Monday, October 27, 2008

The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison

1970; 160 pages. Genre : Modern Literature. Awards : Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993; The Bluest Eye was selected for Oprah's book club in 2000. Overall Rating : B.

   .11-year-old Pecola Breedlove has been taught that she is ugly. Rejected by both parents; abused by white folks and black, and by friends and strangers; her fervent wish is for God to give her blue eyes so she can be beautiful.

.What's To Like...
    The book is a masterful effort, which is all the more surprising since this is Toni Morrison's debut novel. The formatting is unique - each chapter starts with a happy little "See Dick and Jane" snippet, which stands in stark contrast to the bleakness in Pecola's daily world.
    The overlying theme of the book is people and circumstances allying to make a person believe that he/she is ugly. Being black in Pecola's world (Lorain, Ohio in 1941) is not beautiful, and if you were born that way, it was ingrained in you to marry someone mulatto, or at least lighter-complexioned than you. Frizzy hair and/or a wide nose was ugly, and your beauty was defined by how much you conformed to the standard of the white world. The brainwashing process started at an early age for girls - when they were given a white-skinned doll to play with.
Be Forwarned...
This is a coarse, gritty book, devoid of hope and without a happy ending. There is child-abuse, pedophilia, and rape. The only "shades" of character in the various people in the book is in the degree of hatefulness and uncaring they have. I have to question whether life for anyone, even for a black child in the 1940's, was as bad as Morrison paints it. I certainly hope not.

    .An Excerpt that sets the tone...Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs - all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured. "Here," they said, "this is beautiful, and if you are on this day 'worthy' you may have it.".

On The Matter of Censorship...
    A while back, a high school teacher in Bakersfield, California assigned The Bluest Eye to be read by a 12th-grade student. The topics apparently shocked the kid, who showed the book to his parents, and a brouhaha ensued. You can read details about it here.
    Now, I am completely against book-banning, which was what the parents sought. However, I question the judgment of the teacher here in making it required reading for a teenage kid. Is parental-rape is suitable subject at that age? I for one would have found this book shocking and revolting when I was 17, and I would have resented any teacher telling me to read it. In the end, the school district voided the assignment, but refused to remove The Bluest Eye from the school library's shelves. It's nice to see that every once in a while, the authorities get it right.

No comments: