(Sidharth Vardhan review of
1993 Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s (1931-2019) first novel
‘The Bluest Eye’
Novel first published in 1970
Review first written on December 27, 2019
(5 / 5))
It is the story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove–a black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others–who prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful so that people will look at her so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning and the tragedy of its fulfillment.
I wasn’t a big fan of ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ but I also didn’t like the way some people claimed that its author should have got the award all to herself not because she deserved it but because the first black woman to win the award will now have to share the award with a white woman. I mean really they should have focused on how biased the jury was in taking this long to get that first. I personally don’t know why Alice Walker never won Noble Prize when her book has an impact on so many lives. Tony Morrison was probably one of the most Nobel laureates. And here she proves it again.
Lookism is probably the most common and most overlooked form of discrimination. The SJWs who will fight against discrimination on most other issues aren’t above making jokes on ‘funny’ looking people. Do a person deserves a different treatment based on how they look?
“It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights—if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different.”Toni Morrison
Yet, it is really the main stock-in-trade for most comedians and cosmetics industries. It serves its profits to make you believe that there is something ugly in you. One of the ways it is done is TVCs. In the book, it is through dolls that conditioning comes in (Barbie dolls and Disney princesses continue to have impossible body shapes for a good reason. Even the philanthropic and social activists use the appeal of beauty for their purposes using picture a girl with beautiful green eyes (Gulab Gul) for encouraging people to be charitable. Even our sense of compassion is based on how good looking the victim of atrocities is.
Morrison’s book is based in a time when white skin was considered an essential part of physical beauty by most people in the West. It still is to a great extent in India. Exactly what determines what to be included in beauty?
“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 this book explores the kind of inferiority complexes, self-loathing, etc felt by people who consider themselves and their family members ugly and couldn’t do much about it.
More and more she neglected her house, her children, her man—they were like the afterthoughts one has just before sleep, the early-morning and late-evening edges of her day, the dark edges that made the daily life with the Fishers lighter, more delicate, more lovely. Pauline kept this order, this beauty, for herself, a private world, and never introduced it into her storefront, or to her children. Them she bent toward respectability, and in so doing taught them fear: fear of being clumsy, fear of being like their father, fear of not being loved by God, fear of madness like Cholly’s mother’s. Into her son she beat a loud desire to run away, and into her daughter, she beat a fear of growing up, fear of other people, fear of life.
It is strange though Morrison thought that this was no longer relevant because here is something from Lupita Nyong’o right after ’12 years a slave’:
I kind of just love anything Morrison writes. Beyond the big themes, there is something so adorably human about her characters like where children are introduced by their mother in the same sentence as furniture and when the first narrator talks about not wanting to move an inch in her blanket because it would be cold there.
“Never did he once consider directing his hatred toward the hunters. Such an emotion would have destroyed him. They were big, white, armed men. He was small, black, helpless. His subconscious knew what his conscious mind did not guess—that hating them would have consumed him, burned him up like a piece of soft coal, leaving only flakes of ash and a question mark of smoke.”Toni Morrison
“More strongly than my fondness for Pecola, I felt a need for someone to want the black baby to live—just to counteract the universal love of white baby dolls, Shirley Temples, and Maureen Peals.”Toni Morrison
Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan