so many levels. Sula is next on my list of her books.

Guinness_Girl said...

What an excellent summary and commentary, Lotus! I've not read this book - but you have convinced me to add it to my list of must-reads! xo!

Les said...

Great post, Lotus. I read this several years ago and unlike you, I really didn't care for it. However, I loved Beloved! Go figure, eh? I tried to read Paradise when it first came out and gave up. I don't think Morrison is for me, but you never know. Something else may come along that I will enjoy.

booklogged said...

My daughter, the one that has only read 2 books in her life, recommended this book to me years ago. I didn't have a list then and so I've overlooked it. Now that the list exist I will add it. Beautiful review. Not only do we all hanker for blue eyes or whatever, sometimes we get the things we want and don't even stop to enjoy it; we just move on to the next item on our list of what will make us happy or complete or noticed. Look forward to reading this.

Joanna said...

I love Toni Morrison. When I was in college, a band called Storyville also came out with a song "The Bluest Eye," based on this book. It was their only hit, even though the New Orleans-based singer was absolutely breathtakingly talented. But I remember reading an interview with him in which he said how much the book touched a nerve -- and his heart. I still remember this lyric: "If I had the bluest eye, maybe she would notice me...maybe she would love me."

hellomelissa said...

no wonder i can't find this book at the thrift shop. everyone's keeping their copies! i should have known. thanks for the thoughtful review, i wish it was on my nightstand for a little late-night reading.

Susan in Italy said...

After loving Beloved, I read this book a few years ago. It was profound and absolutely devastating to me. I was actually depressed for a while after reading it. Such pathos, I haven't experienced before or since. My take on the novel was that it was mainly a treatise on race and how our racist societies construct beauty (goodness, importance, worth) according to a racial hierarchy. The saddest thing that I learned (and a lesson throughout Morrison's works) was that this racial hierarchy can be internalized even by those who are placed at the bottom of it.

Amin said...

Lotus, that's a very interesting review of what sounds like a good book.

One comment on the Pecola in all of us. When I was at school, about 35 years ago, one boy there so wanted to be white skinned that he bleached his face. He looked a mess afterwards and I can't imagine how bad things must have been for him to bleach himself.

Funny thing is, every year the well-to-do white kids were taken off to Spain to get a tan!

Lotus Reads said...

Hello Sasgirl

Like you I don't re-read too many books either, but I made an exception for "The Bluest Eye". I am hoping my kids like it as much as I have!

deepthoughts I'm so happy to see you here! Hope you are well. I will stop by your blog for your recent news. Yes, Pecola is a sad,sad character indeed. This book will make you feel all kinds of emotions - you must try to read it.

Madhu I couldn't get past pg. 10 of "Sula", but after reading "The Bluest Eye" for the second time, I am willing to give "Sula" another chance. If you do read "The Bluest Eye" please let me know what you think.

Piksea I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on "Sula". Will it be anytime soon?

Thanks GG I don't think you'll be disappointed!

Hi Les! Have you reviewed "Beloved" for your blog? I would love to read your thoughts if you have. I haven't attempted to read Morrison's "Paradise" but "Sula" and "Love" didn't work for me. However,like I said to Madhu, I will attempt "Sula" again.

Your observation is oh so true, booklogged and I am so guilty of doing precisely that. You will be happy you read this book.

Hello Joanna! Thank you for that interesting tidbit. I'm going to have to look up that song now!

You're probably onto something here Melissa for I haven't seen it in a thriftstore either, but hey, I can always send you my copy. It will be a while before N. wants to read it.

Susan! Yes, depressed is a good word. That's really how I felt when I read it except I didn't realize it then, because I was so angry at what society and racism does to the more vulnerable among us. And you are right about racial heirarchy being internalized, when I was growing up in India I saw it all the time with the caste system. Love your new profile pic! :)

Thank you Amin It is very nice of you to drop by. I have bookmarked your space for later. Yes it sad when young people feel they have to conform to the media's (read west) defination of beauty. I was reading recently how many Chinese women are choosing to have a painful leg lengthening operation just so that they can be taller. Sad, really.

Rosemary Esehagu said...

Hello, Lotus.

The Bluest eyes is a profoundly harrowing novel. I experienced a myriad of emotions while reading it, and none of these emotions were positive. The novel is well written, with each sentence spoken with concerned detachment—almost as if to prevent the narrator from wallowing in a pool of her own tears.

I like that the novel is broken up, so that the reader is forced to make a whole picture on his or her own, and I think that that is what makes the book so deeply affecting—the reader takes part in the story’s life and meaning.

Racism is, of course, one of the major topics in this book. In the book, a lot of the misery of the racism the blacks feel is absorbed into the fabric of “black life.” Consequently, blacks attack their fellow blacks for their blackness—almost as if, by so doing, they rid themselves of their blackness. It is like when the boys mock Pecola, saying, “black e mo black e mo Ya daddy sleeps nekked,” even though they are also black and their dads probably sleep naked as well.

One of the take home messages from this book is summarized by the narrator’s words about Pecola and the community, which goes: “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. … Even her waking dreams we used—to silence our own nightmares. …We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.” Every person that Pecola meets has an opportunity to help her, to show her how to reevaluate her concept of beauty. Instead, almost all of the people dump their filth, their ugliness, and their insecurities on her, and they make these things grow in her. In the long run, the whole community is infinitely worse off, because she is still a part of them, still growing within them.

This take home message has a lot of presence in my mind, especially since I recently found out that a girl I knew died, probably because of her anorexia. When I heard, I cried my eyes out. Many of us probably have a Pecola walking around. We need to examine what roles we play in such a person’s life, and we need to attempt to help. Are we part of the solution? If the answer is no, then we are part of the problem. While it is true that people have to handle their own lives, but it is also true that a person’s life is a compilation of his or her experiences with others.

Sorry, Lotus, that my comment is so long and so charged! I think I might make this comment a post on my blog so that my readers can be aware of the issues raised by this important book—a book that I actually finished reading about an hour after midnight (today, technically).

As I told Susan, I recently made a decision to focus most of my readings (for the next year or so) on works from black writers, particularly African writers. If I feel so moved, I might post a review of some of them. Of course, with school in full gear, it is going to be difficult to find some time to steal away from schoolwork. In the meantime (of finding sufficient time to read said novels), I will be reading your blog and (I am sure) adding more books to my reading list.

Bookfool said...


I believe I owe you an apology. When I took down my post on reasons to read, earlier this week, no comments were visible; but, I just checked my yahoo email and you left me a wonderful response. Thanks so much and I apologize for being hasty so that your comment never appeared (as far as I know). I've printed it out. Do you mind if I save it and post it if and when I redo that particular list?

Lotus Reads said...

Dearest Rosemary Thank you so much for your wonderful and thought-provoking comment. I love that you were generous enough to share all of your thoughts on the book, here on my blog. The passage you shared where everyone used Pecola to dump on her their own filth and insecurities was my favorite passage, too, in that, it was heartwrenching. And you are so right when you say that everyone of us knows a Pecola and it is our responsibility to speak out and do something to help them before they destroy themselves.

Something I made note of while reading the book, but failed to mention in the review was Pecola's last name, "Breedlove". How incongruous when all her family did was to breed hate.

I look forward to your posts on these issues raised by Morrison, Rosemary and I also look forward to being introduced to African-American writers and writing. I look forward to that very much!

All the best with med school and your writing and do visit as often as you can.

Lotus Reads said...

Hello bookfool and welcome! No apologies necessary. Your post on "reasons for reading" was a great one and I just had to contribute my 2 cents. :) You are more than welcome to save it to use when you have the post up and running again.

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

Thank you so much for posting about this book! It sounds wonderful and I'll add it to my TBR Mountain.

Dance Chica said...

Well, I have yet to read this book but I've wanted to read it for a long time. Your review just makes me want to read it all the more. :)

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Heather Be prepared to feel morbidly depressed and wretched after reading this book, but you'll be so glad you did.

Hello dance chica Thanks so much for visiting and the nice comment! You've got a gorgeous blog. I'm definitely going to bookmark you and visit you regularly.

Les said...

Lotus - No, I haven't reviewed Beloved for my blog as I read it almost 10 years ago when I joined my very first f2f bookgroup. I don't even think I wrote much about it in my journal. Guess that's a sign that I should re-read it soon, eh? :)

Bookfool said...

Thanks, Lotus!!

I'm glad you liked my reasons to read and thanks for letting me hang onto your post. I'll put a link to your blog in the text when I get around to redoing that one. :)

jean said...

I didn't enjoy Beloved at all but, based on your review, think I will recommend The Bluest Eye at my next bookclub meeting. Thanks. Also just wanted to add that the Nobel Prize for Literature is given to an author for their body of work and not for a particular novel. Sounds like The Bluest Eye was a key part of her getting the prize.

Saaleha said...

On my wishlist. Sounds like I'll cry afterwords. But for beautifully written words, there is almost nothing I would not do (smile)

J said...

I tried to read Beloved a few years ago...ok, maybe it was MANY years ago, and couldn't get into it. So my plan now is to try The Bluest Eyes, and if I like it, try Beloved again. :) Thanks for a great review! I really liked that you mentioned how we all have this, the desire to be different than we are. I'm trying to give that be happy with how I am...maybe if I lose 10 lbs, I'll be able to. (I know, that was was supposed to be...but also, kind of how I truly feel...)

paris parfait said...

I've read this book and it's wonderful. Recently a French friend's daughter complained about her brown eyes, saying she wished she had blue eyes like all her friends. So I told her she was unique and special to have such beautiful eyes (and my daughter's eyes are brown) and that all her friends secretly wished they had eyes just like hers. She seemed to be pacified by that; then again, she's only 8. :)

Lotus Reads said...

Hello Les If you do re-read "Beloved" I would love to know. Time permitting, I may read it along with you or maybe I'll do the lazy thing and watch the movie!

bookfool OK, you got it! :)

Hi, Jean If your bookclub does end up reading "The Bluest Eye" I would love to know everyone's thoughts. It's one of those books (as you will see from the comments) that readers either loved or just couldn't get into. Also, even though race is the overiding theme of the book, each one will take from it some unique message. Thanks so much for your comments.

Saaleha I know exactly what you mean. If I hear of a book that makes use of beautiful language I will go to the ends of the earth to acquire it...

J I've seen pictures of you and you are gorgeous. I would never have guessed you feel the need to lose any weight, leave alone 10 lbs! But, I know what you mean, there are certain things about our physical beings that we're never entirely happy with even when we know deep down we're OK. I hope you will read 'The Bluest Eye'. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on it.

Parisparfait I like what you told your friend's kid about her brown eyes being unique. Sadly, I find kids today don't want to stand out, instead, they prefer to blend in with the crowd, almost to the point of being clones of the other.