I read The Bluest Eye in my 9th grade English class. This is surprising because the book is actually very disturbing. Coming off the back of reading Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird in 8th grade, I felt as if I could conquer any book. Oh, how naïve I was. My main strategy for discussions in English class was to put myself in the shoes of the characters. However, using this tactic for The Bluest Eye only caused me to feel despair and become afraid of what humanity is capable of.The scariest part of this book is how relatable it is for a young black kid like me. Once I put myself in the characters' shoes, I found myself trapped. I peered through their eyes to discover the intricacies of their perspectives, but often I found myself looking at my own world. That's when I realized that the beauty of this book stems from the fact that not much has changed for African Americans between Jim Crow and now.
The Bluest Eye doesn't begin like a normal book does. In fact,itstarts with a common Dick and Jane primer about family (Dick and Jane having the "perfect" white family: a mother, father, boy, girl, and dog). The primer slowly loses its punctuation as it is repeated to symbolize that what looks perfect on the surface, may, in fact, have troubling undertones. This is a theme that will repeatedly show up in the book as characters attempt to "whiten" themselves to appear perfect, when in fact their family is a disaster behind the scenes.
The actual story is loosely based around the character Pecola, a young black girl living during the Jim crow era, but is told from the point of view of another black girl named Claudia. This is purposely done by Toni Morrison so the story is told from the point of view of a character who hasn't been damaged by life's unfair attacks. Claudia sees the world through her own eyes and has strong opinions about the way the world works. However, she will slowly learn to realize that there are different societal concepts that work to influence the way people think. Will Claudia be able to unbiasedly tell Pecola's story or will she too fall to the biases that plague our society.
This concept of implicit biases is called the “Master Narrative” (Which brought hell down upon a-many a 9th graders during essay writing times). Toni Morrison describes the Master Narrative as “whatever ideological script that is being imposed by the people in authority on everybody else”. This idea crops up numerous times in the novel; one of which gives the novel its namesake. For example, the only type of doll you are able to see advertised on tv is a doll with white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. For a young black girl, this doll will become her definition of beauty because it is the only standard of beauty she is able to see. And that standard of beauty is what Pecola follows. Through the entire book, she wishes she has blue eyes because that is what "beauty means" which slowly destroys her.
Even though Claudia sees through the Master Narrative at first and questions everything about the society they live in, many other characters in the story fall victim to the Master Narrative. These characters try their best to become as white as possible to find some resemblance of success in their lives.
This is where I have had trouble in my life. I used to believe that in order for people to love me, I could not be black because in today’s society a lot of the rhetoric we are fed deals with the fact that black people are criminals. Combine this with the amount of hostility I was met with on the internet when people found out my race, you get a person who starts to hate themselves because of their blackness. The characters essentially go through the same exact thought process in the book, and as a reader, we watch as characters tear each other apart to climb a fictional social ladder of blackness.
I did mention that this book was disturbing and that ties into why I believe that even though this book is an extremely important piece of literature, not everyone should read it. The book does not hold back any punches. It lays down all of its cards on the table and leaves you, without any comfort, to deal with what you just witnessed. But that’s also what makes the book good: it doesn’t censor itself. Our teacher had to give us a trigger warning before the chapter Pecola was raped by her father then beaten by her mother for “lying” about being raped. Do you see what I mean? It’s disturbing but it shows how desperate people get to feel any type of power. How even in disadvantaged groups, people climb on top of each other to feel powerful. This makes the book even more striking because of its relevance today with many African Americans beating each other down over issues like racism.
My only problem with this book is that sometimes it is confusing. The chapters jump around so much to cover every character that you forget who the book was talking about. This is only if you are not paying very close attention though, so as long as you put your thinking cap on, all should be well.
If you want to read a book that will give you a new way to think about racism in the black community, then this is definitely a must read. Now, if you are quite squeamish, then maybe this isn't the book for you. But I believe that this book transcends the pages that confine it. It's really a work of art and should be shown to more people despite its graphic content.