The Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison
Why did you choose this book? book club selection
When did you read this book? February 2016
Who should read this book? readers who enjoy classics
Source: local library
Here is a synopsis of The Bluest Eye from Goodreads
Originally published in 1970, The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison's first novel. In an afterword written more than two decades later, the author expressed her dissatisfaction with the book's language and structure: "It required a sophistication unavailable to me." Perhaps we can chalk up this verdict to modesty, or to the Nobel laureate's impossibly high standards of quality control. In any case, her debut is nothing if not sophisticated, in terms of both narrative ingenuity and rhetorical sweep. It also shows the young author drawing a bead on the subjects that would dominate much of her career: racial hatred, historical memory, and the dazzling or degrading power of language itself.
Set in Lorain, Ohio, in 1941, The Bluest Eye is something of an ensemble piece. The point of view is passed like a baton from one character to the next, with Morrison's own voice functioning as a kind of gold standard throughout. The focus, though, is on an 11-year-old black girl named Pecola Breedlove, whose entire family has been given a cosmetic cross to bear:
You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question.... And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it as a mantle over them, and went about the world with it.
There are far uglier things in the world than, well, ugliness, and poor Pecola is subjected to most of them. She's spat upon, ridiculed, and ultimately raped and impregnated by her own father. No wonder she yearns to be the very opposite of what she is--yearns, in other words, to be a white child, possessed of the blondest hair and the bluest eye.
This vein of self-hatred is exactly what keeps Morrison's novel from devolving into a cut-and-dried scenario of victimization. She may in fact pin too much of the blame on the beauty myth: "Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another--physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion." Yet the destructive power of these ideas is essentially colorblind, which gives The Bluest Eye the sort of universal reach that Morrison's imitators can only dream of. And that, combined with the novel's modulated pathos and musical, fine-grained language, makes for not merely a sophisticated debut but a permanent one. --James Marcus
This is not going to be a popular review. I could not finish this book. I read through about 2/3 of the book, and each time I picked it up to continue, I would mutter “I HATE this book!” I only continued as far as I did because it was the selection for my book club. After our meeting, I did go back and skim the final 40 pages, and still got nothing out of the book. I really didn’t sympathize OR empathize with Pecola or any other character in this book. I know the book was supposed to deliver a message, but it went right past me because I just.didn’t.care!!! I’m glad book club is over and I can forget I even attempted this one.
One issue I had from the beginning is that I read the author notes in the back of the book before I started reading. The author relates a story from her childhood when a friend wished for blue eyes and the author was repulsed by the image of a black child with blue eyes. I could only think how ironic this is, since the since I THINK the point of this book is to show us how another person’s idea of ‘beauty’ can damage the self-image of a young child?
Another issue I had is that it read like a classic, and if you have read this blog very long, you know I don’t do well with classics. I also had a problem with the brutality in this book, and the graphic depictions of sex. At a different time this might not have bothered me quite so much, but having just read another book, My Sweet Vidalia, where the main character was brutalized, this was just too much for me.
We chose this book because one of our members had suggested we read some Toni Morrisey. I’m not sure why we settled on this one, but it turned out to be a poor choice. The member who had suggested reading Toni Morrisey was also disappointed with this book. It turns out the one she had a good experience with was Song of Solomon. Another member had a positive experience with Beloved. Unfortunately,though they may be very good, I think it is going to be awhile before I am willing to try another book by this author!